Future of the Web Analyst

Tomorrow's web analysts will look very different from today's.

Being a web analyst today usually means being lonely. Most companies don't hire full-time analysts to work onsite. They hire consulting agencies or they hire a web analyst and make them do SEM work on the side (or vice versa). In the few companies that do hire a full-time analyst, that person ends up being by themselves. That means being lumped into an existing organization that doesn't make sense (IT, marketing, new media, etc.) and needing to defend analysis and recommendations alone.

In other words, being a web analyst today means spending a lot of effort evangelizing and winning adherents. It's the reason that every conference includes speeches and classes about getting buy-in. Bringing high-profile attention to the industry is perhaps the biggest value that industry celebrities play today. It is also the reason so many web analysts are frustrated and bitter that nobody listens to them.

The Next Step

The critical evolutionary step that few companies (or analysts) have made yet is to finally attach a value to the work of a web analyst. When a company can see clearly the ROI attached to a strong web analyst, it will spur more investment.

Once this happens, there will be a quick succession of evolutionary steps: 
  • the company will decide it needs to really invest in web analytics
  • a web analytics team will be formed (a manager with a few analysts)
  • labor will be divided among the different roles (web analysts will specialize)
  • each role will grow into its own team according to need (testing, reporting, analysis, tagging, etc.)
  • processes will be developed for each of the teams to interact with each other smoothly
  • the company will cry for more testing, more analysis, more reports
I want to emphasize an important point. In most companies these evolutionary steps will happen iteratively. Each step will be taken in order to address a newly recognized business problem. For example, after a web analytics team is formed, the natural next step is to have each team member specialize instead of working on the same thing. They may start by specializing on parts of the site or on roles. But few companies will consciously roadmap the entire evolutionary process. It will happen organically, and not just because the web analytics team will fight for it. In fact, it might happen in spite of the team.

The End State ... Kind Of

This brings us to the next big evolutionary step. It is the one that deserves the most attention, because analysts today need to be thinking about it proactively so that they are ready for it.

Through all of these phases, the primary frustration of today's analyst still hasn't been addressed. How do we get business owners and managers to "get it"? How do we get them to allow us to focus on deep analysis instead of producing meaningless reports? How do we get them to stop asking stupid questions?

The answer: web analysts become the business owners and managers.

This will be a natural transition for today's web analysts, not a hostile takeover. Consider what training they have already received to be effective managers and business owners. They already have battle scars to prove that they can work across multiple disciplines, that they understand the broader business objectives and that they can manage others to optimize their company's efforts. They already have shown the gumption to pick up and learn new skills and go outside of their comfort zone to get things done.

The industry today is the wild west. Web analysts are cowboys and suited for the role as it exists today. It's the rough and tumble of the role that attracted many web analysts in the first place. They were attracted to the idea of trail-blazing, of creating something out of nothing. For them, the role of web analyst will hold less appeal as it matures, because it will become more process-oriented, more mundane.

When this shift happens, the people filling the web analyst role won't need to be as cross-functional as they must be today. They will only need to know how to analyze data really well or run tests smoothly or interpret results. Finding people who can fill those narrowly specialized roles will be much easier—and consequently, much cheaper.

It will be important to continue evangelizing and holding classes and seminars. Web analysts should of course continue to democratize data and train people on how to use it. But the evolutionary step that I foresee is when the principles of web analytics become ingrained in a company because the analysts themselves grow into the other roles, especially the decision-making roles.

I've witnessed this evolution happen very rapidly, and I suspect that in many companies it will happen in the next three or four years. It will be spurred in part by the wave of new web analysts that are starting to arrive in the market with formalized education (read: classroom training) in web analytics.

Why Does This Matter?

This is important to recognize today because web analysts need to make sure that they are ready for the transition. It will come abruptly, because it will happen organically. Today's web analysts might be able to prod it in the right direction, but it is most important that they focus on solidifying the skills they will need to make the transition. Otherwise, they will abruptly find themselves with the same title but a very different role.

1 comment:

  1. "It is also the reason so many web analysts are frustrated and bitter that nobody listens to them."

    This is so true... I have worked for organisations that want web analysts, get them, then do everything they can do ignore their findings. It is incredibly frustrating and it takes a lot of willpower to keep plowing on. Sometimes you get through and other times you need to know when to say.. "fine,its over to you". I have had to do this recently, as I was getting tired of hearing "but thats not what I think", when the numbers spoke for themselves - they were still making gut driven decisions and not data driven informed decisions.

    An experienced Website Analyst in the UK.