Monday, October 19, 2009

Truth, Lies and Delusion in Web Analytics

Matt Cutler said it best recently at the Web Analytics X Change conference; “We are on a noble quest for truth”. He was referring to the fact that Web analytics - an industry that Matt helped to create - is about understanding. Yet, as with any epic story our protagonist (the industry), is challenged to find the way to the mysterious and intangible place that is Web analytics enlightenment. Matt went on to say; “Truth doesn’t happen easy…Truth doesn’t come for free.” And he was right on all accounts. These truths we seek in Web analytics are elusive because of innumerable factors such as lack of support, a dearth of qualified practitioners, low data confidence, and failure to derive actionable insights. This brewing storm of impediments has stymied the Web analytics industry since its inception. However, collectively we are determined to find the truth - a workaround – a reinvention – an evolution - or perhaps a wholesale revolution is afoot.

The lies we tell in Web analytics are white ones. Our numbers, metrics and KPIs are communicated with the best intentions, yet our data oscillates within a range of deviation. Most practitioners have forsaken precision for accuracy and resigned to the fact that our measures provide directional guidance – not empirical facts. Our current measurement practices dance around the issues of accuracy by offering insights at a generalized level, offering shards of intelligence, which undoubtedly are better than none. However, communication tactics require silver tongued practitioners to educate with accuracy while avoiding the details of precision. Educated marketing guesswork has devolved from the visions of an infinitely measureable Web. Still we persevere because our noble quest nags our collective conscience in knowing that we can deliver more.

Delusion is the shroud practitioners use to keep themselves on the path towards truth. Despite that the majority of Web analytics practitioners claim well-defined strategies, most offer fledgling plans that lack truly progressive vision. Further, despite the perception of unequivocal support, most practitioners tirelessly combat widespread internal cynicism. Yet, those dedicated to the cause endure by squinting to see the positives. I too am one of these eternal optimists that choose to push on. Yet, I forecast change for Web analytics. Our industry is undergoing metamorphosis and those that resist change will be left behind. I choose to act as an agent for change and to expose new initiatives with merit; to question the statements of the collective whole; and to insist that the status quo is not capable of delivering us to analytical excellence.

This rant comes as I sit in wait to arrive at eMetrics in DC where, Web analytics practitioners, vendors and optimists like myself will gather to ruminate on our future. While I envision miles to go before we sleep, I’m confident that change will lead to better optimization overall. What do you see?