Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The future of web analytics

As the web analytics industry matures its future is still uncertain. In this post I'll have a look at some of the questions that we'll need to answer soon.

There's been a lot of takeover activity in the industry of late, and two of the main analytics commentators, John Lovett and Eric Peterson, have written about the mergers and what they mean of late. Now only WebTrends is left as an independent tool, zigging whilst the others zag, and IBM is splitting at the seams with its three recent acquisitions, to make 23 in the last four years. Whilst they may not have released plans to close any of these products down, one has to wonder if this will be beneficial for the industry, with the potential for stiffling innovation, which is what the industry craves at the moment.

Then there's the bifurcation in tools debate. Some maintain that to do truly sophisticated analytics you need a more powerful (and expensive) tool, with the likes of Google Analytics being left to the marketers. Whilst Google doesn't offer an visitor-level intelligence tool as some of the paid solutions do, no-one can deny the progress the tool has made in recent years. But will it ever truly catch up and end the bifurcation of tools (and is it in their commercial interests to do so)? And what about Google's future itself - how reliant on its parent is Google Analytics? With Facebook and others starting to take on the big G, and its recent attempts to enter the social arena backfiring, the company's future isn't guaranteed, and its analytics package isn't at the top of its list of priorities. However, the tool has no clear competitors in the free arena, with Yahoo! Analytics maintaining it's non-mainstream enterprise-only position for the foreseeable future. What if a new (suitably big) entrant decided to get in on the free game? Perhaps Microsoft might reconsider their exit from this field? If they or another did, it could force Google to further up its game.

Finally, there's the soft side of analytics - the skills required to do the job. Currently a knowledge of statistics isn't that important; being business savvy or having coding knowledge more helpful. But what if other factors change? Will the rise of mobile require a more technical person to understand the intracies of it? Will the rise of intuitivly-designed and easy-to-implement analytical packages mean that company knowledge and the intepretation of these numbers becomes more important to bring context and relevancy? As sites evolve and improve through competition and analytical insight, will visitor-level tools become obligatory for commercial sites? If they do, the skills set of the web analyst will have to expand too.

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