What I believe about web analytics

I may have been making a mistake with this blog. Maybe even with my life (drama). I’ve been pushing opinions on people, and that’s really not something too many people like.

So let me start over with something simple. Here is what I believe. Your mileage may vary.

I believe that web analytics has the ability to change the world.

Corny? Yeah. But I believe it anyhow.

I define “change the world” as making a lot of people a lot happier. More joyful. More apt to look forward to jumping in the car every day and heading to work. Less apt to spend the weekend complaining to anyone with ears how stupid their co-workers are.

In my experience (and obviously yours will vary), people aren’t exactly thrilled with how various specialists, teams, managers, etc. get along at work. Many people have different incentives that cause departments to be at odds with each other, some managers may not have a lot of appreciation or understanding of the finer points of some technical or business perspective on something. Usually it all results in everyone calling each other idiots. Disclaimer: I have worked in / consulted with some pretty dysfunctional places, so it may not sound exactly like where you are…count your blessings!

Unhappy stuff.

The reason I think web analytics can fix this (or at least go a long way) is it can shine some light on everyone’s purpose. Not in the way managers shine lights on each sub-purpose a department or role fills, but the more universal purpose of each trade and its contribution to the whole. In other words, analytics can transition each contributor’s accountability away from a person (their boss or boss’s boss, who they may not agree with) and toward a purpose. I believe that’s transformative.

If there is a litmus test of, “Is this best for the company?” instead of , “Is this helping me reach my department goal (or bonus)?” the world will literally be a better place. Because a lot of those department goals and bonuses are in direct opposition to someone else’s department goals or bonuses within the same company.

When I was doing independent research on publicly traded companies, it wasn’t so different from what we do in this industry. We simply tried to look at the system, break it down into pieces, and understand why a company was more or less valuable than the market priced it. Yes, complex. But no, it’s not rocket surgery. Companies with clear operational issues, a lack of an innovation roadmap, management with conflicting goals, competition that was out-iterating and out-smarting clearly have a dimmer future than companies with fewer or none of those issues.

In that line of work, analysts could hold a carrot out in front of CEOs that they would follow anywhere. That carrot was a stock price. If an analyst says there are 5 key barriers to the valuation being 10% higher, changes were about to be made, or a CEO was about to get fired.

Our carrot can be the same thing. The work we do can change every part of a company, from the clouds of tactics whizzing about all the way down to the very nucleus that holds the company together. We can hold the carrots of increased revenue, reduced costs, increased efficiency, improved time to market, more competitive intelligence, better intra-team cooperation, aligned goals, and superior culture out in front, and we have a clear view of the steps that can be taken to close the gaps. We have very delicious carrots.

I believe your executive suite is filled with hungry bunnies. And I believe that if you show them some carrots, web analysts will garner the same respect, salaries, and access afforded to our financial brethren. But we have to remember, only the bunnies like carrots. You need to get your treat in front of the right audience. Often, your CMO won’t care about productivity, efficiency, or the happiness of 2 teams working together. Your digital marketing manager has no idea what EBITDA is. Your director of ecommerce may have never heard of operating cash flow before. They may not care about carrots as much as your CEO or your COO.

This isn’t just going to change the lives of web analytics people. Anyone who, no matter what they do, feels their boss’s actions don’t align with the core goals of a company, people who watch bad decisions get made for perfectly predictable reasons; they will see their life improved, too. Because there can be a new system in place where decisions are made for good reasons. Where tradeoffs and compromises are made in informed ways, rather than internally-competitive ways. And where the “loser” in a compromise is rewarded for a good decision, because we can show the net impact.

Companies like this exist. Very successful ones. And the people that work there would take a bullet to protect their culture. I think that web analysts, for companies operating online, are the most capable shepherds for this transition. It may be a while before we have the CEO/COO (or whoever at a company really understands and lives in the core business function, rather than a discipline) as an audience. But I believe that our target needs to be the people who react to carrots. I won’t shoot for a closer target out of practicality, because, ultimately, shorter targets aren’t the right targets.

That’s what I believe.

What do you believe?

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  1. I believe you are right on, for some people, at some companies. And I believe what you have laid out is a compelling choice to make, but I also believe it’s not an easy goal to accomplish

    Posted May 25, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink
  2. @Tim:

    Yep, a very difficult goal, indeed. I think it’s a worthwhile one, though.

    And you make a good point: “some people, at some companies.” Not everyone wants to be the carrot-bearer. If your calling is the technical side, running the best tests the world has ever seen, or helping the array of tactics your company employs individually get better, the world has a dire need for all of those roles.

    My belief, though, is that if the carrot-bearing role becomes more prominent, it is a tide that will lift all ships.

    Posted May 25, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink