I don’t want a web analytics job

I’ve been getting a lot of nice emails from recruiters lately, and I really appreciate everyone’s interest. It makes me feel special!

But I’m sorry to tell you that I really don’t want a “web analytics job.” Not now, not ever in my future. And neither do your best analytics people.

Web analytics jobs, as they are today, are about learning (necessary learning). They are about developing skills and a methodology for decision making that is based on data. They are about understanding the technology and starting to appreciate exactly how little the technology actually does for us! They are about helping other departments make decisions, and helping drive change and advancement on the web site and in the business.

And I love all of these things, but…

At some point, you leave college, you leave boot camp, you leave law school or SEAL training, and the real world begins. You use all of your learning to build processes and models of how to deal with the real world, which is much more dynamic and interesting than the academics led you to believe. It’s a world that’s driven by human interaction, in addition to data, and it comes with politics, friction between smart people, bad decisions made for good reasons, and a whole basket of issues (including bullets, either PowerPoint or lead, depending on whether you went to SEAL training or got your MBA; these bullets have approximately the same lethality in both cases) you never learned about in your training. That world, the real world, is the world of business. It’s a world where we can’t always make the right choices or hide behind data and call people morons for not doing the exact thing we would have done. The training was essential — it couldn’t have been skipped if you want to survive out here — but it was incomplete and you know it.

In your training, you learned about usability, you learned about testing, implementation, IT, architecture, conversions, what makes things “work.” And while you were in training, you helped a lot of people out. When you get out, though, you take on risk, and you learn that the only thing that matters is cash flow: the quintessential math of revenue minus cost, and how that drives greed, fear, decisions, people, and countries. You use the arsenal of tools you learned about in your training to reach that single goal.

Why is the training valuable? Because not everyone had it. Web analytics people get angry that people don’t listen to them when they have the data and know how to come to the table with the most relevant, least biased recommendations. There are people in decision-making positions that did not have this training, or even some of it, and they aren’t qualified, in your opinion. There are opponents on the battlefield who did not perfect the basics and did not round out their talents. And in the long run, you have a huge advantage because of your training. Use it, but realize that using it means leaving the nest and venturing out into the wilderness.

Web analytics people — the good ones — are crafted to be some of the best businesspeople out there. They are capable of taking emotion out of difficult decisions, but hopefully understand the humanity involved in working with people, too. They have been trained in a number of arts. They can handle a number of questions you previously relied on specialists to answer (who can now work on complex problems, rather than simple questions), because they’ve had to learn, monitor, and interpret the effects of every single tactical discipline that comprises the final texture of a web site and the business it represents. And who else in the organization comes to the table with less bias? Nobody.

The good ones want to begin shifting into this strange, amorphous role of digital strategists: those general practitioners of the internet who can patch up the small wounds, interpret complex issues that span multiple disciplines and recruit the relevant specialists to execute against a central strategy. The “hubs” who can be trusted to translate strategy into tactics without bias relevant to their particular goals (present in marketing, HR, IT, sales, etc. leadership — which isn’t their fault, it’s how their compensation is structured!).

We don’t want to be the digital strategists who point on the map to where we should go; we want to be shepherds, literally walking the business to the destination, taking our place in the action, being present, monitoring progress, and redirecting the tactics when they start to spread too far apart.

This is our greatest value and the eventual destination of every great analyst. They will walk you to your greener pastures.

Yes, my head is in the clouds, but don’t you wish you had one of these people where you worked? You probably already do.

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  1. What a great piece! Analytics should be like finance – no one in his right mind would ever think of being a manager without at least some basic level of finance (you know,things such as budgeting and forecasting). Nowadays, it should be unimaginable to have a manager who can’t make sense of basic analytics.

    Clearly, as you brilliantly outlined, you don’t want to be a web analyst, you want to be a strategist who can leverage data, experience, business skills, and creativity to take the most optimal and realistic decisions – that’s what I want to!


    Posted May 11, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  2. Cameron

    Well said! I’ve come to the same realization recently, although I didn’t put it in exactly the same words.

    One frustrating aspect of this industry is that every business is waking up to the idea that they need web analysts, but they don’t know what one should look like or do–or get paid! They can’t decide whether to categorize the analyst with IT or marketing or something else, when, in fact, the analyst needs to stand somewhat apart from them all.

    Posted May 11, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  3. Great post Evan, I think you’ve really summed up a common thread for all of us. I want to have the cat bird seat and I want to be able to add value at multiple levels in the organization.

    Posted May 11, 2010 at 11:21 pm | Permalink
  4. Evan,

    You are on a hot streak with some great posts!


    Posted May 12, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink
  5. Maria Fuller

    Well said! One of your best posts.

    Posted May 12, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  6. Evan –

    Excellent post. As the channels multiply and their reach into our lives grows, so to will the opportunity to develop richer understanding of clients/stakeholders based on complex interrelationships. Drawing this data in and leveraging it against the full scope of the business (and I’m not just talking about sales, but also the “softer” aspects such as corporate image, social responsibility, shareholder outreach, etc.) will require agile, aware strategists of the type you describe. That’s where the fun jobs will be.

    – Alex

    Posted May 12, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  7. Evan,

    I love what you said and believe the value of any data piece is the story it tells to either (1) inform (2) guide (3) inspire or (4) validate. I am from one of those companies who have called you and we are not looking for your web analytic skills. We have a lot of those. We are looking for interesting creative data thinkers to help clients solve business problems and drive innovative and informative uses of data. This includes all data sources, so maybe the emphasis on web analytics threw you off. I would love to talk more if you are interested…

    Posted May 14, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  8. Hi Evan,

    You’re a quick draw – you commented on my response to this post before I could put the link up here!

    I got the vibe from your comment that you feel that I am throwing darts at your post, and that couldn’t be farther from the case; the posts you have written on the role of the analyst have been fantastic. I actually made the point of referencing the ‘analytics is easy/hard’ debate to make the point that I wanted to contribute to the great points you discuss here rather than start a traditional WA blog battle (the divisiveness in our small industry deserves some attention of it’s own)

    It’s actually this whole concept of divisiveness that got me thinking about your post, and then writing about it. It seems like every few days there is a new vendor coming out saying that their product is ‘better than’ a web analytics tool, even though it is simply a new dataset for an analyst to use along with traditional clickstream. There are new concepts around how to do analysis competing for mindshare daily as well. With all these tools and tips competing against each other at the speed of twitter, it’s almost impossible for new or experienced analysts to sit back and look at the big picture of “What do I do and how should I do it?”.

    As I mentioned in my post (http://bit.ly/aEq4Yy), we agree on 90% of the evolution of the role of the web analyst, but the last 10% makes for an interesting discussion. As the president of a managed web analysis firm, we embed full time analysts into online retailers to help them make better decisions by better understanding their data. With every new customer, we face the same challenges outlined in your blog, but have a process in place to earn the right to evolve report fulfillment into targeted strategy and then digital project management. Ultimately these are all components of the role of a good analyst.

    When I am at the pub talking with other analysts, the discussion invariably goes towards the standard challenges we all face in getting our respective “I feel, I think, I hope” decisionmakers to buy into information based decisionmaking, with all the data we can squeeze out of the disparate toolsets we are given. The post you wrote is the best I have read yet on what those challenges are.

    I think you hit the nail on the head in your comment on the Napkyn blog: My post was about talking about making things work better and evolve with the current landscape, and yours was on how things should evolve for best use of the analyst and best impact on the business.

    I would love to hear more about your experiences, as ours are based on working exclusively with retailers and B2B firms in the mid-market. Based on your background, it looks like your experience is more at the enterprise end of the scale. Perhaps the interesting point that we are making together is that the experience of the SMB analyst is completely different from the Enterprise analyst. Might be worth elaborating on in a joint post sometime.

    Thanks again for the great post, it’s rare to read something that gets me so excited I turn off Excel for a few minutes to talk about it.



    Posted May 17, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink