There comes a time in the evolution of most new industries when the early entrants decide to pull back on their fierce competition--if only slightly--in favor of cooperation and unity. Numerous players in the Internet-traffic analysis space have reached that tipping point, and yesterday launched the Web Analytics Association (WAA), a not-for-profit alliance of marketers and online marketing service companies. Now that Web analysis has evolved from an IT pastime to a market worth hundreds of millions of dollars, some of the key players believed the time had come to step back and consider the best way to advance their discipline.
The WAA launched with seven founding corporate members--WebTrends, WebSideStory, Visual Sciences, Omniture, Nedstat, IBM's SurfAid Analytics unit, and Coremetrics. Membership fees for the new association range from a token fee for students to thousands of dollars for corporate sponsorship.
As the Web operation has evolved beyond a novelty or the sole domain of the company's technology group, mainstream marketing and merchandising professionals have sought to build apples-to-apples comparisons between online and offline marketing strategies and effectiveness metrics. But the rapid growth of e-commerce and other Web operations have exposed the disconnect between the worlds, as traditional marketing professionals cannot always immediately map their offline experience to understand the different types of Web traffic. For example, how can a marketer distinguish the difference between a hit on the Web server and the creation of a complete Web page, which may require numerous hits to generate? Or, what is the importance of analyzing the behavior of the same Internet user over multiple visits?
Analytics vendors have not always been helpful in sorting out those vocabulary challenges, because different companies use the same words to describe different concepts. "What does 'real-time' mean? Depending who you ask, it means something that happens in one second, or something that happens during the [Web] session, or something that happens within 24 hours," says Rand Schulman, CMO of WebSideStory and a WAA board member. "We will bring normalcy to definitions and crystallize the terms and nomenclature."
Beyond customer education and putting their own definitional houses in order, Schulman expects that he and his WAA board colleagues will put a great deal of effort into regulatory advocacy in the coming year. Web-tracking cookies and related analytics artifacts are often lumped under the same category as applications that install without user permission or under false pretense on a browser's PC to actively report on the computer's behavior, a stigma the association would like to dispel. Schulman says: "We will describe the benefits and that these are not invasive applications, and not spyware, to lawmakers."
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