Web Analytics Standards Still Suffer

Nomenclature's not that important, is it? Guess again -- a common vocabulary's critical when you're trying to understand and get involved in a blossoming industry. That's why The Web Analytics Association -- an outfit comprising industry-leading customers, vendors, and consultants -- formed several years ago, to develop standards in the face of mounting interest and demand for e-marketing and Web analytics. The group claims to have gone to great lengths to establish definitions for terms of art and phrases such as "page view" and "clickthrough." The only trouble, according to findings from Web content management research firm CMS Watch, is that Web analytics vendors aren't adhering to the new standards.

The challenge, says Tony Byrne, the executive editor and founder of CMS Watch, involves one of two obstacles: Some vendors haven't committed 100 percent to the standards, but others haven't even climbed on board with the notion of adapting to standards in the first place. CMS Watch came to this conclusion as part of the evaluation process for its annual Web Analytics Report, discovering variances between, for example, what actions were deemed "conversions" among different vendors, and how such things are measured. "We're hoping that by cataloguing this, we can encourage a convergence that the community wants," Byrne says.

Establishing metrics and methodology for analytics is a critical step toward adoption, Byrne adds. "My perception is there are a lot of fairly talented advanced practitioners [in Web analytics], and then you have a great mass of junior analysts who do this half-time and they can get quite confused about the depth of all these issues," he says. "This is an effort to simplify and to make analytics easier for the masses."

Byrne suggests that, as in other industries, the technology is maturing and soon the cycle of developing new standards will have to begin once again. In the course of its research on the top Web analytics vendors, he says, CMS Watch identified several key emerging trends:

  1. The growth and interest in tracking mobile and video usage. The two channels continue to gather steam -- so much so, in fact, that analytics providers are struggling to keep up. "There are pretty substantial technology hurdles with both," Byrne says, explaining that a key challenge involves Javascript, which is the key programming language used in gathering Web-visitor data. Mobile devices do not typically accept Javascript, Byrne says -- a gaping hole that left room for niche providers to develop mobile Web-analytics solutions. Similar occurrences are visible on the video front, as well. Smaller players are emerging, adding color to the competitive landscape of Web analytics.
  2. Yahoo! aims to take on Google, the 800-pound gorilla in the Web analytics space. Ever since the acquisition of Web analytics software company IndexTools last April, Yahoo! has had industry pundits wondering about its future in the Web analytics space. Byrne contends that Yahoo!, with its feature-rich offerings at a low-end (or even free) price point, has the potential to provide serious competition to Google Analytics.
  3. Despite the economic downturn, the Web analytics market is holding on. "It's a vibrant space," Byrne insists. "The rise in the past couple years of small-to-niche vendors getting venture-capital funding suggests that there's clearly a lot demand here." The analyst adds that interest in analytics now extends beyond the traditional boundaries, with demand on the rise within other Web-based markets such as Web content management and enterprise portals. As organizations deploy additional Web-based solutions, he says, they'll soon realize the need to measure the effectiveness of Web traffic, paving the way for Web analytics. Byrne also notes the recent movement in the marketplace, an uptick in mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships. Just recently, in fact, Web analytics player Webtrends announced a partnership with social media monitoring provider Radian6. That partnership speaks to a growing need for a business to analyze not only what Web visitors are doing and saying on its own Web site, but in the rest of the online universe, as well. "Generally, we're seeing a renewed interest in analytics," Byrne says. "A lot of companies can't afford not to pay attention to it."

CMS Watch's Web Analytics Report assesses vendors in the space according to their features, functionality, strengths, and weaknesses. Byrne makes the point that, although there are quite a few providers in the space, each vendor caters to different needs. "This is not commodity software," he says, citing differences among tools, terms of service, access to raw data, etc. "Anyone interested in upgrading analytics will do well to do research and test systems and think through requirements," Byrne recommends. "It's not one-size-fits-all."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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