Association heralds strategic role of Web analytics, preps for ‘death of the page’

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Tysons Corner, Va.—As the Web site rapidly becomes the preferred means by which customers conduct transactions and interact with corporate brands, Web analytics will need to rise to the task of informing long-term business strategy, not simply report on traffic numbers, clicks and broken links.

“It’s an opportunity, not a fire extinguisher,” said Jim Sterne, producer of the Emetrics Summit and founding president of the Web Analytics Association. The Emetrics Summit, now in its fifth year, attracted an overflow crowd of 450 attendees to its three-day event outside Washington, D.C.—the group’s first meeting on the East Coast. In order to properly leverage the insight coming from their Web analysis packages, most companies still need to overcome a set of technical and organizational hurdles, agreed a panel of speakers from Forrester Research, JupiterResearch and Gartner Inc.

“Data integration” issues showed up in the top five responses to JupiterResearch’s survey of the top challenges facing Web analytics users, said Gregory Dowling, a senior analyst with the company. “Lack of internal resources and lack of an internal mandate” were also cited as problems, he said.

On a positive note, Dowling and the other speakers said consolidation among vendors of Web analytics tools will help, adding functionality to these packages and making data integration somewhat easier.

One technical point that occupied many of the discussions at the summit was the so-called “death of the page,” a reference to a set of Web 2.0 technologies that will make Web pages much more dynamic, allowing users to interact with applications rather than simply clicking on a hyperlink.

Megan Burns, senior analyst, customer experience at Forrester Research, said her initial impression is that companies don’t plan to implement these advanced features before first figuring out how they will measure their impact on e-commerce and marketing. “That indicates a mind-set change,” she said.

Sterne said the demise of static pages would mean different things will need to be measured—such as how long users interact with an applet or media segment or how they pan around a map—but that the “A-B testing would follow exactly the same principles.” He said the goal of the testing would be the same, too: determining the user’s intent and optimizing the online experience around their needs.

One company that has embraced the measurement mantra is Xerox Corp., which struggled earlier in this decade and restructured itself around “fact-based” decision-making, said Duane Schulz, VP-corporate Internet marketing, who on Tuesday delivered the summit’s keynote, titled “Tools Don’t Matter.”

“Analysis initiates action,” Schulz said, revealing that traffic and e-commerce have increased 20% and 50%, respectively, at in the past year, as performance dashboards, including marketing dashboards, have been propagated throughout the company.

Another aspect of this discipline has been the adoption of Lean Six Sigma methodology. In one case, leads increased 400% and traffic doubled at a Web site supporting Xerox’s Global Services consulting unit. Currently, Lean Six Sigma is used in “hundreds of [projects] a quarter, thousands a year” at Xerox, Schulz said.

Seeking to standardize Web measurement best practices, in January the WAA in conjunction with the University of British Columbia, launched the first, formal education course in Web analytics. About 250 students have taken the four-class, online program to date, said Sterne, who plans to license the curriculum to other institutions and associations. In addition, in 2007 the WAA hopes to “work out the details” of a certification program, Sterne said.

The next Emetrics Summit will be May 7-9 in San Francisco.

—Ellis Booker

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