Forget web analytics – being a web analyst is hard

by Jim Cain

I have been stewing all week over a great blog post I read by Evan LaPointe, a digital marketer out of Atlanta. The post was entitled “I don’t want an analytics job”, and it seems to carry over the same feelings and themes of an earlier post he wrote called “Web Analytics Sucks, and it’s nobody’s fault.”

These posts both excited and annoyed me at the same time.

On one hand, it was almost liberating to read that someone is living in the same trenches that we are at Napkyn. A lot of the points of frustration that Evan talks about – like navigating both internal politics and sub-par data as well as having the role of web analyst considered a low-level technical job rather than a high level executive job – hearing someone else say this stuff will make any analyst grin and buy in. It’s like reading a good Dilbert cartoon and thinking “Hey, that is SO where I work!” – it’s cathartic, but not productive.

Hence my annoyance. Evan touches on all the challenges with being an analyst, and outlines all the skills (data analysis) and opinions (Always Be Testing) that good analysts bring to the table. But his conclusion is that good web analysts don’t actually want to be web analysts, they just represent the next generation of executives-in-waiting – web analysis is beneath them. He says that web analytics actually want to be the ‘shepherds’ of a business, who use data to help guide the organization to ongoing successes. There’s already a job title for that – it’s a CIO.

So while I totally agree with the sentiments, I thought I would share my thoughts on what the real issue is.

Being a Web Analyst is hard.

I don’t want to reopen the whole “Web Analytics is Easy/Hard” debate, but I do want to agree with and elaborate on Evan’s key points.

Most organizations aren’t ready for information based decision-making, and while many firms know that analysis brings results, they do assume that an analyst will generate a ‘magic report’ rather than help move the business forward over time. This is frustrating, and it takes a lot of patience, diligence, and small wins to earn the right to change this perception. With every client we work with, this process takes time, and it always pays off.

Very few tools play well together in the digital sandbox. In a lot of cases, it would be easier if certain kinds of technology didn’t exist – their standalong datasets add zero value unless a ton of work is thrown at them to make them align with corporate data (pay for performance vendors and dynamic CMS systems come to mind immediately here). It’s awfully hard to internally sell the value of analysis if you spend half your time talking about what you can’t see clearly because of technology/disparate data issues. Tools vendors make analysts look bad.

I don’t think that most web analytics practitioners secretly wish they were a CIO. A lot of us live for that ‘eureka’ moment that happens when you uncover amazing insight about the business, or implement a small change that immediately creates a big impact. There’s a big difference between someone who love continuous improvement and someone who wants to run the whole business.

Just because it is hard to be a web analyst right now doesn’t mean that it will be forever. As more of us start to organically change the culture of the organizations we are in, performance management and analysis will start to trump “I think, I feel, I want” and we will get better seats at the table. These information oriented organizations will refuse to accept the vendor data shenanigans and we will get better and easier visibility into the entirety of the digital data.

I for one, love having my web analytics job. It’s not always easy, but panning for gold in the digital wild west has a lot of payoffs that make the frustration worth the while.



P.S. Evan, keep up the great writing and if you ever decide to move to Ottawa I have a job for you – we can work together to come up with the right title 😉

Jim Cain

Founder and CEO, Napkyn Analytics

See more posts from Jim