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3 Key Skills for Web Analysts

Integrated marketing guru Don E. Schultz coined the phrase "marketing is static, but the consumer is dynamic" nearly two years ago. Businesses must rely on the expertise of their web analysts to tap into the invaluable data collected through their websites.

If anyone still has doubt about a career in web analytics, the recent eMetrics Summit revealed just how hot the job market is. Attendees and exhibitors looking to hire wore a green dot on their badges, a simple and effective method that clearly demonstrated the huge demand for web analysts.

What should companies seeking web analysts be looking for?

  1. Experience: web analytics is not an entry-level position

  2. Multi-disciplinary background or training

  3. Attention to detail and ability to focus

"As an experiment, it was too successful," says eMetrics Summit producer Jim Sterne. "We don't want to scare away managers who are worried their employees will be poached at the next one in October, so this was one time only."

Furthermore, results of a study by WebAnalyticsDemystified revealed that nearly 50 percent of those already in the web analytics field are considering looking for a new position. The Web Analytics Association job board lists dozens of available positions and Indeed.com, a job hunting aggregator, shows a 400 percent increase over the last two years for jobs containing the term "web analytics."

Despite being in web analytics for fewer than five years (77 percent), and most of them fewer than 3 years (52 percent), nearly 60 percent of web analytics professionals consider their job to be "difficult." It appears that most web analysts didn't land in their current job on their first assignment; most of them have grown from other related fields.
Paul Holstein, project manager at CSC Financial, reviews the situation: "We searched for an analytics analyst for more than six months and finally gave up looking for an experienced person. We hired a bright and motivated analyst who we could train in web analytics. We benchmarked what attributes we were looking for and began our search for a curious, intelligent, driven sort of person."

Surprisingly, fewer than 30 percent of companies have a dedicated resource for managing web analytics and more than 40 percent recognize they are not maximizing the potential of their current web analytics solution. This leads to the big question...

Multi-Disciplinary Background or Training
Web analyst expertise is multi-dimensional. Knowledge of interactive marketing and web design/usability, statistics, web technologies and internet concepts, as well as acute analysis and communication skills are just some of the competencies of the perfect web analyst. While most web analysts struggle to satisfy very diversified expectations, those who have the chance to be part of a multi-disciplinary team with the maturity of an analytical process and culture will benefit the most.

But what are web analysts really doing? What makes this job so difficult? A few months ago, web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik proposed that web analysts should spend their time on five major activities:

  1. Reporting, providing results from various metrics to find out about the "what and how much";

  2. Analyzing acquisition strategies and basically everything that brings traffic to the site;

  3. Understanding the onsite customer experience and if the "persuasion scenarios" are working as expected;

  4. Plugging into the business context, keeping up with the operational and strategic changes that might affect the web;

  5. Exploring new strategic options, experimenting and improving the site, keeping up with the web and analytics evolution.

Attention to Detail and Ability to Focus
Taking attention for granted, the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of work is the scarcest resource of all, with each task evaluated by mapping the attention type required to accomplish it. According to the AttentionScape methodology developed by Davenport & Beck in "The Attention Economy," the most effective attention will go to items that are shown near the center of the chart. The survey of 36 web analytics practitioners mapped each task under three different dimensions:

  1. Front-of-mind vs. back-of-mind: The attention type of the music you listen to while working is back-of-mind, in that it doesn't involve a focused attention. Front-of-mind attention is conscious, focused and explicit.

  2. Voluntary vs. captive: There are some activities you can't avoid, and some others you deliberately choose to do because you want to learn or because you enjoy doing them.

  3. Attractive or aversive: Some tasks bring positive experiences, while we have to do others to avoid negative consequences.

The study revealed that all web analytics activities require a relatively high level of front-of-mind attention: concentration and focus is required. However, too many front-of-mind activities can lead to anxiety, stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Speaking with some analysts revealed that this is a common feeling among practitioners.

Where to go from here?
Some people might say the results of the study are not surprising, but in a way it is comforting to see that between the goal and the current state of affairs, web analysts live with similar challenges and struggle with the same hurdles. There is still a lot to do in order to bring the most valuable strategic insights to organizations deploying web analytics. The tools themselves are already providing a lot more functionality and information than anyone can handle, but as more educational resources become available and businesses come to realize the value of web analytics, the role of web analyst is likely to become critical not only to a successful internet presence, but maybe even to the success of entire organizations.

As Davenport, Cohen & Jacobson say in "Competing on Analytics," "Employees hired for their expertise with numbers or trained to recognize their importance are armed with the best evidence and the best quantitative tools. As a result, they make the best decisions. In companies that compete on analytics, senior executives make it clear -- from the top down -- that analytics is central to strategy. Such organizations launch multiple initiatives involving complex data and statistical analysis, and quantitative activity is managed at the enterprise (not departmental) level."

One of the best ways to find web analysts with the three most important key elements is to attend a local Web Analytics Wednesday meeting. These are held every month in most major cities worldwide. The WAA also has a job board where companies can post their interest.

Another option, one followed by CSC Financial, is to grow your own. Companies following this route will want to make sure their candidate takes part in the WAA's UBC trainings and reads the WAA message boards as they’re a ripe source of relevant information for people with experience and those just entering the field.

Stéphane Hamel brings 20 years of experience to the industry and has been involved in web development since 1993. .

Stéphane Hamel is a leading voice for online analytics: helping businesses optimize their online channel by extracting insight from data.> Consulting- Delivering optimal and realistic solutions & strategies to his clients for over...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Stéphane Hamel

2007, October 23

Hi Donna, here are some sugestions: - Look at books from Avinash Kaushik, Jim Sterne, Bryan Eisenberg and Eric T. Peterson - Give it a try on your own website or volunteer to do Web Analytics for a nonprofit organization - Read the Yahoo! Group forum on web analytics and top blogs - Attend Web Analytics Wednesdays, eMetrics, XChange, Basecamp events - Get educated: UBC Award of Achievement in Web Analytics More info at http://blog.immeria.net/search/label/FAQ

Commenter: donna horn

2007, October 23

I am currently in the process of learning about web analytics. I have been reporting numbers but know without experience that the numbers are meaningly without the core analysis. Where can i find information on how to keep abreast of new developments in web analytics?

Commenter: Reid Carr

2007, August 07

I strongly believe that a good Web analyst should be the core of any Web team. If you are dedicated to being successful online, then a good Web analyst can lead the way. The trouble is that when looking on the open market for Web analysts, the titles and competencies (even at the "big shops") are often, not always, mis-aligned. Too often these analysts are jumping from shop to shop for a meritless pay and title increase. Just because you know the tools doesn't make you an analyst; tools can be taught quickly to smart people, but true insightful analysis, ability to spot patterns and communicate appropriate change are critical skills that are honestly lacking all too often. Those skills are overshadowed by a person's ability to move through a tool, quickly find the KPIs and report the numbers. There does happen to be a wealth of people who possess the critical abilities, they just don't know about our industry, yet. They're sitting in finance, market research, anthropology and other unique positions throughout the world, they just don't know our toolsets, yet. We need to reach out to these disciplines and convince them to see the opportunity (and mounds of data) we can present for their analytical minds. As Stephane says, invite them to a WAW event, for example. Stephane, thanks for bringing up this topic; there truly is such powerful opportunity here.