Great read over on the Freakonomics blog with Bill James, the data wizard for the Boston Red Sox. A few choice quotes rang true for me; he could have been talking about web analytics:
I would say generally that baseball statistics are always trying to mislead you, and that it is a constant battle not to be misled by them.
We haven’t figured out anything yet. A hundred years from now, we won’t have begun to have the game figured out.
and to who should have a larger role in player evaluations, scouts or stats guys:
Ninety-five percent scouts, five percent stats. […] the knowledge of who will improve is vastly more important than the knowledge of who is good. Stats can tell you who is good, but they’re almost 100 percent useless when it comes to who will improve.
I’m really jazzed about it. IndexTools is a great group that’s been laser focused on the stuff that customers care about. They have a very practical attitude towards their products. Because they started in 2000, they learned from the pioneers, and built a deep analytics system that really works well. That much was clear as soon as we popped the hood and poked around inside .. unlike a lot of their competition, they didn’t have an old and a new product that they bolted together.
So does this mean we’re going to do “Yahoo! Analytics”, and try to “steal” web sites away from Google Analytics or the commercial web analytics vendors? See, that’s not what this is about. Yahoo! has stated its desire to be a “partner of choice”, and as the new Yahoo! strategy began to sink in, it became clear that the new Yahoo! was going to need to offer a new level of products to its partners. We have many, many thousands of small and medium businesses partnering with us now, and we want to make sure they have the tools they need. We’ve already announced an open strategy where developers can take advantage of Yahoo! products and services; we want to make sure they get the analytics they need too. Yahoo! has so many partners in so many places that can benefit from this technology, it became clear — even obvious — it was now the right thing to do.
Yeah, we still have a team working on analytics solutions for our “owned and operated” world — Yahoo! is too big a customer for IndexTools, or any other commercial vendor for that matter. There’s a world of difference between massive scale for one huge customer, and massive scale for a huge number of small and medium-sized customers. Now we have both.
As for what this means for the web analytics industry, I’ll leave that to the pundits, analysts and fortune tellers.
Here’s some of the combined team after a day of meetings at IndexTools.
(and yes, that’s Dennis at the head of the table, farthest away from the camera.)
In the words of Bill Clinton, “it depends on what you mean by …”
The web analytics is easy / hard discussion among various thought leaders has been interesting but I can’t help but think a little self-serving. I had a long preachy post ready to go but even I was bored by it. Instead, let me offer some observations:
Web data is messy. It doesn’t fit into cubes (think path analysis by segment) for instance. So it requires special handling.
Web data is noisy. Think robots and cookie deletion.
Web analytics is nonstandard. Despite the efforts of the IAB, WAA and others, nobody can say “we use the computation standard to determine this” – because there is no computation standard. Count web 2.0 for me…
If you want to chase the rabbit down the hole, you’ll decide that web analytics is hard. if you want to defer these kinds of things to a tool vendor who will sell you turnkey “best practices” then web analytics is easy.
In business, speed of deployment is king. Thus it’s easier to look at pre-built reports than create them from scratch.
Lack of integration with the business goals means lack of actionability. Most analytics is like driving by looking into the glove box – interesting but irrelevant.
As a result of the first two, there’s an emphasis on quantitative over qualitative analysis — which means there very little “analytics” at all, just metrics trending.
When you don’t first design your analysis from business goals, you grab as much data as you can, and pick and choose the data that supports your hypothesis — either you’re in report hell, or analysis paralysis. For a very visceral example of this, look at how most people do experimentation.
If you design your analytics to meet your strategy, and staff for it, the implementation is long (and complex, yes) but the resulting analytics are easy. If you want to defer to a tool vendor who will sell you turnkey “best practices” then web analytics is hard.
It’s been said that people would rather pull off a finger nail than learn how to leverage their website data. I’ve thought about that a lot lately, and think I have the answer:
A good manicure. French, maybe.
But really, this is all soo sad because the reality is that. . . .
Web Analytics is like a drag queen: It has Really Big Hair, killer eye makeup, and knows how to promote itself:
We believe it, but how do we get to a point where others in the organization do as well?
Step One for each and everyone of us (and you are unique and abnormal in that you read a web analytics blog!) is to accept and recognize the fact that Web Analytics might might be seen as outside the mainstream and a bit freakish. Once you accept then you can move on and do something about it.
I think that’s all the steps required, really!
With extreme apologies to Avinash, and extreme thanks to June.
PS to Jim Sterne: no, I will not. Don’t even ask, ‘K?
Congrats to WebTrends who announced their new CEO today. Dan Stickel is no stranger to the Internet, having done executive stints at Google and AltaVista.
The press release quotes Dan: “The web analytics market is forecast for nearly 20% growth in 2008, and the growth in enterprise marketing software is even greater.” Looks like the gauntlet has been thrown — this looks like a CEO challenge to WebTrends to do better than 20% growth this year.
It’s great to see such a venerable player getting past the cloud of uncertainty. I don’t know anything about WebTrends’ plans, but given Dan’s recent past at Google, expect to see an emphasis on partners.
Forgot to mention in the rush of Coremetrics funding last week, that WebTrends announced email alerts. Gotta love the quote from Rand. The press release might have the coolest URL I’ve seen in a while. I’d like to see that in a web analytics report.
Every week the sleepy world of web analytics has something interesting happening. I can’t wait to see what gets the buzz this week.
(How things have changed: when Accrue did its IPO nine years ago, we raised something like $39M. It just goes to show that there’s a lot of money available outside the public markets.)
Good for Coremetrics that their investors see enough demand to hand over such a large sum. It certainly bucks the conventional wisdom that Coremetrics was slowly withering away — it should put new life into their deals and a new swagger in their walk. Reading the press release, I can imagine the message to investors: we are not constrained by the market, the competition, or our technology: we need more feet on the street.
So I’m filling out the WAA Analytics survey, and get to the question where they want to know how many years of experience I have in the field. Shocked to write down “12” — that’s crazy. How far have we come? I’m still listening to people talk about tracking users.
PPS Seriously, why doesn’t AOL focus on the benefits of BT — like that the ads you’ll get are actually relevant? I am also concerned that they are confusing BT with tracking across an ad network. They are not the same. As it is, what I see from the storyboard is I get a TRACKING COOKIE ON MY COMPUTER followed closely by somebody thinking “I should remove that cookie”… is BT the new cookie? Is the cookie the new cookie?