Top 4 Insights from eMetrics Web Analytics Summit

By Dan Haggerty, Manager of Digital Analytics for PBS Interactive

Back at the end of June, I had the pleasure of attending the eMetrics summit in Chicago. eMetrics is one of the leading Web Analytics industry conferences.

At the conference, I learned a lot of fantastic new things and I thought I'd share a few of them with you. In particular, I wanted to highlight the top 4 most talked-about issues I heard discussed at the conference.

1. Big Data
There was a lot of discussion about "Big Data" at the conference. Definitions of exactly what "Big Data" means are still evolving. For now it seems that the consensus is that Big Data is a term used to describe the practice of aggregating and synthesizing immense sets of data from a variety of sources at an extremely fast pace. This practice is a big source of discussion for Web Analysts because it is the kind of siren song that we are susceptible too. The prospect of obtaining even bigger data sets of both online (e.g. website traffic) and offline (e.g. call-center phone calls) data and being able to quickly analyze that information to provide deep insights that have profound impact is something we dream about. The problem is that it's really, really hard to do. Just simply aggregating the kind of immense data sets required for Big Data analysis presents all sorts of storage and database issues. Then once all the data is together, it's really only "Big Data" if you are able to analyze and act on that analysis very quickly. The discussions about Big Data are just heating up. If you're interested in learning more, you can read the following blog post by one of the eMetrics presenters, Stephane Hamel.

2. "Digital" Analytics
The industry of Web Analytics has evolved so much in recent years that it needs a new title. Web Analysts are being asked to do way more than just provide reports and keep track of things in Google Analytics. They are now being asked to be much more tightly integrated with business strategy and provide insights and recommendations. This means they have to use a much wider set of tools, data sources, and skills. To reflect these changes, the Web Analysts are now being called "Digital Analysts," and the Web Analytics Association (the professional organization for the industry) changed its name to the Digital Analytics Association. There was a lot of discussion at the conference about the vast array of skills analysts need to acquire to rise to the challenge of becoming "Digital Analysts" (see #4 below).

3. The Privacy Predicament
There was a lot of discussion at the conference about a new European Union Cookie Law.

This law would require websites to obtain explicit consent from their users to track their actions on the website every time they visit. This is obviously a big concern for companies that do a significant amount of business overseas, because it means that they would have far fewer sessions they could track on their websites. For now, it's not much of a concern for domestic-only companies, but it brings up the issue of Privacy, which continues to be at the forefront. There was a lot of discussion at the conference about the role the Digital Analytics community plays in informing the public about how they are being tracked on websites (anonymously unless the user chooses to log in) and why it is such a valuable practice.

One interesting trend in that area was highlighted by the conference's organizer, Jim Sterne. Sterne said that companies are increasingly using an incremental opt-in model. This is where the user is incrementally provided additional value from the website in exchange for providing more and more of their personal information. This gives the user the choice about what level of information they want to divulge, based upon the level of access they wish to get to the website. If the website doesn't offer anything of value to the user, then they don't have to divulge any information. Users will always be tracked anonymously by tools like Google Analytics. Increasingly, though, if they want access to exclusive content they find valuable, they're going to be asked to provide information about themselves so the company providing the content can establish a relationship.

The consensus at the conference was that Digital Analysts bear some responsibility for improving transparency in how usage is tracked. If there isn't more transparency, then the feeling was that more companies would run in to issues like this.

4. Data Visualization
Data visualization is all the rage. This is one of those skills that is transforming Web Analysts to Digital Analysts. The ability to "efficiently communicate complex qualitative ideas," as Edward Tufte would put it, is something analysts are keenly interested in. Analysts spend so much time aggregating data and diving deep into the numbers that it's easy to want to show all of that work. What usually results is a lengthy report with wayyyyyyy too much information. I'm guilty of this. But all that does is muddy the waters and make it harder for decision-makers to understand what the real take-away points are of a particularly big analysis. So as Digital Analysts look to become better communicators and help the businesses they support make better decisions quicker, basic data visualization techniques are becoming part of toolbox. For more information, see here.

That's it. Those are the big things that are being discussed in the world of Digital Analytics.

For another summary of the eMetrics summit, check out this post from the President of the Digital Analytics Association, John Lovett.

If you are interested in Digital Analytics, I recommend following these Analysts on Twitter:

Stephane Hamel: @SHamelCP
Jim Sterne: @jimsterne
Adam Greco: @adamgreco
John Lovett: @johnlovett
Jusin Cutroni: @justincutroni