Finally! Standards come to Web Analytics
Last week I had the pleasure of traveling to Columbus, Ohio to participate in Web Analytics Wednesday, hosted by Resource Interactive’s Tim Wilson and generously sponsored by the fine folks at Foresee. We opted for an “open Q&A” format that turned out pretty well. Turns out the web analysts in Ohio are a pretty sharp bunch so all of the questions I fielded were of the “hardball” type.
One question in particular surprised me, and the answer I gave forced me to elucidate a point I have been pondering for some time but have never voiced in public. The question came from Elizabeth Smalls (@smallsmeasures, go follow her now) who asked, and I paraphrase, “How can we best explain the differences in the numbers we see between systems?” and “Is there any chance the web analytics industry will ever have ‘standards’?”
Long-time readers know I have followed the Web Analytics Associations’s efforts to establish standards closely over the years, helping to create awareness about the work and also pushing the Association to “put teeth” behind their definitions and encourage vendors to either move towards the “standard” definitions or, at worst, elucidate where they are compliant and where they differ from the WAA’s work.
Sadly the WAA’s “standards” never really caught on as a set of baseline definitions against which all systems could be compared to help explain some of the differences in the data. As a result practitioners around the globe still struggle when it comes time to explain these differences, especially when moving from one paid vendor to another. But none of this matters anymore for one simple reason …
Google Analytics has become the de facto standard for web analytics.
Google has become the standard for web analytics by sheer force of might, persistence, and dedication. By every measure, Google Analytics is the world’s most popular and widely deployed web analytics solution. Hell, in our Analysis Exchange efforts we focus exclusively on the use of Google Analytics because A) we know that 99 times out of 100 we will find it already deployed and B) nearly all of our mentors have had enough exposure to Google Analytics to effectively teach it to our students.
What’s more, as Forrester’s Joe Stanhope opined the recently published Forrester Wave for Web Analytics, web analytics as we knew it doesn’t really exist anymore:
“Few web analytics vendors restrict their remit to pure on-site analytics. Most vendor road maps incorporate emerging media such as social and mobile channels, data agnostic integration and analysis features, usability for a broad array of analytics stakeholders, and scalability to handle the rising influx of data and activity.”
Joe says “few” vendors remained focused on on-site analytics, but it would be more precise to say “one” vendor — Google — has maintained interest in how site operators measure their efforts with any level of exclusivity and sincerity. In fact, I don’t think we need to call the industry “web analytics” anymore … it is probably more accurate to say we have “Google Analytics” and “Everything Else.”
Everything else is enterprise marketing platforms. Everything else is integrated online marketing suites. Everything else … is all of the stuff that has been layered on top of solutions we have historically considered “web analytics” as a response to an event that can only be accurately described as the single most important acquisition in our sector, period.
Google Analytics is the de facto standard for web analytics, and this is great news.
With Google Analytics you have a totally free standard against which all other data can be reconciled.
Now keep in mind, I am absolutely not saying that all you need is Google Analytics — nothing could be further from the truth. Despite a nice series of updates and the emergence of a paid solution that may be appropriate for some companies, I agree with Stanhope when he says that “Google Analytics Premium still lags enterprise competitors in several areas such as data integration, administration, and data processing …”
But that’s a debate for the lobby bar, not this blog post.
If you’re looking for a set of rules that can be universally applied when it comes to the most basic and fundamental definitions for the measures, metrics, and dimensions that our industry is built upon, you don’t have to look anymore. Google has solved that problem for the rest of us, and we should thank them. Now, thanks to Google, we can focus on some of the real problems facing our industry … which again, is a debate best left to the lobby bar.
What do you think? Are you running Google Analytics on your site? Do you use it when you see anomalies in data collected through other systems? Have you used it to validate a move from one paid vendor to another? Or do you believe that the WAA standards already provide the solution I am ascribing to Google?
As always I welcome your opinions and feedback.
 Yes, when Google changed the definition of a “session” that impacted their consistency, but once they corrected the bug they introduced it seems the number of complaints has gone down significantly. What’s more, the change made sense and in general we should be in favor of “improving on standards whenever possible” don’t you think?