From its humble beginnings as server logs used by IT, web analytics has advanced over the years to become the de-facto standard of online measurement, used by every serious online marketer (and quite a few unserious ones!).
Here is our list of the top 5 most significant advances in web measurement and some great resources for further reading on each topic:
1. Democratization of Web Analytics
Google Analytics, the first robust, easy to implement, and most importantly, free version of web analytics, has made web analytics available to everyone. Not only has Google Analytics driven much greater adoption of web analytics, it also has forced the other web analytics players to offer more value or be steamrolled.
For more information about the history of web analytics, listen to this informative and entertaining podcast by the Digital Analytics Power Hour.
2. Industry “Ecosystem”
As the industry has matured, we now have the institutions, vendors, consultants, best practices, etc. to help advance web measurement. While this “advance” is more abstract than the others, the codification of best practices and the spread of practicing companies has pushed the industry into the mainstream.
Avinash Kaushik has a great post on some digital analytics best practices.
Testing tools have made tremendous progress, moving from simple A/B tests to multivariate tests of tens of thousands of permutations of content. But more important than the actual tools is the adoption of testing as a core tactic used by companies. Got a great idea but your company is skeptical? Test it. Trying to choose between two different messages? Test them. This “testing mindset” states that we don’t know what is going to work best until we test it. We still need to get much better at determining what to test and how to measure the results, but we are on the right track.
Forrester released a report on the top digital intelligence platforms of 2021 here. If you’d like to download it for free (in exchange for your information), Upland Software offers a free downloadable file of the 2019 edition.
4. Marketing Optimization (particularly for eCommerce and Lead Gen)
Here, I am referring more to the idea of automatically taking behavioral data (clicks) and using software and tools to automate tactical improvements to campaigns and content (usually through testing and behavioral targeting). Of all the tools out there, paid search software has probably made the most progress here due to the innate measurability of search. Other tools still need much more development, but it is great to see this idea achieve widespread adoption and so much attention from software providers.
Eric Greenberg and Alex Kates wrote a good primer on measuring returns through digital marketing.
5. Voice of Customer (VOC)
While these tools still need dramatic improvement and greater integration with behavioral data, capturing visitor opinions and feedback is now a fairly common practice. It is a good complement to the behavioral data that still dominates web measurement.
Gary Angel often delivers a remarkable overview of the benefits of Voice of Customer data on his blog. You can also find some great content in his recent book, Measuring the Digital World.
While the industry has made progress, it is woefully inadequate in so many other ways. Much of the industry lives and breathes on onsite behavioral data (clicks) and clicks alone. We often know nothing about how a site impacted brand perceptions, how it impacted offline actions, and sometimes we know little about the actual people who are visiting. Without these, we are only seeing one piece of the puzzle, and we struggle to convince others of the value of our online marketing and therefore struggle to get the resources we need to get more from the web.