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The role of the web analyst has changed dramatically, with a diversity of work that didn't exist two or three years ago. 

For the sake of our sanity I set about trying to define the role of the web analyst.

I have our most recent hire to thank for this train of thought. Adam joined us in summer 2011 and was quickly consumed by the whirlwind merry-go-round that is agency-side web analytics.

One day Adam came up for air and attempted forlornly to quantify his new career. In his email to me he expressed surprise (and delight) at the diversity of work that lay ahead.

In Adam’s words, this is what a web analyst does:

  1. Set up site tracking.
  2. Set up profiles.
  3. Set up reporting.
  4. Analyse and evaluate PPC traffic.
  5. Analyse and evaluate organic traffic.
  6. Analyse and evaluate referral traffic.
  7. Analyse and evaluate navigation through and use of the site.
  8. Advise on web design/content issues on any given site in as far as they affect points 4-7.
  9. Behavioural modelling of online consumer behaviour.
  10. Evaluate market landscape for online product. What are primary competitor sites, what are important secondary sites in the user ecosystem?

The web analyst will one day rule the world

My point here is two-fold:

  1. The role of the web analyst is not easily defined.
  2. It is diverse and diversifying all the time.

Platforms, channels, apps and tools

As agency-side analysts, much of the time we get a call when things are going badly, meaning all of the below are common features at the point where we get involved:

  • Poorly implemented analytics tool.
  • Lack of important technologies for tracking specific aspects of the website (e.g. e-commerce).
  • Badly tagged campaigns.
  • Incomplete or fragmented marketing plan.
  • Disconnect between multiple tools (e.g. marketing platforms & website or WA & CRM).
  • No definition of different user populations and how to segment to analyse each one individually.

Thinking about what this means to the analyst, it’s easy to build a picture of the skills and disciplines required:

  • Implementing the primary tool(s): html, javascript, cookies, in depth knowledge of the primary tool. 
  • User population segmentation or ‘persona creation’: knowledge of online survey tools, customising tracking on primary tools, heatmapping, call tracking, ecommerce platforms, payment platforms, CRMs, CMS, SPSS.
  • Marketing plan: in depth knowledge of the characteristics and mechanics of SEO, PPC email platforms, affiliate, social media, offline media etc.

We haven’t even discussed what happens when we go multi-platform with tailored content and marketing plans for each channel and each platform.

Art & Science

Once the data has been collected we must apply as much science to its analysis as possible. Where science reaches limitations, art, intuition and experience take over.

The pay-off for analysis is of course the point where we come up with some improvements to our understanding of our customer base or to the website or one or more marketing channels.

We then go into optimisation mode. Optimisation mode requires in depth knowledge of the latest testing platforms, web design trends, apps, technologies and widgets and then lashings more art, experience and intuition. 

Our plucky web analyst must now be able to communicate all of his ideas eloquently and persuasively in order that his client /colleagues implement his recommendations in order for any of this to have been worthwhile.

Shift online

Despite sustained economic difficulties, digital marketing and most forms of online advertising have continued to enjoy very healthy growth thanks to increasingly large proportions of marketing and data collection moving online.

With this move database marketers have had to learn online, applying their segmentation and persona building methodologies to the world of web analytics. And so more critical business decisions are made by online teams.

Who ties it all together? If it isn’t already, it certainly could be the web analyst.

Quantifying the Issue

I’m conscious that some may believe I have gone beyond the role of the web analyst and into some kind of overarching online consultant role.

My belief through experience is that this is the reality for all but the very biggest web teams where an expert in each discipline can be sustained by the web traffic and revenue created.

Through necessity and the skill of a talented web analyst, the role has gone far beyond the archaic paradigm of the web analyst as database cruncher/spreadsheet geek. Where a big team isn’t possible, the web analyst becomes the lynchpin of these diverse disciplines and the strategy of the business.

Being a web analyst I thought what better way to try and define this role than with data. The below table, courtesy of itjobswatch.co.uk, is a great attempt at describing this role with data.

To my mind it tells a similar story to the above; anything from SQL to SEO to project management are commonly required skills for web analysts as suggested by data gleaned from web analyst roles posted on their site.  

Ashley Burgess

Published 3 February, 2012 by Ashley Burgess

Ben Gott is Head of Web Analytics at Periscopix and a contributor to Econsultancy.

4 more posts from this author

Comments (6)

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Simon Kirkham, Global Analytics Technical Lead at Premier Farnell plc

Good article Ben,

I agree that a good web analyst has a multi-disaplined background which included technical, business and marketing. We are, in my eyes, the eCommerce consultant with the organisation but the insight and recommendations are derived from real data.

Buy the way you missed from your list A/B and multivariate testing :-)

over 4 years ago


Bret Bernhoft

You are hitting some very good points with this article. The role of the Web Analyst is growing and changing at an ever quicker pace. Great article.

over 4 years ago


Nikul Sanghvi

Hi Ben,

Cool article. Totally agree that working in Web Analytics requires a diverse set of abilities

Simon Kirkham makes a good point - Optimisation and MVT seem to come up pretty often.
It's also worth keeping in mind that although we talk about related IT skills, there is also a huge range on non-IT skills that are coming up as requirements for web analytics practitioners in recent years - such as an understanding of maths (statistics), the ability to make data visually attractive and as always, the skills of a sales-person/evangelist to sell analytics into the business (or to clients).

Just as a thought, I'm not sure how representative the table above is of the related skills.
The search on itjobswatch.co.uk may have also pulled out data for roles where Web Analyst title is used for applications or systems analysts - hence the IIS, ITIL, etc

Thanks for writing about this :)

over 4 years ago

Ashley Burgess

Ashley Burgess, Head of Web Analytics at Periscopix

Thanks for your comments guys, I did cover the MVT/A/B thing with talk of optimisation platforms in the art and science section, yes I agree it is an increasingly important part of what we do.

Nikul - the maths/statistics thing is a good point too. Particularly when working with big datasets.

The biggest issue I find at the moment is finding quality candidates for new roles, its hard to know what is the best audience to advertise the role to.

over 4 years ago


Blair Keen

Hi Ben,

You've presented some interesting perspectives here - the most notable being that the role of the web analyst is increasingly extending beyond the raw facts of data and heading out into the world of insight.

I was interested to see that you mention 'art and intuition' as the next set of tools beyond data gathering? I wonder what your views are on the role of primary qualitative research and how this should be used to further understand the data?

My view is that if your role in data is to extract actionable insights to improve either the User Experience or the website conversion rate, then you need to know more than just web analytics; you need to be able to translate data through the lens of User Experience.

An example workflow for a CRO specialist would be data (what), user research (why), testing (proof) - and then start again with data.

Still - it's nice to see us data guys publishing on Econsultancy! Good job.

over 4 years ago

Ashley Burgess

Ashley Burgess, Head of Web Analytics at Periscopix

Hi Blair, I agree with your workflow example. Where the web analyst role may deviate from a pure CRO bod is that they have to first consider the 'how' i.e. how to get the data they need to be able to gain insight and all the setup that entails.

The qualitative side cannot be underplayed. Pure analysts might say that the 'the plural of anecdote is not data'. Personally I have seen fantastic results from even the smallest scenario based observed usability tests and some of the projects we're working on at the moment are getting a staggering amount of quality insight from online surveys.

What are your thoughts on who should be doing this? We try to get different people working on the qual and quant stuff. 1 person analysing both can always runs the risk of twisting the outcome of one to agree with the other. Two individuals arriving at the same conclusion independently is always more powerful.

Thanks for commenting!

over 4 years ago

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