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Review: 'What a makes a great web analyst?'

Review: 'What a makes a great web analyst?'

A chunk of words has been written about ‘what makes a great web analyst’. Here I review a number of posts to identify what most commentators agree on as well as some key skills of web analysts that are less obvious, but no less important.

People who have posted on this topic include Avinash Kaushik, Corry Prohens of IQ Workforce, ClickInsight, Garry Przyklenk, Theodor Mavrodis, Laura Lee Dooley and Andrew Warren-Payne of Econsultancy. I am sure there are many others, and if you think there are one or a dozen others I should have considered, leave me a comment below.

A note on terms

One note before we continue; throughout this post I have used the term ‘web analyst’ rather than the strictly more accurate ‘digital analyst’. For the time being I regard these terms as synonymous but expect at some stage that the label ‘digital analyst’ will gain ubiquity. Beyond this there is an argument to drop any suffix, whether it ‘web’ or ‘digital’ to simply rely on the nomenclature ‘analyst’ - but that's for another time.

What everyone seems to agree on

To identify patterns in their writers’ thoughts I pumped the text from the posts mentioned above into Wordle.

Based on this word cloud,there were five key groupings – in order of prominence (or repetition) – that represented a form of consensus as to the skills of a web analyst.

#1 Business acumen & knowledge of company

What web analysts do is understand the objectives of a business and seek to measure the performance of the company’s online operation in meeting those objectives. Understanding both business in a general sense and the company in particular appear to be intrinsic to the web analyst’s skill sets. In fact, without these the analysis is likely to lack any meaning

#2 Able to handle all kinds of data

Data comes in many forms – structured, unstructured, qualitative and quantitative – but all the commentators mentioned an analyst’s ability to manipulate, manage, massage and master this commodity

#3 Web savvy – marketing & technology

Web analysts have to understand two critical aspects of the web. Firstly, they have to grasp the fundamentals of online marketing – whether that is search, affiliate, email, social, display and secondly, they have to know enough about web technology – cookies, HTML, Javascript, sessions, etc in order to make sense of the data and converse sensibly with the techies.

#4 To produce analysis

To convert data, a clear understand of the business, a handle on online marketing and a grasp on the way web servers work into ‘actionable’ insight is the work of web analyst, according to writers above.

The data sources are various, the data manipulation often complex, the online component in the marketing mix constantly changing and web technology rapidly evolving, all of this the web analyst must master and aim ‘to discover’ and turn these ingredients into something digestible and, need I say it again, actionable.

#5 To make analysis people-friendly

I have worked with enough analysts to know the difference between analysis, good as it is, and people-friendly analysis.

People-friendly analysis is what gets delivered to the manager / client / VP / Director and who takes this forward. Great analysts are able to craft a story, to help us, the consumers of the data, to internalize the analysis to make it cogent and coherent. To learn more about why people prefer stories statistics refer to this great post in the New York Times.

Overlooked, but still important skills

In reading these posts, I became aware there were some skills of a web analyst that were mentioned only briefly, or just by one writer.

#1 – Owning ‘conversion’

Introduced by Theodor Mavrodis I agree that is important that the web analyst seeks, or at least has the ambition to, ‘own’ the conversion field.

As marshaller of data, interpreter of insight and chief storyteller it is right that the web analyst manages the process of taking action and identifying the improvements brought by his/her analysis. Hiving this off to a separate department or team will lead to duplication of effort, turf wars and insufficient focus on outcomes.

#2 – Having (and using) a methodology

Web analysts can and do make tangible improvements to business, their bottom line and customer satisfaction. However, in my experience, few web analysts approach their analysis with a pre-determined methodology in mind.

Experienced web analysts hunt out methodologies of others (see Avinash’s Digital Marketing and Measurement Model) that they can borrow, adapt and make their own.

#3 – Investing in oneself and one’s network

The speed of change is immense and the demands of the day job are great. Analysts who are performing regular deep-dive analyses, doing battle with VLOOKUP and triangulating this with voice-of-customer surveys can often get isolated.

Seasoned web analysts understand the value of taking time out to consider other perspectives, to learn or update their skills and to build their network of fellow analysts, who can provide that sounding board to a nutty data problem.

#4 – Managing and leading change

There is often considerable resistance to taking a analytical perspective to a business problems – egos are involved, prejudice and gut instincts are regularly deployed and the hierarchy supports the politics of the organization.

Selling the story is one important half of the work ahead. The latter and more demanding part, is to encourage, persuade and influence those who can change to make disruptions to business processes. Leading change requires articulacy, integrity, sensitivity and passion – not always found in your workaday web analyst.

#5 – Perseverance

Since change is never a quick-fix, the final quality of your star web analyst is get going – “to keep buggering on” to quote Winston Churchill.

The ability to persist when the technology, the people and the hierarchy all conspire against you is a key quality. Part of this determination is the skilled web analyst’s belief in what they do.

To quote Theodor Mavrodis the web analyst is "the absolute core of a company, at the very heart, since you can guide people to make great decisions”. This belief, this passion drives the web analyst and allows him / her to persevere when others might have given up.

The table summarizes the key areas of consensus and those web analyst skills and attitudes that get only a brief mention.

Consensus on...

Often overlooked, but still key..

Business acumen & knowledge of company Owning conversion
Able to handle all kinds of data Having (and using) a methodology
Web savvy – marketing & technology Investing in oneself and one’s network
To produce analysis Managing and leading change
To make analysis people-friendly Perseverance

I hope you have found this post useful and makes you think about what makes a great web analyst – it would be great if you could leave a comment below.

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