Princess Angela Tells All: What Took So Long?

August 23, 2007

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming (which was Part 3 of the Avinash Kaushik book addendum) to hear from Princess Angela Brown. The princess (who points out that she is of relatively minor lineage) is also co-chair of the Standards Committee for the Web Analytics Association. Today, her Committee announced their 26 Standards (finally), at Search Engine Strategies – San Jose. We bring you here the exclusive inside story, also known as, “What took so long to write 26 definitions?”

Today the WAA Standards Committee released its second definitions document; eight months after our “Big Three” definitions were released. Eight months seems a ridiculously long time to define 23 new terms (the “big 3” were carried over from our previous doc). After all, I could have written this document myself in under eight hours. Jason, our co-chair, could easily have done the same. In fact, nearly any of our committee members — more than twenty very competent people working as web analytics consultants, practitioners, and vendors — could have written this document in a day, blindfolded, with one hand tied behind their back and balancing on one foot (yes, I have a lot of confidence in our committee members!). What took so long?

Web analytics is not rocket science. Rocket science uses far more Greek letters and squiggly things than even the most complicated web analytics problem. The questions web analytics sets out to answer are really quite simple: WHO came to our site? WHEN did they visit? WHERE did they come from? WHAT did they do? HOW did they do it? Coupled with good marketing research and/or usability tests, you can even get a good idea of WHY your visitors do what they do.

As I see it, there are two issues that make web analytics harder than it looks. First, even though the concepts are simple, proper execution can be complex. To get a lot of value from web analytics, you really need to segment the WHAT by the WHO, and the HOW by the WHY, and the WHERE by the WHEN by the WHAT by the WHO. Second, a lot of our existing terminology comes from the tools we use. That’s not awful in and of itself: there are a lot of very good web analytics tools out there, and all of them deal with essentially the same concepts. But going from one tool to another is like learning another language, and no matter how well you know your stuff you are bound to misinterpret something because similar terms are used to describe different concepts. To use a cliché, the devil is in the details, and it’s that devil that took up so much of our last eight months.

We are fortunate to have a wide variety of Standards Committee members who have experience using different tools and analyzing different types of websites. This has led to some lively discussion about the meaning of the terms that so many of us use every day, and has underscored our industry’s need for precise terminology. For example, do you know the difference between a repeat visitor and a return visitor? How about a landing page versus an entry page? Single page visit versus bounce? Visit versus session? (The last one’s a trick question.)

For answers to these questions and more, download our document from the WAA site. We welcome your feedback.

In addition to her work as a guest blogger and her royal responsibilities, Angela Brown is the Web Analytics Manager for the MD Consult site at Elsevier. She has also been known to work for a large web analytics software vendor as a professional services consultant.