Whatever Happened To The Web Analytics Industry?
Despite its "refresher" status, completing the course provided me with the same sense of accomplishment as reading a long book can. After the final examination, as I basked in my moment of glory, I began to think about how it must feel for the newly indoctrinated. This world of big-data marketing analytics is large and ever-expanding, complex but exhilarating at the same time.
And despite the limitless potential for innovation through data, what does this exhilarating world look like through the eyes of a newbie? I have to imagine for most it looks like one dominated by Google, or at least one where innovation is occurring on top of a Google Analytics foundation.
But where's everyone else? What happened to the rest of the Web analytics industry?
When I first began my career in search and digital marketing nearly a decade ago, the focus of "big-data analytics" (which wasn't a buzzphrase then) was Web analytics. And what a cluttered mess the landscape was then. Web log file-based solutions were preferred, and vendors like ClickTracks (greatest web analytics tool ever -- RIP, my friend), Urchin, and Webtrends were leading the way. Those early platforms had a tough road before them: Log file analyzers had previously been deployed on-premise to assess web server "hits," and were typically the domain of the IT department. Promoting a marketing-first mindset couldn't have been easy.
I can still recall the excitement I felt when I realized Google had made the announcement that it was giving away access to its analytics tool (renamed by then "Google Analytics") free of charge. I immediately signed up several client websites, though not all of them were happy with the news. One of my clients at that time actually sold a hosted Web analytics application. Following Google's move to a free model, I received an email requesting that we pull back on our AdWords spend noting, "Google is going to eat everyone's lunch."
Fortunately that scenario didn't entirely materialize. True, the old guard of Web analytics have either been shuttered or acquired and incorporated into broader, more diversified platforms. But innovation has continued to push the industry along. That's an outcome I hoped we would see, when I lamented the loss of the Urchin log file analytics technology in a previous column. Analytics vendors seemed to have taken the approach that if you can't beat Google, diversify and innovate around it.
Which leads to the world of analytics that the newly anointed are stepping into today. It's one defined by new terminology: first- and third-party data, demand-side platforms (DSPs), and data-management platforms (DMPs). It's an environment that's obsessed with optimizing the entire customer experience, by applying technologies and techniques that my friend Rand Schulman calls "convergence analytics." It's about understanding customers down to the individual and even emotional level (social sentiment), engaging and nurturing them toward a purchase decision (marketing automation), all at scale. It's the driving force behind the rise of the real-time bidding (RTB) display ad exchanges; even the rebranding of the Web Analytics Association to the Digital Analytics Association.
These are indeed exciting times for anyone tasked with data-driven marketing. To those of you who are just joining us, welcome to the party.