Why is there still no Expert System for Web Analytics?
Isn’t it silly? Web analytics has been around for almost 15 years now. There are many books, many best practices, many consultancies, and many gurus.
But the common man’s approach to doing web analysis still seems a bit more like a teenager dabbling around in the dark vs. an engineer that systematically constructs or troubleshoots an issue. That is to say web analysis still seems very ad-hoc instead of being methodical.
No, the best practice of “set KPIs and implement a continuous cycle of improvement” is NOT enough.
Everyone who is in the space has heard of the best practice. It is a well taken recommendation. But it is only the beginning of a methodical approach.
As soon as one of your KPIs is down the “methodical” part ends and instead you are advised to check your funnels and your paths and segment and drill and compare and trend and experiment and yada, yada.
Where is the methodical best practice for that part, heh?
Car mechanics receive more complete training than web analysts
Imagine you towed your kaput car to the mechanic. The KPI of “starter” is clearly down, i.e. the car doesn’t start. But now the mechanic takes a screwdriver and randomly checks each of the gazillion screws on your car.
That would be ridiculous!
Clearly, the mechanic will be trained to apply their knowledge of what should be happening vs. where in the process the breakdown is occurring to narrow down the cause of the issue.
You might say that is exactly what we would do with funnel reporting in analytics. But not so fast!
Take an example.
Say, we are an eCommerce website and our KPI “revenue” is down this week
There ought to be an expert system that advises the web analyst in which order to investigate following interrelated questions:
- Are conversion rates down?
- Are average order values down?
- Is traffic down?
- Are new or repeat visitors down?
- Are direct or campaign traffic sources down?
- Which campaign channels are down?
- Are click throughs on your search ads down?
- Is search inventory down?
- Is your paid search ad rank lower?
- Are you running out of paid search budget during the day?
- Are the direct competitor’s traffic and/or conversions up?
- Are site errors up?
See what I mean?
There are too many questions for you to always have to derive from scratch in which order you should ask them.
Why should we need to reinvent the wheel every time instead of having an expert system walking the analyst through?
Similar to the car mechanic’s job, there is a logical order in which to investigate web site issues
Is Traffic down?
- If Yes, then go on to troubleshoot traffic sources
- If No, then go on to troubleshoot conversion rates
But this is not as simple as a “decision tree”. It will be more like a network of questions.
- Traffic could be down because people may have shifted to clicking more on competitors’ search listings.
- Conversion rate could be down because visitors may have shifted to dropping off and buying more from competitors
So, in both the Yes and No branches of the above question/answer case the logical path can reach a point where you ought to switch from your web analytics tool to your compIntel tool to answer the next logical question.
My point is though — did I miss something or
- Where is there a white paper by our consulting gurus that has troubleshooting flow charts for each of the 5 site types and the most common 3 KPIs for each site type?
- I haven’t gone through the UBC/WAA course ware so if it is in there, someone let me know please.
- I have read most but not all web analytics books, so educate me if one of these has flow charts of questions in it?
Am I on crack?
I am sure you are yelling out loud by now: “Darn it, analytics are too complicated to turn into a static network of questions and web businesses are too different from each other even if they fall into just 5 common site types. “
- lead gen
- content / publishing
- customer service
- brand marketing / educational
But dude, medical Expert Systems could not eliminate medical doctors either — They assist doctors in doing their work more efficiently and more reliably!
And if the expert system runs out of ideas and can’t find the issue … you can always go back to applying your own brain.
That is all I am saying.
The expert system could never eliminate the need for having educated web analysts and consultancies. But it would make everyone more efficient and effective.
- Phase 1: write down the trouble shooting algorithms on paper and try them out until they are ripened
- Phase 2: turn them into an expert system for easier use
- Phase 3: automate the connection to web analytics tools so that the expert system can check some of the answers itself and spit out a check list
An opportunity for the WAA, maybe?
Couldn’t this be a cool new online business for the Web Analytics Association?
- The system would be open for members to upload their own expert rules
- Members could select “trouble shooters” by site type and KPI
- Members could rate other people’s trouble shooters so that the best ones will bubble to the top
- An API would allow hooking up with the coolest web analytics tools, say Unica’s.
I suspect it would take too much work for volunteers though who may not have a real incentive for bottling up their expertise. So, I will be sure to talk to my colleagues at Unica and our consulting partners about this one.