I’ve been working in Web Analytics for over a decade. During that time I had the pleasure to meet a lot of people: Analysts, product owners, marketeers, architects, developers, and so on. I hired a bunch of them, applied to others myself, onboarded and trained a whole lot over the years. No matter who I’ve been talking to, sooner or later, one type of question would always come up: Will this be fun? Am I going to be okay?
There are a lot of articles out there focused on the skills needed to start with Web Analytics. As always, Google can help you find those (or go to Julien’s Blog if you want a recommendation). There also are some talking about the necessary mindset. With this one, I will try to give you an impression on the qualities I observed while talking to Web Analysts who love what they do.
If you are thinking about starting with Web Analytics yourself, maybe think about how much you agree with the statements below. But keep in mind, that there are a lot of different profiles within Web Analytics as well. Some are centered on the business side while others focus on the technical aspects. If you can’t fully agree to everything, it might just mean you are more of a specialist instead of a generalist. Here we go!
You love working with people
First things first. Web Analytics always is a collaborative effort. Full stop. Without the other people in your company, there would be nothing for you to analyze. There are product managers and owners who are responsible for building product features and need to know if they are successful with it. Marketing needs to know if their campaigns are working as expected and if they are acquiring the right traffic.
Another important group of people are your developers. Without them you wont receive even a single event. If you fail to engage with them, there is no way for you to ensure data quality, which will lead to the wrong conclusion being drawn from your data. Even with tag management in your own hands there is no way of getting around them.
Last but not least, there is the rest of your own team. Personally, this is the first thing I check with new applicants. To get the job done, you need to coordinate and work with your colleagues in a collaborative way. There is no room for big egos in my analytics team. This does not mean you should not be proud of your work, but always be conscious about what others contribute as well. To give a simple example: While you might just have delivered the most sophisticated analysis ever, other people from your team did some other tasks and thereby allowed you to spend time on yours. A lot of this comes down to the next point.
You love communicating with people
This is closely related to the previous point. There are at least two aspects to communication in regards to Web Analytics.
The first I want to talk about is the obvious one. While you are an expert for your craft, others might never have learned what a Page View is. And there is nothing wrong with that, since they do things that are completely foreign to you as well. What is crucial is that you are able to build a stable relationship with them based on mutual trust. Based on that trust, you need to understand what is important to them and how you can contribute value to them. Running a business is all about collaboration, and you are no exception.
What people mention most often are skills like presenting, visualizing results, or explaining complicated results found in data. All of this is true, but it is closely tied to the quality of the relation I described above. Think of the relation as an enabler for a good presentation. If there is no trust, people won’t believe even the best presented results. If they trust you, the presentation doesn’t even need to be as perfect.
Secondly, besides communicating the results of your work to the business, you also need to regularly communicate with others. Developers need to understand your requirements and what you are trying to achieve so they can help you as best as they can. Other departments should know how your team provides value to the business, even if they don’t speak your lingo. Communication is the oil that keeps the engine going.
You love working on problems
There is a reason this part is not called “you love solving problems”. I’ve experienced this to be a very important distinction. But what is the difference between them?
If you like solving problems, you gain satisfaction at the end of the process of reaching a solution to a problem. This is a one-time event, since a problem can only be solved once. It also attributes a lot of meaning to that singular event: It is the climax of your work, the one important thing to happen. But it also means that everything before that event only serves the purpose of getting to the event itself. It means that you should spend as little time as possible on the preparation.
I don’t think this is a healthy approach for an analyst. Think about it: If your actual, week-long work only serves the purpose of getting it done, how is it supposed to make you happy on the long run? For me, Web Analytics is much less about the result than it is about the way to get there.
In my own work, I regularly find myself mourning about a problem or task I just solved. Once it is done, I need to find a new and interesting one to motivate me. This does not mean that every task induces this flow state, but it is what I am looking for in my daily work. If “getting stuff done” is your main motivator, you might have trouble keeping up the drive for your work, since things rarely are completely straight forward. So ask yourself: Are you about the journey or the destination?
You love the minute details of a problem
There is a balance to this one. In practice, we don’t have unlimited time to work on a particular question. Most of the time, it’s the exact opposite. Our business has a certain need for insight and we don’t want to keep them waiting.
But in general, you should not be motivated by getting answers quickly as much as giving the most meaningful answer. To achieve this, you need to really let yourself get engulfed by the question. You should look at it from as many perspectives as possible, slice and dice the data and squeeze every bit of information out of it.
So instead of giving answers like “Yes” or “No” to a question, you should at least aim for a “Yes, but…” or “Yes, and…” to give some additional context. Try to align yourself on the goals of your business to help deliver as much value as possible. If there is a hidden relation in your data, the business will be very interested to learn about it!
You always stay curious
Yes, that one is also in here. It must be hard to find an article like this that does not include this point. But what do I mean by it?
Let me describe what happens when I look at a problem. First, I try to look at it trough the “usual” approach. For most problems, there is an obvious way to tackle them. This should not take a lot of time. But then, I try to have some fun with the question. Maybe the data looks different for a certain segment of customers? Maybe I could use a fancy new metric? Or maybe I could reuse the approach I used last week for a completely different problem? This is what exploration is all about, and I find it highly satisfying.
Curiosity is also related to the love for working on problems. Once a problem is solved, you should immediately think about all the other problems you solved before and how you could improve them with your new findings. Ideally, you have an analytics tool at your hands to allow for this approach with as little effort as possible. It highly depends on your setup on how much or little this can be done.
You love iterating
Perfection is hard to find. Some would even say it’s impossible to achieve, at least in a finite amount of time. But on the bright side: Things don’t need to be perfect to have value.
This is what an iterative mindset is about. Knowing that even small things can hold value, we try to deliver something valuable fast and increase value over time instead of disappointing our stakeholders by letting them wait for the perfect result that will never come. Most of the time decisions don’t need perfectly detailed results, but would benefit from additional context. Iterating allows us to aim for both speed and completeness, just not at the same time. Think of this one as balancing “speed to first insight” and “know everything”.
Once again, we need to align ourselves to our core business values and priorities to iterate with certainty. If we don’t know what is important to our stakeholders, we run the risk of delivering something that is not helpful. We need to keep this in mind: When we deliver the wrong thing, it does not matter how fast we are. At least iterating could allow us to correct our mistakes faster.
Collecting feedback from our stakeholders is crucial to be successful with iterative processes. It’s hard to hit the right level of detail on the first try, so talking to our business becomes even more important. We need to challenge ourselves constantly and not decide for our stakeholders what is right for them. They know best, so listen!
There is one more thing to know about this. Embracing iterative ways of work also means we need to revisit our old work constantly to improve it. Documentation becomes quite important to be able to understand how and why we do things a certain way. This means we need to work in a way that allow us to happily come back to something we’ve built a year ago.
You love technology
Nothing in modern life works without technology. This especially true for Web Analytics, where technology is both the problem and solution to all questions. If you want to work in Web Analytics, you should have a very positive relationship with all the technology involved. For example, you should not only know what browser cookies are and how they work, but also what they mean for your daily job.
One piece of advise I give to anyone how is thinking about a career in Web Analytics, is to first build something for yourself and check how you feel while doing it. Put together some simple HTML pages, throw some content on there and start implementing a Tag Manager and Analytics System like Google Analytics. Learn how to track which pages are loaded and which buttons are clicked, and then implement it. And then do it again, with a different kind of site. Do it for an imaginative blog, a made up online shop, a fictive video site, etc.
Then ask yourself: Was this fun to you? Did you get annoyed by it? Do you feel like you really understood the concept or did you just try to get it over with? If technology annoys or intimidates you, Web Analytics might just not be the right thing for you. Always keep in mind that the things you can look at and questions you can answer are all depending on how you collect the data, so you need to get this right!
You love starting from zero
Successful businesses today are quite good at inventing new products or offerings. If you are lucky enough to work for such a company, it will also mean you have to do things all over again regularly. Not only this, but you might also need to rethink everything to measure some brand new feature the world has never seen before.
This should not intimidate you. Instead, you should embrace change and try to learn as much as you can in the process. Talking about processes: Knowing that at one point you will start all over again, you should try to make this as painless as possible. If you find a way to repeat as little work as possible while starting fresh, you will help your business instead of holding it back.
It is also your responsibility to ensure that learnings are not tied to a certain product or website. If you start over, your insights into user behavior should pass the test of time and should be applicable to the new product. That means that you should focus on learning about your users as humans and not just as users of a certain product.
You never stop learning and reinventing your craft
There should be little surprise to this point. Web Analysts are constantly challenged to improve what they do and how they do it. We only have to look at the past 10 years to get an impression on how fast our craft needs to adapt to changes in both the web worlds as well as the analytics world.
For example, during that short period of time, web sites drastically changed regarding the way they work on both a technical and a user experience level. With Single Page Applications, Ajax, Progressive Web Apps or Accelerated Mobile Pages, there has been a lot of innovation affecting Web Analytics, because websites just don’t work like they did before.
On the analytics side, we have seen innovations like Big Data, Data Science, Predictive Analytics, or advanced segmentation that constantly raise the bar for what we do and how we do it. The tool we use today might as well be deprecated tomorrow, together with all the processes around them.
This should not scare you but make you excited for the things to come. Complacency is the enemy of every successful Web Analyst!
Conclusion: Take the first step
Are you thinking about starting in Web Analytics and agree to all points above? Great! Did you implement some tracking yourself? Awesome! You are all set to get some real life experience. Look for an internship or student position. If you already have experience in a related field, you might even take a junior position.
You might want to think about the type of company to apply to. In smaller companies, you will have a lot more responsibility and your colleagues will have a lot less time to teach you the ropes. In a big corporate, you will spend a lot of time being trained before you are ever allowed to do something on your own. There is no right or wrong here, but take care picking the right one!
That’s it for my little list. This post is already long enough, but I am curious about your thoughts and experiences!