As sellers of goods and services grow more dependent on the Internet for marketing purposes, Web analytics are gaining prominence and going mainstream, according to a report released last week by analyst firm CMS Watch. That the Internet is in focus is news to no one. What's interesting about this study is that, unlike in-house predictive analytic sales and marketing projects, Web analytics are mostly delivered as a service offering - which begs the question of where traditional BI analytic programs will meet up with this other kind of "online" analytical processing.Enterprises and service providers alike are scrambling to integrate Web analytics into an array of marketing services - email campaigns with better customer segmentation and the like, according to Phil Kemelor, the lead analyst on the study. As services and products are maturing, Kemelor's tells BI Review that the value proposition of Web analytics is being driven largely by the customer or organizational point of view. "It's the newer idea that Web analytics are seen less as standalone, less siloed, and more of an integral element to the Internet marketing. There's also the trend of porting Web analytic data into corporate data warehouses and integrating it with offline data to better understand customer behavior."

Unlike their BI program counterparts, Internet marketing managers are quite familiar with services from providers such as WebTrends, CoreMetrics or FireClick. And so far these companies have provided the better experience and response times - slow and superficial as they might be in some cases. Now as corporate imperatives mature around the Web, vendors want to ramp up and be the "brains" behind more and more marketing efforts, Kemelor says. "Web analytics has been around for about 10 years but until recently was slow to catch on so there has been a real lack of experienced Web data analysts. You can go spend a considerable amount of money on a tool but if you don't have the right person it's like buying a Ferrari and driving it like a Honda." As a result, consultants and vendors themselves are finding a good market in hiring themselves out for analysis on a monthly basis. By one measure, the CMS Watch report tiers Web analytic tools by customer resource requirements, which gets back to the viability of the service model versus buying a tool. Kemelor says it's an important early decision and, except for pure Internet plays and a few unique corporate cases, tends to be handed off to outside parties.

BI programs are held more closely to the organization, and are different animals in terms of scale, detail, data quality etc. In the marketplace, Kemelor says traditional BI vendors have so far shown little interest in Web analytics; the convergence of BI and Web analysts is more likely to be driven by the end user customers themselves. "As businesses commit to the online channel, it's going to be incumbent for the BI people to make that a legitimate and in some ways integral data feed."

Until then, Web analytics is becoming a sharper knife in the Internet marketing toolbox. As products and services get better and better at segmenting and targeting customers, the hope is that customers will be better - and not more annoyingly - served. Marketers are marketers after all, and we'll hope that finding another six ways to sell six products won't be a repeat some of the past sins of the Internet. "Of course the idea is to make offers more focused and less like spam, and analytics should help do that," Kemelor says. "Marketers will do what they do. We'll all keep our fingers crossed because we're all consumers for part of the day."

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