In information management it’s essential to keep a Web analytic focus since it has such an important product and marketing role to play as the Web increases its ascendancy over traditional channels.

On the technology side, by various estimates, Web analytics is either a blue-sky opportunity or one that is soon to be commoditized. Lately, I’ve heard a good bit of chatter about Google analytics and the effect its no-cost services will have on core paid providers that are primarily Omniture, WebTrends, CoreMetrics and Unica.

Right now, analysts say Google analytics is pretty much a high level measurement tool for Google Ad Words, but Andrew Edwards, managing partner at Web analytic consultancy Technology Leaders figures that’s going to change. Edwards works with all the tools on the market but as a beta participant with Google, says the tool is constantly being improved and is starting to overlap with what proprietary tools offer. “I’m not a tech guy, but I can perceive their intentions. The things they can do with an API and pull and push that watches the numbers inside a reporting engine and sends alerts when they’ve changed is an example of where they’re starting to encroach on WebTrends and others.”

Bill Gassman at Gartner tells me it’s the integrated marketing engines of the core vendors that allow A/B testing and behavioral marketing that distance them from free services. “Only they can presently give you the behavioral targeting where you’re segmenting, you visited three times and now you are considered an engaged user and the next time you visit you will get the content engaged users get.” Gassman is talking about cookies, not discrete customer information, but the proposition is that when a customer returns, the offer can be customized by the paid providers.

I would have guessed Google would be moving faster into comprehensive Web analytics. For now, having a free tool is a good thing to use standalone or plug in alongside an existing app. (Edwards calls it a “recessionary option”). But it takes a lot of processing and storage to run Web analytics and part of me wonders what’s in it for Google, short of a precursor to developing a deeper application platform or snapping up a Web analytic vendor or two.
 
Gassman says it is a branding issue that helps Google become accepted in the enterprise space. “It supports Ad Word sales which is well over 95 percent of their revenue and it’s not an issue in terms for performance though the product is limited. If you’re going to do a report, it’s limited to 60 thousand rows. If your data has over 200K page views, it samples rather than give the full report.”

Edwards figures it’s just a natural part of Google’s business model, which is to gather the world’s intellectual property in one way or another. “I think they want to have a large piece of everything that takes place online and analytics is their natural place already when it comes to gathering data. To think they wouldn’t go as far as they can with this and marry it up with what they already have or intend to, anybody who doesn’t think that is naïve.”

Tony Byrne at CMSWatch also points to another new and surprisingly powerful “free” Web analytic product entry from Yahoo he says has already jumped ahead of Google analytics.  
 
Tools aside, it’s always an odd chore for me to track Web analytic trends since it most always falls to a different set of faces and service providers who work outside the analytics we associate with data warehousing and business intelligence.

There are good reasons for this, but you should also keep tabs on Web analytics because it’s mostly an uncharted and widely under-talented career path inside the enterprise workforce. I think it’s wrong to assume the millennial generation natively brings these skills with them. Without a good Web analyst and a good toolset, you’re pretty much driving blind on the Internet.