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Web analytics: One hot career path

The demand for Web analytics--people who analyse how visitors navigate a Web site--is poised to explode over the next five to 10 years
Written by Anne Chen, Contributor

As owners of the venerable Kelley Blue Book car-pricing manual, the company employs Web data analysts who spend months determining how visitors navigate its Web site before recommending new tools and changes to Web developers.

"We're a conservative company and not the kind that runs out and launches new tools," said Stephen Henson, vice president of marketing and business development of Kelley, based in Irvine, California. "Web analysts are critical in our ability to make changes that please visitors at our site."

Employing Web data analysts has paid off. In April, Jupiter Media Metrix, in New York, ranked Kelley Blue Book's site in the top 10 automotive-related Web sites.

But Web data analysts don't come cheap (see below). Nor are they easy to find. According to Gartner, in Stamford, Connecticut, the current lack of brainpower available to interpret Web data means demand for analytic talent far outweighs supply by at least 2 to 1. By 2005, enterprises will need three times as many professionals on their analytics staff as they do today, according to Gartner, as they launch a bevy of e-business services focused on wireless and business-to-business deployments. That means even enterprises willing to shell out big bucks for qualified analysts will have trouble finding them.

The duties of these coveted professionals include translating the data of e-business operations, covering everything from the tools visitors use on a Web site to how they navigate from page to page. Using this information, Web analysts rate customer experience and return on investment to determine which Web initiatives should get highest priority.

Attributes needed for the job include statistical skills, IT savvy and project management experience.

Henson said he's looking for people who are comfortable with Web site development and have a good sense of the experience Kelley Blue Book would like to provide its customers.

Web analysts are considered so crucial to e-business success, enterprises today are doing some analyzing of their own--by unfreezing hiring budgets so they can hire these experts. At Kelley, Henson spent months looking for a Web analyst. Having no luck on his own, he resorted to asking Web analytics software vendor WebTrends to recommend job candidates to fill two positions.

Henson said he considers Web analysts to be critical to his ability to understand, for example, why site changes cause visitors to stop clicking on a particular link or start clicking on it five times more often than usual. Without such analysis, he said, there is no way to know whether Kelley is seeing a return from e-business investments.

Finally, last month, Kelley filled one position. The analyst is so highly valued that Henson jokingly refuses to release the employee's name or reveal details on how he found this person.

-One of these oh-so-coveted pros is Paul Lively, Web traffic manager at car site Edmunds.com, in Santa Monica, California. Edmunds.com employs six people in a dedicated data services team that analyzes Web site traffic and activity. Web analytics is such a new job role, Lively had no idea Web analysts were in such high demand. "For a lot of us, it's a growing field that's very new," Lively said. "The fascinating thing is, you have such a wide variety of activity you can study. The challenging part is trying to draw conclusive results and determining what numbers are really applicable to the business."

Lively, a political science major in college, began his career at a vitamin and drug manufacturer working with databases and managing sales and analysis. Even without Internet experience, he said, analytical and database skills were easily transferable when he jumped to an Internet company. "You pick up skills as you go along by working with scripts, interfacing with programmers, learning to overcome technical hurdles," he said. "I have a social science background, and here I am doing analysis for the Internet."

Adding to the scarcity of these skills is that no formal education--not even certification--exists for Web analytics. But, as pointed out by Frank Buytendijk, a Gartner analyst based in the Netherlands, most large companies already have an untapped pool of employees similar to Lively--employees found particularly in IT and business intelligence units who are capable of doing the job. The reason companies tend to be blind to such employees' potential, Buytendijk stresses, is that executives are too quick to dismiss the job of Web analyst as something only Webmasters can take on.

But experts say that smart businesses will recognise the raw potential for Web analysts--before employees recognise their own potential and take it elsewhere. "Analyst skills are too scarce, too valuable and too expensive to leave scattered through the enterprise," Buytendijk said. "These are people who will see their own value as well and will leave if they are not offered a more strategic opportunity."

Analysis of a hot job

Web analytics are poised to become one of the hottest career trends of the next five to 10 years. Here's the lowdown on what it's all about:

What Web analytics are metrics used to measure the effectiveness of an e-business in terms of operations, customer experience and return on investment; Web data analysts help enterprises prioritize Web channel activities and solutions

Salary range $54,000 to $110,000 (£38,000 to £78,000)

Skills needed Detail-oriented; excellent analytics skills and the ability to translate and conceptualise statistical information to determine user habits and trends; an understanding of Web navigation and user habits; HTML knowledge required, Java and Active Server Page experience helpful

Schooling This isn't a job limited to techies; degrees in social science, mathematics and economics are often preferred; still, prospective Web analysts should shore up their knowledge of databases, data mining and project management

Source: Gartner and eWeek reporting

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