In a manner befitting a major sporting event, Kevin Ryan (Search Engine Strategies)began the session by asking the All-Stars to introduce themselves beginning with Jim Sterne (Target Marketing and WAA Chairman), Bryan Eisenberg (Future Now), Brian Clifton (EMEA - Google), Steve Jackson (SATAMA, international Co-Chair WAA) and Ian Thomas (Microsoft).
And it did look like a sporting event. The Gallery Hall was packed.
At the outset, the panel tackled the issue of transparency labeled by Bryan Eisenberg as a "church and state separation" issue (i.e. the firm - Google - that sells advertising also measures results). After lively discussion, some panelists concluded that most of those selling ads will soon have analytics "baked in" to their services.
This led to a discussion of the benefits of the free tools (Google and Microsoft) which most on the panel supported. For many small businesses, it's what they can afford. However, one should not assume that any of the tools are free - the cost of analysis and reporting draws down on the internal resources of the firm, or must be farmed out to consultants or agencies.
Next, the panel discussed data (accuracy) versus trends. Most agreed that the data is often contradictory . . . what you can get is useful trend data. Why are all the results so different? Lack of standards are key. As Bryan said and others like Steve Jackson confirmed, each of the major tools has a different idea what's meant by a "session" or "visitor." It's confusing.
Jim Sterne indicated that he would prefer to put his energy into analyzing behavior - keyword to time spent on page to action taken. Continuing the discussion on economy of motion, Bryan added that if you have a large site, you begin with the landing pages, etc. that give you the big results. Identifying these pages is key to getting into action, versus simply generating reports (which may or may not lead to action).
To get to action, there is a need for education. People have to be trained so that they can understand and use the data they get.
What about social media? Yes, Jim Sterne said, we want to know what impact social networking is having on our results. Bryan raised the issue of video, and the complexity of tracking the impact, abandonment points, etc. for clients who want to know "is it working for me?" However, everyone recognized that web analytics people are going to have to rise to this challenge because it's where the market is going.
A brief and incomplete (apologies to the speakers) synopsis of the key takeaways from the session - Bryan Eisenberg- Conversion rates are stagnant; Brian Clifton - We are looking forward to a year of testing; Jim Sterne - Time for focus on attitudinal measurement, Ian Thomas - Similar thinking by Microsoft, Google- , Jackson - Change in the culture of companies, more awareness of analytics.