I’ve written several blogposts referring to my friend (and fellow bassist) Keidra Chaney, and it’s a pleasure to have her as a guest blogger today. She and I share a passion for empowering people to work with data because we’ve seen that there’s need for more than tools, and tricks. People are frustrated, lost and intimidated in their relationships with data. So, here’s Keidre’s summary of lessons learned from teaching about digital analytics, and how those of us who teach can be more empowering of our students and employees.   Oz du Soleil

by Keidra Chaney
I have been teaching people about Google Analytics and web analytics for five years. This fact astounds me because I am not a data geek by nature – my academic training was in writing and journalism and my work in digital marketing and analytics came later in my career. I still don’t consider myself a “web analyst” but a persoKeidra Chaney: Social Media Essentials for Writersn that knows a lot about web analytics and wants to empower people. In addition to the analytics work I do for others, I’ve led about 50 workshops, taught a class at a top-tier university, and written an e-book. I’ve picked some knowledge along the way, and a lot of it is about how those of us who teach analytics can help those who are trying to learn.

Teaching about concepts and technique is a lot more difficult than teaching about tools and functionality. It’s also more important.

These days, everyone who works in digital or marketing is an analyst in some way; there are more apps and tools than ever, but much less time available for people to do the most with them. So when teaching about web analytics, the usual approach tends to be the “tips and tricks” mindset. Everyone’s busy; most people who do digital analytics work aren’t necessarily interested in learning about the evolution of data collection approaches. They want answers to their questions, solutions to their work challenges – and right away. It makes sense for educators to address these needs.

On the other hand, we all know how quickly the functionality and user interface on these tools change, and  many of us have experienced the “oohs” and “aahs” of a shiny new feature in Google Analytics that 90% of users never put into practice. This happens not just because many users don’t know how to use the functionality, but because they also may not know why. As an instructor, I can tell students about how to trick up their Google Analytics dashboard with a custom report or extol the virtues of campaign tagging, but without delving into the importance of audience segmentation analysis, the knowledge about these great tools lack any useful context.

Starting with the concepts of web strategy, assessing data quality, segmentation analysis, and basic statistics isn’t as sexy as tips and tricks, I know. You risk boring your audience. But I am absolutely convinced it’s the right approach. The tools change constantly, but the concepts of digital analytics remain the same and students can carry that knowledge whatever software they choose to use.

People lack faith in digital analytics because it’s still a young and inconsistent industry.

Web analytics as a profession is about 20 years old, give or take. It’s not yet old enough for a beer in the U.S.  If you mention web analytics at a cocktail party most people will have no clue what you are talking about until you mention Google Analytics. As soon as web analytics and business intelligence tools became more accessible to small/medium businesses and non-profits, social media exploded on the scene and complicated the digital measurement process with more tools, more data. Then five years ago, the process was complicated even more as the promise of mobile technology became a reality.

The fact is, as instructors, we are not just teaching our students about the technology and approaches of web analytics, we are also teaching about the industry. It’s important for instructors to acknowledge the frustration that many of our students face in being both data analysts and evangelists. In many cases they are the first to bring a business intelligence mindset to their office and are in the unenviable position of having to “justify their existence.” It’s important for us to give them the tools to get the work done, but also to have their work respected.

People are intimidated by digital analytics because it does, in fact, require various skill sets.

Digital analytics is a new field, but that doesn’t mean it’s not sophisticated. The fact is, even for one person digital analytics “teams” there is an expectation of implementation, analysis, reporting and decision making. In addition, a web analytics staff person is expected to have solid technical knowledge in web operations/coding, business intelligence/statistics, project management, and in some cases exceptional creative/writing skills. Not to mention, being an expert on the analytics tool itself.  While in the past, digital analysis was the sole domain of the IT guy staring at weblog files now it’s just as common to see web analytics being owned by the marketing/communications manager, social media staff or even (*sigh*) the intern.

My web analytics boo, Avinash Kaushik, developed something called the Web Analytics Career Introspection Guide, which I think is useful even for those who aren’t interested in a formal career in web analytics. It nails home the idea that web analytics, when done very well, involves a number of (often) disparate skill sets. As educators, we should think about where we fit, teach to our own strengths and expertise – and collaborate with other professionals where we fall short.  Of course it’s important to have a broad basis of knowledge but this field is big and complex and many of us have expertise in different corners of the industry. If you’re a dashboard junkie, then connect with the A/B testing expert. If you know everything there is to know about data cleaning and quality then connect with person who’s obsessed with the finer points of tagging and implementation. There are a lot of us in the field who came from different areas of marketing, business intelligence, and IT, and there’s strength in numbers. We’re not all going to be digital analysts, but many of us in various fields who rely on digital analytics can have the skills to work together when we need to.

What I am advocating for is a focus on teaching digital analytics from the approach of strategy and methodology, and leaving the vendors themselves to focus on the latest updates to the interface and functionality. Not to say that we shouldn’t teach the latter, but there’s not nearly enough education in the former, and them education we have about methods and mindset in digital analytics the more we’ll see the field advance as a whole.