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January 09, 2008

Are You a White Hat or Black Hat Web Analyst?

By Alex Cohen

Ladies and gentlemen, there are villains among us. 

There are villains and they're out to get your... metrics. 

If you thought the world of web analytics was all page tags, unique visitors and sugary sweetness, you're wrong.  You need to know: are you a White Hat or Black Hat web analyst?

Black Hat Web Analyst
The Black Hat isn't malicious or spammy per se, but he does have a few traits that could be limiting the effectiveness of your web measurement:

  • Married to the tool
  • Sleeps with the data
  • Measures without motion

Married To The Tool
The Black Hat loves his web analytics tool.  He has faith that business questions you have about your business can be all be answered with the data from Google Analytics, Omniture, WebTrends or whatever vendor you use.

Sleeps With The Data
The Black Hat assumes the data are right.  If it comes out of the tool or the client supplies it, then he has no reason to doubt it. 

The Black Hat believes tools are there to measure and do so precisely.  He's quick to present the data with utter confidence.

Measures Without Motion
The Black Hat loves cool charts, slick dashboards and detailed reports.  In fact, there are often tons of great data in these reports.  There might even be some analysis. 

Sadly, that's where the Black Hat stops.  He doesn't connect the dots from "What happened?" to "Why did it happen?" to "What should you do about it?"

White Hat Web Analyst
The White Hat fights the good fight--empowering people with information to better serve prospects and customers.  She has many virtues, among them:

  • Loves all data
  • Never assumes things are right
  • Focuses on business results

Loves All Data
The White Hat knows that there are limits to what you can do with site side analytics.  Sure, you know what happened.  Do you know why?  She integrates qualitative research with real users with the usual metrics.

She also recognize the fact that data, like content, is spreading all over.  That's why she includes things like competitive analysis and brand perception in her tool box. 

The White Hat understands that external events like marketplace changes or seasonality influence her metrics.  She does her best to consider and document them.

Never Assumes Things Are Right
The White Hat doesn't get stuck on 100% data accuracy, but she approaches each analysis with a healthy skepticism for data quality.  That's why the first thing she does is to validate the data.

She looks at historical performance as the first and best benchmark.  If her company has similar sites with similar budgets, the moves onto them.  She also keeps a pulse on general market trends and uses tools like Hitwise and Compete Search Analytics to add context.

The White Hat Web Analyst documents the data caveats and presents them along with her analysis.  She's transparent about the limitation of her analysis, presents her findings and let's everyone draw their own conclusions based on their comfort level with the data.

Focuses on Business Results
Above all, the White Hat Web Analyst understands that she's there to grow the business.  She passionately champions a data driven culture. 

The White Hat never reports data without some insight and an association action.  She knows that while there are lots of great metrics and key performance indicators to present, the ultimate priority must be given to business results.

She's an egoless analyst.  All ideas are given a fair shake so long as every agrees that outcomes rule the day. 

Which are you?

For Search Marketing Gurus, Alex Cohen of Digital Alex


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If you thought the world of web analytics was all page tags, unique visitors and sugary sweetness, you're wrong. You need to know: are you a White Hat or Black Hat web analyst? [Read More]


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