I just got back from speaking on a multivariate testing panel at eMetrics in San Francisco.
A conversation I had with Marshall Sponder triggered this post. Marshall was bemoaning the fact that web analysts can't even get "a seat at the table" (i.e. serious consideration) within many companies. To me this was a statement of the obvious. There are three main reasons that web analysts are not taken seriously.
Trying to do too many complicated & custom things
Data mining and analysis is pretty open-ended. A smart person can think up many ways to slice and dice the data. The very word "analyst" conjures up images of complexity. This is "rocket science" and no amount of simplified Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on a customized dashboard for your boss will change that. If you dumb down the data too much then others may jump to the wrong conclusions. If you let them peek under the hood, then the complexity comes roaring back.
Looking in the rearview mirror
Analytics pores over data that was collected in the past. No matter how detailed or insightful it is, it can not necessarily be translated directly into actions because the conditions now may have changed significantly since the data was collected (e.g. traffic mix, seasonal factors, actions of competitors).
Not speaking the language of business
Analysts speak the language of numbers - but unfortunately not the right ones. Management only understands numbers in the context of finance. Does it make more money for us? Does it cut down costs?
So what can a web analyst do to get some respect?
1) Focus on mission-critical projects only - unless it can make a big impact on the business you should not waste your time on it. Intellectual curiosity and "what if" open-ended idea exploration should be limited to a small proportion of your time.
2) Get proactive - You should be working on actionable forward-looking activities such as landing page optimization which can actually lead to significant changes, and will not be filed away and never looked at.
3) Learn to speak in the language of finance - The only numbers that matter to your managers are the financial ones. Once you start presenting your projects and priorities in terms of their contribution to business performance you will get a lot more respect and attention.
You must reinvent yourself - instead of being viewed as a passive "analyst" you should become a business process architect who is relentlessly driven to improve the economics of your company.
If you do these things then you will be much more likely to get a seat at the table.