Web analytics professionals face a number of challenges that will limit their potential unless they take advantage of new solutions that produce real-time customer intelligence via tag-free 'big data' feeds to generate more complete customer insights and enable more accurate interactive marketing, according to Simon Burton, CEO for Celebrus Technologies. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

Brian Clifton of Google - the author of numerous books on web analytics - recently wrote on his blog that web analytics professionals are often undervalued and on the fringe of the business. Clifton highlighted that web analytics professionals need to find ways of engaging the business with a view to getting senior managers to recognise their value.

By demonstrating their value this way, these professionals can ensure that they are heard at the corporate level and get the budgets they need to be truly effective.

Here Burton highlights some of the challenges that web analytics professionals face and why they will always be limited in their activities and on the fringe of the business unless they take advantage of a new breed of solution.

Since WebTrends launched the original web log analyser, web analytics has been held up as the sole beacon of light in that dark place called the internet, where the very make-up of the medium dictates that you have no personal interaction with the visitor. The internet store can be described as having been set up by a solid professional team at significant cost, which is then followed by the web marketing team spending literally millions of pounds on pay-per-click advertising in the hope of outdoing their contemporaries by attracting millions of visitors.

But this is where it the model goes wrong: that smart team then retires to their desks to watch how many millions of people visited, then walked straight back out again, without having gathered any real knowledge of what they did, what they touched or looked at, or even who they were.

So how can web analytics professionals make that modem both valuable and strategic? The answer is that they typically embark on a mission to get more data from the website. This requires them to develop a JavaScript tagging strategy, which relies on the team identifying what it is that they need to know from the outset. This is often a long process in its own right; however, it pales into insignificance against the time which is then taken to actually do the tagging. This can often take months if not years, and requires the IT team to give up their valuable resource to write the code into the website. But the website changes often - it's the nature of the beast - so the IT team has to give up further valuable cycles to maintain all that code.

Newer tag management systems now claim to have fixed the issue. However, upon closer inspection, what they have done is move the tagging issue from the IT team to the marketing team - who still require the necessary knowledge of knowing what to tag for. Web analytics consultants have highlighted that this fixes the issue of governance only, but not the issue of tagging itself. The result is that website owners end up coding just for the basics or facing the alternative: a project to tag up the whole site properly, which could take years.

This 'time to data' problem is further aggravated by the fact that the data is then aggregated. Does this not defeat the objective? An organisation now has detailed, granular data on each and every one of its customers and then it throws away that insight in favour of an aggregate view of what big chunks of them do - otherwise known as 'trends'. Why not opt for having detailed data, down to the level of the individual, with no delays - and in context - feeding directly into a data warehouse? Better still, no tagging would be required.

But what is the alternative? Web analytics, when deployed properly and managed by competent web analytics professionals, can deliver true value and strategic input as to how a business can improve its services and revenue. Their primary function is to ascertain how people use the website, which page they drop out on and why, and all with a view to driving more people into a 'brand conversion' online. Critical as this activity and its associated value may be, it is eclipsed when compared to detailed individual-level data that can drive targeted, one-to-one communications.

Knowing more about the journey taken by an online customer, and visitors' reactions to particular offers, helps retailers work toward a personalised experience for each individual customer. An appreciation of the products that a customer has already purchased, or indeed the offers that have failed to drive customers to convert, allows for the targeted advertising of more suitable offers or the cross-selling of other products.

The insight gained can streamline and truly personalise marketing to customers, as opposed to a marketing strategy to audience segments, the members of which we presume will all react in a similar fashion.

By treating website visitors as actual individuals, web analysts have an opportunity to move far beyond their focus on conversion, into a realm of true one-to-one marketing in which they can not only increase conversions but also build customer loyalty and enhance the overall customer experience.