Web analytics, and our understanding of it, continued to evolve in 2016. We rely more and more on analytics for transparency and direction and, without it, our online lives and businesses would be distressingly opaque.
Below are some web analytics highlights of 2016 as well as my thoughts on what is to come in 2017.
How RankBrain Influences SEO Analysis
RankBrain is a fun topic to write about, mostly because there are a lot of assumptions surrounding its impact. In a nutshell, RankBrain is Google’s AI that interprets search queries to provide results that match the meaning of the search, even if the result might not have the exact keywords of the query.
Although it was first launched sometime in 2015, the impact to search results became obvious throughout 2016.
SEO analysis in 2016 appears to me to have focused on ranking for the right keyword above all else. Digital professionals could demonstrate success by how their clients rank for various keywords. While still quite important in 2016, I see this method of measurement becoming outdated in 2017.
In 2017, search engine strategy will need to be measured, and analyzed differently. My recommendation is to combine keyword data into larger “topics” and then focus more on the organic search traffic to the landing pages relevant to those topics. Ranking for a keyword will have to take a backseat to actual high-quality organic search traffic generated and, frankly, I think it’s about time.
Micro-moments are Still a Measurement Challenge
Google went all-in on mobile in 2016 but that’s hardly unexpected. Search results favor mobile-friendly sites that load under 3 seconds because millennials are doing everything on their phones. Google’s search results are being built around micro-moments – those instances when consumers need a quick answer and use their phones to find it.
In 2017, everyone will need to get better at meeting intent and measuring micro-moments from web designers to content marketers to analysts. This means getting smarter at creating and tracking micro-conversions. It also means that analysts must work closely with web designers, writers and marketers. Micro-moments require a long term web strategy that is genuinely holistic.
The Year Of The Insight
Google Analytics launched Assistant on their Android and iPhone apps. This neat little addition to Google Analytics adds automated insights to the analytics experience. Companies like Quill Engage have been doing something similar for a while now and it certainly meets an expectation, of sorts.
If 2016 is the year of automated insights, then I predict 2017 will be the year of “so what?!”
Telling customers that “your mobile traffic is performing worse than desktop traffic” is as useful as a regular table showing lower mobile conversion rates. The value added by Assistant is mostly superficial. That’s why I think that analytics platforms will move toward specific recommendations and, even, helping their customers to act. Google is already on the way with Optimize but in my opinion, it’s still too complex a solution for most small businesses.
Clients will say, “look at my data and tell me what to do.” Analytics platforms, including Google Analytics, will need to meet this challenge in 2017.
Will There Ever Be A Referral Spam Solution?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that 2017 will be the year that Google finally tackles referral spam. Referral Spam got some press at the end of 2016 in The Next Web, Motherboard and elsewhere. I hope that this new awareness might push Google to tackle referral spam in a meaningful way but I admit to some wishful thinking here.
So, why is 2017 different when it comes to referral spam? The spam has become political. Google’s leadership is already concerned about so-called fake news and while I make no statement about the media nor the US election, the fact is that political referral spam might just be the catalyst that causes Google to react.
Data Visualization in 2016 and Beyond
Google’s Data Studio was launched in 2016, first as part of the Google Analytics 360 suite and then as a slimmed down free tool. This competes with visualization tools like plot.ly, dashboard tools like Cyfe and reporting tools like my own Teacup Analytics but in the long run, there is room for everyone.
Google Analytics is making huge strides in improving the overall experience and that spells trouble for platforms built on their data. Other apps will need to offer something more. As Google Analytics gets the basics right, and hones their UI and visualization, it forces the rest of us to move toward other aspects of web analytics like action, insights and measurement. The winners in all this are the businesses we help grow.
What Will Matter In 2017?
2017 will likely see a groundswell of small businesses getting smarter at marketing because they’re using analytics. It’s up to web analytics tools, and digital professionals, to meet this demand.
The role of the analytics industry has, to date, been about providing more data, more efficiently and presenting it as best we can. This must change. The future of web analytics is in helping businesses grow.
Web analytics will have to play an active role in small business marketing by highlighting not only the value of data but by improve the value of marketing initiatives itself. Web analytics can’t simply show and tell. It must do!