I spent most of this past week in Berlin at the Digital Analytics Hub. It was great to see the EU crowd and get at least a few chances to experience early summer in Berlin. You might think that in a flat, digital world, the differences in practice between the U.S. and Europe would be slight. But in tribute to the amazing stickiness of culture, that's just not the case.
In general, the perception is that Europe is still a few years behind the U.S. when it comes to digital analytics and that’s largely true – at least outside of the U.K. where there are some very cutting edge practices. But there are aspects of the EU approach to digital analytics that I find refreshing and, in some respects, superior to the norms in the U.S.
Here are some of the differences (good and bad) that seem to me interesting and potentially thought-provoking:
Big Data: There’s less excitement about big data solutions in the EU. There are, it’s true, some cutting edge shops that are invested in Hadoop or Redshift, but most companies are still firmly in the traditional SaaS digital analytics world. While there are always disadvantages to being an early adopter, I think that’s a mistake. Big data will underlie the really critical analytics applications that drive competitive advantage – not least the type of personalization that I’ve been talking about in my current series. Not only are these types of platforms where the most interesting analytics are being done, they’re the key to developing the next wave of analytics talent. Right now there are so few enterprises doing big data in the EU that it might be possible to actually find some talent – something that’s nearly impossible here in the States because of the extraordinary demand. But even if that’s not the case, it takes a long time to build out the understanding and techniques to take advantage of this strange new world. By the time this stuff gets easy, it will be much too late.
Personalization: And speaking of personalization, the interest in it in Europe is, it seems to me, higher than in the States (though it’s growing rapidly here). Naturally, I think that’s a good thing. And thinking about why interest in personalization seemed so high brought me to…
Conversion Rate Optimization: In the EU, many digital analytics professionals think of and describe themselves as Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) professionals. In the States, we mostly just think of ourselves as digital analysts. Of course, there’s a bit of problem describing yourself as a CRO professional if half or more of the sites you work on don’t have a conversion event. On the other hand, I think the focus on outcomes is beneficial. Digital analytics here in the States often seems a bit abstract and departmentalized. Too often, we do analytics because analytics is our job. That’s not right (even if, like me, you love analytics). When you focus on CRO, there’s never any doubt that analytics has a point. That’s one (of many) reasons why it’s such a poor idea to separate your analytics and your testing in the organization. It reinforces the idea that there is some divide between analytics and optimization. This focus on CRO also explains why personalization is such a hot topic in Europe right now. Personalization drives conversion. You can only do so much by improving your global creative. As a digital program matures, it’s only by segmentation and personalization that you go beyond an artificial maximum based on the average visitor.
Search Engine Optimization: I’m not sure if it’s the result of smaller marketing budgets or if it’s something deeper (maybe the water), but Europeans are crazy for SEO. Even in today’s world where SEO has been significantly de-valued, I hear more SEO talk during a few days in the EU than in half-a-year in the United States. I can’t quite decide if that’s good or bad. I’ve long felt that SEO is undervalued here in the U.S and that too little attention is put into content creation and optimization for traffic acquisition. But I’m not convinced it should be central to analytics or even acquisition.
Tools: Sure, much of the tool landscape is the same. There’s a lot of Adobe in use and even more Google Analytics. Testing is big (no surprise given a CRO focus) and I heard plenty of Adobe and Optimizely. But there are some differences. Clicktale seems to have carved out a bigger footprint in the EU. Once again, I credit their CRO focus for that. Clicktale is ideal for deep UI optimization especially in Form processes where Adobe’s capabilities are particularly thin. How are we so bad at this in the U.S.? Then there’s the EU-centric tools with Webtrekk in Germany and AT Internet in France. If you saw the recent Forrester Wave, you know that there are some formidable capabilities tucked away here.
I do hope to have some of the best and brightest from EU over to X Change again this year to lead Huddles. They are most certainly not a representative sample since each is leading a practice that is cutting-edge by any standards in the world. But they will still, I think, bring some old-world perspective to digital analytics and you can hear for yourself whether it’s different or not.