Web analytics data integration goes both ways. When you marry clickstream data with other business data, you can put the combined result either inside or outside your web analytics application. The trick is, if you can put it either place, how do you decide which place is best?
Here are 7 questions to consider as you make your decision:
- Is this a once-off or will you need an ongoing feed? Say you're working on a deep-dive analysis project, or you're preparing a data set to use for data mining. You're probably pulling activity from a discrete period of time. If so, integrate outside your web analytics application, where there's less overhead for a one-time task. If, on the other hand, you're going to want this integrated data to be available at moments notice for all eternity, you're best off integrating wherever you can most easily automate your feed, which brings me to my next point:
- How much effort will it take to automate, in vs. out? Call me lazy or call me practical, sometimes the right answer is the the easiest one (that's Occam's Razor, right?). The major commercial web analytics vendors have built-in integration tools, like Coremetrics Connect and Omniture Genesis. If the data you need to integrate falls within the realm of what your web analytics application can handle, use the wizard and take a feed in. If, on the other hand, you want to integrate custom data that's not wizard-able, take a feed out instead - but make sure you've got IT resources to help you automate the load into the destination system.
- Which analysis tools do your data consumers prefer to use? Maybe you've got a favorite data visualization application (like Tableau), or predictive modeling software, or another business intelligence tool that people at your company like to use. Yes? Then integrate your data in a place where it will be easy to get at using that tool, most likely outside your web analytics application. If you plan to use Excel you have more of a choice, because most web analytics vendors have Excel plug-ins. You could integrate within your web analytics application and then feed it to Excel, or, if your data set is small enough, you could integrate by VLOOKUP()-ing right there inside Excel.
- Are your data consumers already active users of your web analytics application? If so, you'd be doing them a favor by putting the integrated data where they're most likely to use it. On the other hand, if they spend all day working with some other business data system, put it there instead. It could be the factor that determines whether the integrated data ever gets adopted in practice by the people who are expected to use it.
- Will you need reporting components that web analytics applications handle especially well, like browser overlay and pathing? This will depend on whether your web analytics application actually lets you display integrated data in browser overlay and pathing reports. If so, and if you can imagine actually using these reporting components, try to integrate inside your web analytics application. Although web analytics applications are not as robust, generally speaking, as other data analysis tools, they manage to do a good job of presenting clickstream-specific data.
- Are you hoping to integrate data that can actually be gathered at collection time? Maybe the extra business data you want to integrate is something you'll be able to assign to a custom variable in your web analytics application at collection time. If so, you'll be able to integrate without any after-the-fact joining. If your integration data doesn't surface until further downstream, though, you can't use this approach.
So, depending on your situation it's perfectly reasonable to join data in both directions - inside and outside your web analytics application. Strive to find a solution that's practical, easy, legal, and most likely to make your data analysts happy.