What is data visualization and what does it have to do with web analytics? According to Matthew Ward of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, data visualization is “the graphical presentation of information, with the goal of providing the viewer with a qualitative understanding of the information contents.” In other words, data visualization is infographic design.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is a special form of graphic design that is focused on the visual representation of information. I bring this up, because one of the most important things about digital analytics is understanding, or analyzing, the data. For that reason, these two topics have a lot in common.
Good infographics depict information in a quick and organized way. A lot of the time, a designer is dealing with a lot of information and is faced with the dilemma of how to show that data in a single page or in a single design. The infographic poster to the left depicts the average data consumption in the U.S. in one day.  That is a topic that definitely has a large amount of data connected to it. Somehow, the designer sifted through it, organized it and came up with the poster you see now.
Web analytics is similar. Web analytics is defined by Evan LaPointe, author of the blog Atlanta Analytics, as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of internet data for purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage.”  The key words here are “understanding” and “optimizing.” If all you have is data, it isn’t going to be much use to your business. It is the understanding and optimization of that data that companies look for. It is how that data can be used rather than just collected. You and your client must be able to see the data. In a way, it is much like seeing the data in the data usage poster as discussed above.
The objectives of data visualization and web analytics differ. In the first, the idea is to help others visualize data in such a way as to inform the viewer. In the latter, the goal is to take a large amount of data and understand it in order to make strategic decisions for a company. Regardless, they are both ways of informing others. Thomson Dawson of Pull Brand Innovation states that, “Marketers (and those who cling to big data) are prone to view brand design more narrowly than they should.” The point Dawson makes in his article is that those who are in charge of business strategies often get stuck on a piece of data or an idea, and sometimes it takes someone from the outside with a new and broader view on the subject to make the changes needed to thrive. There will come a time when one of your clients, or the business you work for, will put you in a similar situation. When that happens, just remember, there is always a way to show that person or persons why the data lead you to that decision. It is just a matter of visualizing the data and presenting it in such a way as to persuade.