There was a buzz in our agency conference room as folks filed in for our monthly brown bag meetup. Sure, it could have been the free pizza, but there was something bigger going on this month.
The topic? Web site analytics and optimization.
But this wasn't a roomful of data geeks. We had developers, project managers, marketers and user experience experts, all engaged and eager to learn more about how to use technology and data to improve digital experiences.
There's something happening here. And it's not about the data. It's about the people using it.
Digital marketers have been drowning in data for years. The challenge has been knowing what to do with it all. Fortunately this is all starting to change, in a good way.
Free Analytics. Just Add People
Up until a few years ago, anyone serious about data-driven marketing needed to spend some bucks to get an enterprise offering from someone like Omniture, Webtrends or Coremetrics. For larger companies, this quickly gets into six-figure territory, not to mention the implementation work required. It's easy to see why some people may never get around to actually taking action from the data. Just getting analytics up and running can be exhausting.
This all changed with Google Analytics . Yes, it's free, but that's not the real story. The product has evolved into a more-than-capable Web analytics offering with an easy-to-use interface and a focus on surfacing relevant data to marketers. It's lowered the barrier to using the technology, allowing anyone to jump in and see how visitors are engaging with their Web site. Google has also added a free testing tool called Google Website Optimizer  enabling real-time A/B and multivariate testing.
In short, it's completely changed the game. There is of course still a thriving market for enterprise Web analytics solutions, but the availability and access to Google Analytics has opened up analytics to anyone and everyone.
Meet the Optimizers
The real revolution is happening in the trenches with the people using the data.
Today, there's a new breed of folks who have the marketing smarts, technical competency and understanding of how the data connects to a Web site and business. They're relentlessly focused on how to improve the bottom line with small tweaks and changes. They are working to close the loop between analysis and action.
We're seeing this most visibly in the areas of landing page and conversion optimization . With the piles of money spent on digital acquisition and pay-per-click marketing, there is some serious potential for lift in making the onsite landing experiences effective and better tuned to specific search queries and visitor intent.
But this is just the tip of the optimization iceberg. The opportunities are ripe across all areas of the digital ecosystem. Data can be used to personalize experiences, fix usability problems and improve deeper transactional parts of a digital experience. We've just scratched the surface of what's possible.
Small Changes. Big Results.
Optimization is gaining fast traction because companies are finally understanding its impact on the business.
It's common for organizations to spend exorbitant sums of money building large-scale Web sites and technology platforms. But those same budgets have not been there for the ongoing optimization and improvement. Instead of moving from one large redesign project to another, organizations are realizing the real value lies in the ongoing testing and continuous improvement of these digital properties.
These efforts pay off in big ways.
We recently had a client that realized a 193% increase in a conversion rate from some very simple Web site changes. Another had a 22% increase on leads generated from a revamped landing page design and small copy changes. These types of improvements may look small, but they can mean thousands (or even millions) of dollars to the bottom line. Look no further than Jared Spool's now famous $300 million dollar button  story. Examples like this get an executive's attention in a hurry.
As digital becomes more and more integrated with the overall business it becomes even more closely tied to revenue and bottom-line results. The role of optimization not only becomes a necessity, it is a competitive differentiator.
There's visible and exciting momentum happening today with analytics professionals mobilizing in impressive ways. Take Web Analytics Wednesday , dubbed the biggest Web analytics community on Earth. It's a monthly networking event happening in cities around the world and attended by more than 10,000 people since its founding in 2005.
The Conversion Conference  and eMetrics  both took place in San Francisco this week. Two events that exclusively focused on helping organizations realize the value from making data-driven decisions.
Our own agency  recently formed a new optimization practice and are actively working with organizations to drive digital change. And as evident from our brown bag session this week, it's something that will change the way the entire agency thinks about digital and service delivery.
And yet with all this momentum, there's still a shortage of good people to do all the work. Companies looking for optimization talent complain about the sparse applicant pools. The best and brightest people are in high demand (and well compensated). Yet this is still a relatively immature field with only a handful of options for good education and training.
While the discipline continues to evolve and move into the mainstream, there remain tremendous opportunities for individuals and organizations alike to jump in with two feet.
So what are you waiting for? Let's get optimizing.