WAA Web Analyst Certification Program

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Judah Philips is a web analytics enthusiast. He has been a staunch supporter of the cause and an enthusiastic flag waver from the start.

Recently, Judah posted a message on the Yahoo! Web Analytics Forum entitled “Jim Sterne, the CWA should be free for a period.” In it, Judah directs some specific questions to me about pricing of the Web Analytics Association test to become a Certified Web Analyst.

I thought the question was worthy of a thorough response so I am posting it here.

WAA Certified Web Analyst

The WAA Web Analyst Certification Program was designed to allow those with sufficient knowledge and experience to wear a badge of industry recognition. It is independent proof that they are qualified.

Moreover, the CWA designation was designed to give confidence to those in need of consultants or employees. People who do not necessarily know what a qualified web analyst looks like can be confident that a Certified Web Analyst is accredited by an independent association as being fully capable of performing the job.

The badge is not inexpensive nor is it easily obtained. The expense is related to the cost. If the test could be given online, it would be priced much lower. However, the stringent test environment requirements with the appropriate security and in-person proctoring push the price up.

The test was designed to be sufficiently difficult that only the best would pass. As of this writing, the pass rate is right around 50%.

The American National Standards Institute describes certification as, “Third party attestation related to products, processes, or persons that conveys assurance that specified requirements have been demonstrated.”

The intent is for the WAA never to face a distraught employer, angry that their trust in our label caused a loss of business due to the incompetence of somebody we certified as capable. Lawsuits are distracting, tiring and costly.

So how do we confirm that an individual is worthy of the CWA badge?

Internally, we refer to the it as “Sherlock Holmes Test.” Do they have a reasoning mind? Are they able to perform a proper analysis of web and customer data? It is not about technology or formulas or a specific, arcane methodology. It’s about deductive reasoning and optimizing marketing within an organization of humans. This is not a test of technical functionality.

There are a myriad of other tests one can take to prove varying levels of aptitude from basic knowledge on up. Here’s an analogy:

The Google Analytics Certification
$50
Shows that you have read the manual and can ride a bicycle. That’s good, even though the tool itself will let you do all sorts of great tricks and has a powerful motorcycle engine on it as well.

UBC Award of Achievement
$675 (for each of 4 courses)
Classroom-only driver’s training course. You know the rules of the road and understand why it’s important to yield the right of way, drive defensively and fill out the proper forms.

Omniture/Webtrends Certification
$300 – $700 for each of 7 to 21 courses
Fully operational driving license for Formula 1 competition. Professional driver on a closed course. Snazzy, racing jumpsuit. Personalized helmet.

WAA Web Analyst Certification Program
$795 for non-members, $635 for WAA members
Proven ability to navigate from London to Leeds, knowing that you want to avoid Luton, dealing deftly with road blockages in Leicester, dodging the radar speed trap in Nottingham and still making it to the wedding in 2.5 hours while not getting pulled over for using your mobile phone while the bride-to-be is calling every ten minutes asking, “Where are you now?”

WAA Web Analyst Certification Program was designed for people who have been doing the job for a number of years to prove that that have been doing the job for a number of years. We want to be sure we are certifying people who have three or four years of experience rather than one year of experience three or four times.

As Jim Novo put it in his interview on the IQ Workforce website:

You don’t have to be an expert in every facet of web analytics to pass the test, but it helps to have very broad (not necessarily always deep) knowledge of the entire web analytics ecosystem, including the business side.

And we find this capability usually comes primarily from experience, not from studying books and taking courses. While it is possible a person with 5 years of experience has had a very narrow mission (say only PPC campaign analysis), we find most analysts with 5 years’ experience, and even some with only 3 years’ experience depending on their background, have been exposed to a broad range of analytical and business situations…

The case study section is where many people get tripped up. The cases are based on real world situations experienced analysts have encountered in their day-to-day work, complex business scenarios where web analytics is used to make important decisions affecting the bottom line and / or business culture of the company. You can’t “study” for these kinds of questions, they are designed to force you to prove you can do the job of an experienced web analyst, which is what Certification really means.

You can see examples of the short questions and a case study from the actual test here: http://www.webanalyticsassociation.org/?page=cert_exam_res

Judah – I understand that the core group of consultants with whom you discuss this are unhappy about the price and the perception of the small value a CWA designation embodies.

There are a number of top-level analysts in the field who see no reason to take the test. They are already visible, have already founded consulting companies, already written books on the subject and already made a name for themselves.

So, while a seasoned consultant with a track record and a popular blog has no need to be certified (although more and more are!), a relatively unknown consultant can get new clients. I just met another one at the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit in Stockholm last week. She was very pleased that her certification was the tipping point in the decision process that landed a very large corporate client.

A practitioner who has spent several years toiling away in the bowels of an organization may be stymied by corporate culture and may not be able to improve their responsibilities, their title or their income. But they can leverage a formal certification that proves their proficiency.

There are a significant number of talented, educated and experienced people without a blog or the industry visibility who can now see the path forward and start planning their education and their on-the-job experience toward certification.

Would that we could offer this test to all for free. Sadly, the WAA is not made of money and it is costly to maintain the tests, direct the program and monitor our ISO / ANSI standards compliance requirements.

While I’m sorry you won’t advocate for the WAA Web Analyst Certification Program, Judah, I promise to remain continually mesmerized by your passion.

I am proud that there are over 60 Web Analytics Association Certified Web Analysts at the moment and delighted to see that number grow every month.

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2 Responses to WAA Web Analyst Certification Program

    • Rob McLaughlin
    • Great post Jim.

      I have found the WAA CWA to be of massive value. Firstly in validating my expertise to myself, giving an indication that my abilities and approach were somewhat aligned to the wider web analytics community. Secondly, it helped me gain further credibility within my existing role. Thirdly, it has definitely aided my next career move as it gave confidence to my employer that I had the analyst beans for the job.

      When it comes to costs I really do not believe $795 / $635 is expensive in context of conference costs. Personally the main cost/risk that concerned me was the fear that I might fail and what that might say about my professional abilities.

      For these reasons I am an advocate of the WAA CWA and happily provide advice and encouragement to anyone considering or preparing for the certification.

    • Tim Archambault
    • I have been following this discussion for the past several days and I greatly appreciate the open, civil & professional dialog in the open between both Jim & Judah. I see both sides.

      *My feelings on topic given my use case for certification*
      As a long time digital media professional with experience from programmer/analyst 15 years ago up to Vice President of Digital Media in newspaper publishing until last year, I have a broad gammut of experience and knowledge in digital media. At this point in my career and life, I am looking to focus in on analytics, business strategy, thus sales and getting out of the product development field on a day to day basis.

      About 2 weeks before you began this discussion, I had reluctantly come to the conclusion that this certification while fairly expensive, would be worth it in the end, and help leverage my experience, education, and newly gained experience in ecommerce, in a field that I greatly enjoy, Digital Marketing Analytics and strategy. I have decided to join WAA at my own expense as a member and then take the test.

      Perhaps I’m wrong but perhaps the argument I’m hearing from Judah is that while the test is at a “prestige pricing” model, the certification itself is not that highly acclaimed. Both Judah and Jim are much more qualified to determine that than I.

      If the pricing is at price point of break-even for WAA then the price needs to stay. HOWEVER, the WAA needs to develop a strategy through marketing, promotion, & networking, placement services (might be a stretch, but trying to think ouside the box) to grow the certification to premium status. Perhaps even tune up the level of difficulty of the exam.

      If what I’ve suggested doesn’t make sense then cost efficiencies just aren’t there to provide free distribution of the test in a physical, facilitated testing environment. Offering the test online will definitely water down the integrity of the exam and you’ll end up with another “Google Analytics certification.”

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