Tag Archives: web analytics

Studies question value of cookies, page views as metrics

The way web audiences are measured could be ripe for an overhaul, according to two reports out this week. Measurements based on page-views and cookies (small text files which track net use) could be affected by changing user behaviour, the studies warn. Net measurement firm comScore found cookies used to track user behaviour could be being over-counted. A separate study argues that page-view measurements are outdated due to an explosion in audio and video content.

Serial resetters

These ‘serial resetters’ have the potential to wildly inflate a site’s internal unique visitor tally, Dr Magid Abraham, comScore. There are several methods for measuring net audiences which provide critical data for advertisers.

Cookies – small text files inserted on a user’s computers by a web server and unique to that computer’s browser – can be used for authenticating, tracking and maintaining information on users.

In comScore’s study, an analysis of 400,000 home PCs in the US found that a hardcore minority of web users are clearing their cookies from their computers on a regular basis. This causes servers to deposit new cookies which in turn could lead to an over-estimate of unique users to a particular website. It found that 7% of computers accounted for 35% of all cookies, which extrapolated could mean the size of a site’s audience is being overstated by as much as 150%, said comScore. “It is clear that a certain segment of internet users clears its cookies very frequently. These ‘serial resetters’ have the potential to wildly inflate a site’s internal unique visitor tally, because just one set of ‘eyeballs’ at the site may be counted as 10 or more unique visitors over the course of a month,” explained comScore president Dr Magid Abraham.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, comScore offers a very different approach to audience measurement – using the panel-based system favoured by the TV and radio industries which relies on using a representative sample of net users to gauge behaviour.

Measuring time

RuneScape – 6hrs 32mins
Electronic Arts Online – 3h 07m
Bebo – 2h 37m
Facebook 2h 28m
eBay – 1h 55m
King.com – 1h 53m
Adventure Quest – 1h 35m
Fox Interactive Media (MySpace) – 1h 11m
Club Penguin – Ih 10m
Cartoon Network – 1h 09m
*Source: Nielsen

Its findings have led some advertisers and site operators to question current methodology.

“Cookie-based data are still a valuable resource, but this important study certainly underscores the fact that an accurate multi-dimensional picture of consumer behaviours must be compiled from multiple sources,” said Jeff Marshall, senior vice president of Digital Managing Director at media agency Starcom USA.

A separate study by net measurement firm Nielsen/NetRatings questions how relevant it is to look at page views as a gauge of user behaviour in the light of new technologies and the increase in audio and video content. The post Web 2.0 world is best represented by measuring time spent on particular websites, argues analyst Alex Burmaster. Page-views metrics discriminate against sites with audio and video content and Nielsen/NetRatings argues that metrics based on the time spent on a website could be a more accurate method. “As the technology that publishers use to deliver content to the user moves away from static, reloaded pages to more streamlined content such as online videos, the page view is becoming a less relevant gauge of where might be the best place to advertise online,” said Mr Burmaster. “Time spent is probably the best single indicator of user engagement although it can be a misleading metric for search and comparison sites that aim to help users find what they’re looking for as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he added.. While the biggest sites in the UK by page-view are Google and Facebook, measurement by the time spent on a site puts eBay and online game RuneScape at the top. Britons spent almost 28 million hours on eBay during February, while visitors to RuneScape clocked up an average of 6 hours and 32 minutes per visit, according to Nielsen.


A Web Analytics Breakthrough (That May Never Be Used)

By Rebecca Lieb | March 23, 2007

One of the most potentially powerful Web analytics tools out there isn’t being used for Web analytics.

If you’re one of the burgeoning number of Firefox users, you probably also use a number of the many extensions available to stretch, modify, personalize, and customize the browser’s capabilities. If Google Browser Sync is one of those extensions, have you considered the implications it might have for Web analytics and ad tracking?

According to Google, Browser Sync “continuously synchronizes your browser settings — including bookmarks, history, persistent cookies, and saved passwords — across your computers. It also allows you to restore open tabs and windows across different machines and browser sessions.”

Otherwise put, no matter how many work, home, or other computers you regularly or sporadically use, if you use Firefox, have this extension installed, and are logged in, you can theoretically be counted as a single user insofar as any tracking application is concerned. That, in turn, would inform recency and frequency metrics. The implications are profound — and potentially a real breakthrough for analytics vendors and ad-tracking services. They stretch into Web analytics, anonymous behavioral targeting, affiliate marketing, accurate counting of unique site visitors, and likely a few more issues.

I knew I couldn’t be alone in coming up with these potential applications for Browser Sync, so I got in touch with Avinash Kaushik, the Web metrics whiz who joined Google in the role of analytics evangelist earlier this month.

It Works, All Right

He confirmed all my suspicions.

“It is syncing your persistent cookies (tracking cookies), all of ’em, be they first party or third,” he told me. “So people who have Browser Sync are already being tracked much better by analytics vendors (or DoubleClick or whomever), but the vendors don’t quite realize this yet. It certainly has the potential to make tracking unique visitors more fun.”

There’s no way of knowing how many Firefox users have installed Browser Sync, but it’s certainly not anywhere near critical mass.

“It’s the yous and the mes of the world who are curious about such things and anticipate the benefits,” says Avinash. And though the tool is freely available to anyone who wants to use it, in typical Google style there’s no promotional push. Google describes the app simply as a way for people to port their preferences from one browser to another. Browser Sync isn’t linked to or used by Google Analytics, Avinash told me, “although any analytics would benefit from the application.”

So how come they haven’t stepped up to the plate?

Avinash has a couple of theories. “My sense from reading things around the Web [e.g., message boards] is this is not something they are bothered with for now,” he says. “It’s not something the vendors are taking too seriously in terms of benefits or otherwise. None of the vendors have come back and said, ‘We’re getting better at identifying unique persons.’ Perhaps because it’s associated with Google itself, they may be a bit reticent.”

Eric Petersen agrees. The author, a former Jupiter analytics analyst who’s now at Visual Sciences, similarly sees reticence across the board. “If the analytics vendors were pushing something like that, it would be suspect,” Petersen says. “Maybe the browser platforms would incorporate something like this. It does have the potential to improve the user-level visibility, but it just creates… so many potential problems.”

Log files could, however, easily parse out more accurate unique user data from visitors using the tool. Avinash tells me Google has released the code in open source. “It’s completely easy. This wouldn’t be limited to analytics vendors and ad trackers. There’s nothing stopping Microsoft from building the functionality into Internet Explorer.”

The downside? Privacy concerns. Earlier this week, I clicked into my Gmail account from my work computer in San Francisco. Up popped my boyfriend’s account. He’d been at my place to feed the cats and, while there, checked his mail on my home laptop. Avinash told me he routinely gets “funny stuff” from Amazon.com, then realizes he’s logged in as his wife. This goes a bit beyond privacy, of course. Unless people can be counted on to log in and out (and they can’t), 100 percent accuracy won’t happen.

“If someone’s simultaneously logged into your account, it will not synch,” explains Avinash. “Suddenly all of these people would be thought of as the same person, but it makes it no worse than it is today.”

Beyond the above-cited potential relationship issues, there are myriad possible downsides to being the same person at work as you are at home insofar as your Web browser is concerned. Visiting a job listing or a porn site in private and forgetting to turn on the customizable don’t-track-this settings in Browser Sync could land you in hot water with your employer, for example.

A Social Experiment

Personally, I love Browser Synch. It makes my online life a little easier, I understand the tracking is anonymous, I trust my boyfriend enough not to worry about an occasional inadvertent mail trespass, and I know how to shield my privacy in more sensitive areas, like financial accounts.

“You and I live in a rarified world,” Avinash counters. “We’re not normal. How would normal people adopt it, and would they install it? Then you can ask, ‘Will the tracing tools get better?’ It’s a social experiment as well as a technical one. More than what we do with it and what vendors do with it, I’m curious to find out what people do with it.”

Getting users to opt in to this, or a similar tool, will hinge on assuaging fears and clearly explaining the benefits. That’s not something Google is likely to do. “Google is fantastic and innovative at creating products,” Avinash observed, but “evangelism has to come from more than Google. There have to be other layers of evangelists. Google probably won’t do as much of it.”

If Google does decide to modify Browser Sync, it might start with the icon. It resembles nothing so much as a sideways Yahoo Y.


Web Analytics: Forecasting Campaign Impact

By Jason Burby | March 27, 2007

We’re often asked to help our clients determine which online campaigns they should focus their efforts on. They ask questions such as, “How much traffic should this campaign drive to our site?”

Eleanor, one of our analysts, was asked this by a new client just the other day. As this is a new client, we’re still getting their analytics practices established and converting them into a data-driven organization, so we’re still in the heavy education phase.

When Eleanor and I talked, it dawned on me just how common this type of question is. While a bit misguided, it’s a really good question to ask. In our discussion, we kept returning to two key points:

* Focus on business impact, not just traffic.

* Create indexes and baselines so you have something to compare different initiatives to.

Focus on the Right Measurement

Traffic alone shouldn’t be the primary focus of a campaign over 95 percent of the time. While you need to make sure your site can handle the traffic load, focus on traffic should be fairly low on the priority list. That said, if you launch a site that’s hosted on a single server and are running an ad during the Super Bowl, you should be prepared for that traffic (so ends my quick disclaimer).

After making sure you have that covered, the focus needs to switch to your ideal conversion. What do you want those visitors to do once they’re on the site? What does success mean? Is it selling a product, generating leads, collecting requests, driving other forms of behavior? A combination of those things? You must define and understand the business value of the different types of conversions.

Which would you rather have, a campaign that drives 90,000 visitors but only converts 0.81 percent, or a campaign that drives 22,000 visitors and converts 4.12 percent at the same average value? In actual converted visitors, that’s 729 compared to 906. In real dollar terms, if a conversion is worth $500 in profit, it’s nearly a $100,000 difference.

Clearly, campaigns success should focus on the business impact, not raw traffic numbers.

Create Indexes and Baselines

Too often, companies don’t use past experience to forecast future performance or, more important, to improve future campaigns and initiatives.

Creating indexes and baselines that allow you to compare different campaigns and initiatives can help you understand what to expect. By tracking different campaigns and which ones are the most and least successful, you can begin to identify commonalities between the top and bottom performers.

You can get very advanced in analyzing different campaigns, but you can also start with the basics. Begin by throwing your campaigns into a basic spreadsheet and comparing performance of your primary initiatives. Track the differences in the campaigns. Again, this is just a starting point, but it can provide a ton of value fairly easily and be extended beyond basic online campaigns to everything else you’re doing online. Remember, focus not on the traffic that’s driven but on the conversions.

This process can help you understand and compare what performs best. You’ll know where and where not to allocate resources. It also helps establish realistic goals and targets for different campaigns.

Start with these basic techniques, then explore the many more advanced and complex methods to take it to the next level.


Anthropologie ties search to analytics for $100k gain

Anthropologie ties search to analytics for a $100,000 gain in one month

A search marketing campaign with a strong analytics underlay increased sales by $100,000 in a single month at Anthropologie.com, the online arm of women?s apparel retailer Anthropologie. Anthropologie partnered with web analytics provider Coremetrics Inc. to create, manage and optimize the campaign, which also brought in an estimated 40% of customers who were new to the site. Anthropologie is a unit of Urban Outfitters Inc., which is No. 152 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

Coremetrics and Anthropologie worked together to achieve those results, with Coremetrics focusing on search engines and key word optimization, while Anthropologie focused on customer experience, designing customized landing pages and creating exclusive merchandising sections which are not normally accessible to site visitors. Key to the campaign?s success was the ability to integrate paid search management with web analytics. Coremetrics Search Marketing leverages Coremetrics LIVE profile data, which stores all visitor interactions with a site in visitor-specific profiles.

The campaign?s success and the experiences gained by Anthropologie in connection with the campaign will allow the retailer, as planned, to bring search marketing campaign management in-house. ?Coremetrics worked closely with us, knowing that we wanted to eventually bring our paid search program in-house,” says Ranjana Sharma, Anthropologie?s director of e-commerce. Sharma adds that the experience has taught the retailer which metrics to evaluate in selecting keywords and bid price for paid search.

Anthropologie plans this year to quadruple its investment in search marketing and doubling the number of people managing the program, while continuing to use the Coremetrics Search application.


How would you explain web analytics?

By Jason Burby | February 13, 2007

On the Web Analytics Yahoo Group, an interesting topic came up recently: “How would you explain what is Web analytics to your 6 year old nephew?”

After thinking about it and reviewing a few responses, it got me thinking. First of all, why does a six year old care?

I called my five-year-old son (five and a half, if you ask him) into my office and gave it a try. Though I couldn’t get him to put down his Disney “Cars” toy he was playing with, I did get a few moments of his time. I pulled up a Web site dedicated to the “Cars” movie and took a stab at explaining it. I asked him if he thought it would be cool to know where all the kids clicked on the Web site, where they went, and what they looked at. And then based on what most people liked, we could make it easier for him (the potential customer) to find what he wanted. He said, “Yeah, I like the games that are on there.” Knowing that Disney wants kids to play the games, get excided about the “Cars” brand, and buy more DVDs, I tried to explain what Disney wants him to do. My little test was somewhat successful.

What I found was that five and six years olds don’t care at all. But marketers who often have about as much experience with Web analytics as a five year old do care. This is in no way an insult to marketing people; they typically know a ton about marketing, but analytics is something new. And they’re often very interested in how it can help their businesses. But too often, Web analytics is intimidating to a new person — understanding common definitions, the tool lingo, and so on. Web analytics really isn’t that hard to understand, we just make it that way. By “we,” I mean the entire Web analytics industry — including all the tool providers.

We make Web analytics far too complicated and tech-y. When talking with people in your organization, really simplify it. Highlight the most important thing: the value, what you can do with the insight to change your business.

The Web Analytics Association defines Web analytics as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of Internet data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing Web usage.”

Here are two posts I like from the discussion:

* Jim Sterne wrote, “Web analytics is one of the ways you measure how well your website is working. Like the speedometer on your car. That usually works on my wife’s friends, just before their eyes glaze over.”

* Lars Johansson added, “Here you go: ‘I’m the 007 of cyberspace. I’m on a mission to make life easier for the good guys (called converters) and turn the bad guys (called non-converters or abandoners) into good guys (converters).’ Now your nephew will think you’re really cool.”

Obviously, there’s no right or wrong answer on this one. It all depends on your message’s audience (just like your Web site). But to get people to understand it and get excited about it, you want to focus on:

* Make explanations simple.

* Tie the description to how it can help them be more successful with their jobs.

* Share examples of how it can be used.

* Avoid Web analytics terminology and the details.

* Focus on the action that can be taken from the data, not the data itself.

I ended up losing my laptop for a few hours once my oldest son found the games on the “Cars” Web site. I didn’t get him all that excited about Web analytics, but it reminded me of the importance of staying away from the industry techno-babble that all too often is shared and once again focusing on how the data and insight can be used to improve the overall business.

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Jason Burby is the director of Web analytics for ZAAZ, a Web business consultancy implementing data-driven business initiatives for long-term clients across the U.S. Using performance scorecards, A/B testing, tool reconfiguration and other techniques, Jason helps companies better use Web analytics datato improve site business results.

He’s worked with Washington Mutual, Wachovia, T-Mobile, Converse, Alaska Airlines, Microsoft, Sprint, Levi Strauss, Qwest and A&E Television Networks. Jason speaks frequently at conferences and seminars helping spread the word on the effective use of Web analytics. In addition he is the co-chair of the Metrics/KPI committee of the Web Analytics Association.


Tracking websites becomes more difficult

Here’s a link to a USA Today story about why tracking web ads and website traffic is changing. Because of new technologies like Ajax that have changed the way websites operate, site performance is becoming less about pageviews. Check out the full story.

New technologies make gauging Web ads’ effectiveness more difficult
By Anick Jesdanun, The Associated Press


Where is web analytics headed in 2007

Here’s an interesting ClickZ article about what’s in store for us this year in the world of web analytics…

Proto-Analytics for 2007

By Shane Atchison | January 11, 2007

It’s now the new year and after a week’s vacation, I found myself reading all my favorite Web analytics writers: Avinash Kaushik, Jason Burby, and Craig Danuloff. They all made their predictions for 2007, and I thought I’d share mine as well.

* It’s a tale of two software vendors, continued. In 2006, we conducted over 50 analytics software evaluations for Fortune 2000 companies. Along the way, we saw the emergence of two clear-cut leaders in the enterprise analytics market: Omniture and WebSideStory. I expect that trend to continue.

For Omniture, the Genesis release has provided a great platform for third-party integration. I expect the company to continue in this direction and to acquire other companies, thanks to its very successful 2006 IPO.

It looks like most of WebSideStory’s enterprise customers will be encouraged to migrate to Visual Science. The reason? WebSideStory purchased Visual Science, and Jim McIntryre, founder of Visual Science, is now CEO of WebSideStory.

* Google Analytics will be a significant dark-horse vendor. Nowadays, everyone has his eyes on Google, wondering what this new player will do with its massive resources. Yet it hasn’t realized its potential in the analytics software business. I have great hope that it will develop some key innovations through its investment and perhaps acquisition of other companies.

* Innovation will come from third parties. Look for increased third-party integration in existing software platforms. In addition, we should get much better tools for behavioral content targeting, search bid management, and site and campaign optimization.

* Marketing executives will embrace Web analytics. 2007 will be the year the vast majority of CMOs and other marketing managers drink the Web analytics Kool-Aid. They’ll write marketing plans, project forecasts, creative briefs, and everything else with Web analytics as part of the process.

* Marketing execs’ biggest issue will be human capital. Wanting something and getting it are two entirely different things. While marketing professionals will want to add analytics to all their processes, the human resources needed to make those changes will be hard to find. If you’re looking for a job this year, having “Web analyst” at the head of your résumé will be a very good thing. Still, I and others in the industry worry that inexperience and unrealistic expectations will cause a lot of disappointment in companies trying to adopt data-driven processes.

* Employees will be held accountable for analytics. Nonetheless, at the ground level analytics will play an increased role in performance reviews. If you’re working in the Web organization of a Fortune 2000 company, expect to see an analytics dashboard or scorecard as part of your bonus structure.

* Optimization will be the hottest trend. It’s hard to think of a more promising area in analytics than optimization. Look to technology vendors such as Offermatica and Kefta to lead this space. These companies are prime candidates for additional capital and possible acquisition by Web analytics software vendors.

* Education will be huge. With the rising interest in analytics will come the arrival of many new books and materials on the field, including one by my colleague (and fellow ClickZ columnist) Jason Burby and myself.

Finally, it may be more of a wish than a prediction, but I hope universities will begin to create curricula around analytics. If there are any academics out there interested, please e-mail me. We need your help.

Have any questions, comments, or predictions of your own? E-mail me. I’d be happy to hear from you.