Top 5 Web Analytics Metrics

chicago analytics consultant naperville ILI’ve been working with (Google/WebTrends/Omniture) Analytics data for 4 years now and the requests for Analytics data usually come in 2 styles.

1. The super basic: just tell me my site is still running, whatever everyone else looks at.

2. The super detailed auditors: tell me each of 180 customer segment’s data sliced and diced 10 ways and the month to month change, YOY change and a dozen other things the software doesn’t calculate for you. This could take months to implement and most of the time they have lost interest in it by the time you get it working properly.

I get frustrated with both. The super simple manager needs to look at more than just visits from month to month. The uber detailed guy needs to hire a developer to implement all that and not make changes each month to how they want data tracked and processed because all the time is spent on implementation and none on analysis and most of the time nobody even looks at all the 180 segments of reports.

They also need to realize that all the systems take the data and summarize it or cut off tracking at a max number of log files, web pages or analysis processes to maintain the integrity and size of the database tables. Try and do a full audit of every page view and click and you will crash WebTrends and re-processing it can take months. Google Analytics doesn’t even give you options to do more than what they summarize. Omniture really tries, but its a slow slow process.

Instead I am supporting the idea that web analytics data is really about trends and not audits. These numbers will never match your server logs perfectly nor your clicks from campaigns and that is OK. I also have listed here 5 metrics to look at and why they are important for your online site. One caveat is that I do not work for an e-commerce website so that has not been our focus. The focus is on conversion to application for recruitment purposes for companies. 

1. Visits – yes month over month traffic is important. What is more important is to look at the difference in traffic and drill down into what gained or lost traffic in the way of pages/content on the site and what sources changed in their contribution of the total traffic. This is actionable where as just visits aren’t. Also check back with the costs for each of these budget areas and compare the cost per visit provided by each.

2. Referrers – in a nutshell you should know how much traffic is coming from search, direct and your advertising/marketing plans online and offline. Within those groups you can drill down further but the direct category is always problematic because many analytics packages track page pop-up forms as new visits as well as returning to the site after a conversion process. Also remember that a session is usually 30 min, after that its reset as new.

3. Implementation – no this isn’t a metric but it is a focus you should have on a monthly basis to make sure new sites, pages get tracking added, new campaigns get tracked and that you keep researching new technology developments with your analytics package that may change everything. Having a good web developer along that has access to the servers and can make these changes is key if you’re not a developer (and no developers don’t make good analysts, a best case scenario is a dynamic duo where they are paired up and both work on projects together and learn from eachother) and the helpdesk type services available through Google are non-existent so good luck there interpreting the overly simplified online tutorials that don’t match what your clients want or answer your client’s specific needs/questions. WebTrends and Omniture are slightly better with web support but they expect you to pay a lot for it. A good independent consultant may be the fastest most reliable way to go here.

4. What people search for on your site. This can be tricky to implement but if you get this data it can be very telling. if people can’t find something on your site and search for it, you get a window into what they were thinking. this may tell you that the content you have isn’t what they want or that it isn’t as navigable as you thought. New product ideas also come from this data.

5. Where people exit from your site. This is classic application drop off analysis within any online linear process. But guess what? People don’t always think linear-ly. Expect some of this data to drop off in chunks but a small amount to drop off at all points for unknown reasons.  Its more actionable to focus on the large chunks and look at each page and the click maps for them but sometimes only so much optimization is possible here without doing real life usability testing with 5-10 people.

I’m sure there are more things that people can look into with geographic data and time on site but sometimes I think those are less actionable because you have little control over where your ads run because geo-targeting doesn’t always work well (excluding more than it includes) and time on site can be good or bad at short and long times. The content/pages that are popular on your site are also important but this is one of those custom setups that each division will need tracking by their geo-location and they never admit that so much traffic cross pollinated from each other’s campaigns. You have to read into the specific needs of your client to see if these apply and how to evaluate them without over complicating the reports. I really believe you should look at 5 key metrics or less in a report, more than that is not actionable and is distracting from your purpose/process of improvement. 

There is also a difference between researching a question/metric once, and doing it monthly when it never changes. I don’t believe its a good use of time to report on time on site if its been consistent month over month for the last 2 years. Check in once a year and leave the other data to be reported monthly, save the analyst’s energy for the new questions that need answering and trust your site.

What else do you think is applicable? Any feedback?

Why I dislike Large Blogs

I love blogs. I have been blogging since 2002 when my friend Mugsy emailed me and told me to sign up for LiveJournal. A lot has changed about blogging since then, but the revolutionary idea that if you can type, you can publish easily in a word-processing-like interface on the internet has not. The method of blogging to share knowledge by and for non-programming type people is still spreading to the corners of the globe and helping people’s voices be heard in ways we never thought possible.

At the same time I am growing more frustrated with the technorati and the overload of emails, posts, rss feeds and spam arriving on my accounts daily. I am trying my best to stay on top of the active topics in  the  user generated content world as it has forked into many roads that include blogging, social networking, social ads, microblogging and a whole host of a million little startups with other concepts they want to share with the world. (more than can be kept up with or can survive even if they do all innovate)

I have had to scale back my online content consumption several times over the years when it was in danger of taking over my life and all my time. But lately this getting married thing has taken a large chunk of time out of my life too, (even after the wedding) and as a result I am trying to glean all my updates and news knowledge into smaller and smaller bits of time. (apparently being married means I have to do work around the house and spend a lot of time trying to motivate my husband to stop watching hours of TV and do things around the house. Life just got more complicated and we have to learn how to cook, fix things, do laundry and empty the cat-poop-box with much larger quantities now). My work is also very busy (analytics and metrics seem to go nuts in recessions) and no spare time is to be had anywhere in the schedule.

Therefore, I have gone through many iterations of un-subscribe weeks in my email boxes and cut back drastically on email newsletters, of which once I found very enlightening. Most marketing/advertising/analytics/metrics/SEO/SEM email newsletters  these days aren’t as willing to share any real actionable info without you spending a lot of $ so out they go.

I tried to update myself by trying an RSS reader again (3rd try) and I think its been a few months but I am overwhelmed by that too. Its way to easy to get more than 1,000 unread items in the reader and when it doesn’t tell me the exact number anymore I am less motivated to tackle it because it seems impossible.

I have found Google Reader to be good for sunday afternoon fun feed reading and more personal fun  topics/blogs though. Home design is a great topic in the reader since you really have to see it all to learn.

On the other hand I am re-subscribing to some email newsletters and just un-subscribing altogether to others who insist on posting 30-50 items per day! (assholes!) How is one person supposed to read that many posts per blog per day? It’s impossible and on some level, rude.

I know why they do this. It is partially a play to keep new items being published every few hours to keep the Internet addicts coming back for more traffic and it is also a play for search engine dominance by having more content in the engine for every possible term than anyone else. These teams of writers churn out mostly regurgitated posts about content repurposed from other blogs without much new insight. Some do deliver genuine news and content you can use but scanning through 50 posts is way slower than scanning 5 emails. The content and pics seem to load soooo sloooowly and an email you read, scan and go to what you want quickly. Big offenders of this are ReadWriteWeb (on volume and not separating feeds), Silicon Valley Insider (regurgitating and trying to predict the future even though they’re usually wrong), SEO Roundtable, Apartment Therapy (OMG, holy re-post everyone elses content and fill up with summary posts daily to waste everyones time, generate page views and sell ads), Jalopnik (jebus stop showing us every detail of the 24 hours of Lemons in every city across the country and asking us what our favorite imaginary dream car in a movie with Bruce Willis: waste of space, use summary feeds please! On a cable bandwidth line it takes forever to load all these damn images!) and Media Post (phhbbtt). ALL THESE BLOGS have been banned from my RSS Reader. Some have been demoted to email updates but others are just gone.

Also, I’m not programmed to think to go see my rss feeds yet either so I often forget about them for several days after a good several hour scanning session finally getting the numbers down to below 200 new items. then I return the next time to see 1,000+ again and feel defeated. In contrast I have OCD about keeping a clean email box, and completely forget about facebook until I am completely bored. I guess that is a sign of my age bracket. (34)

I wish that this spammy fluf put out there to fill space could be eliminated. I also wish that these blogs would split their feeds into sections so you would be able to just get the posts you were interested in. Like if new original content and re-purposed other people’s content were separated in 2 feeds, it would be a big help.

I would also recommend that they stop doing summary posts. They piss me off. I wait a minute or 2 for something to load in the darn reader only to see its the same posts from the local editions of the same blog.  Poo, if that happens 15 times in a day I could have spent that time sleeping and then I’m annoyed. 

These blogs also do this because they are in some get-rich-quick rush to make money as a profitable business before Google figures it out and bans them or something. Yes, blogs have an elitism to them that says, duh, if I can make a slice of the money publishing from what the Tribune used to, I am going to do this as fast and as hard as I can. And it over saturates the web with watered down content that is just filler mostly, even if it does increase ad impressions and some adsense revenue if you’re into web-welfare payments.

I also would like to recommend that if you want to start a blog you keep the posts to no more than 2-3 a day and resist the urge to just regurgitate other people’s posts and link to them saying how great they are. Research things you are really interested in and share your own unique experiences. Any web-bot can be an aggregator, what we need more of is real people sharing experiences and knowledge to make social media stick and not die out because of spam/splogs and info-overload. It is these people who become trusted advisors and get the visitors who come back again and again.

And this is also better for the rest of us who have to go clean the cat-poop-box and have a life offline now that they are married.

Update 10/29/09

http://scobleizer.posterous.com/why-i-dont-use-google-reader-anymore

I guess Robert Scoble agrees with me to a point, though he blames Google Reader for a bad format and experience and not the blog owners for copious amounts of useless content hiding the good stuff. I guess there is always room for improvement and certain people discover it before others depending on how they use the info/product.

Update 11/5/09

How much content is too much content? Read Write Web chronicles these mega content sites and their race to populate the web all by themselves by posting 200+ posts per day. We should call it the Answers.com business model.

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/the_age_of_mega_content_sites.php

New Media and New Information Paradigms

I have been hearing about the demise of the newspapers, the rise of search/social networking/new media and the internet fragmentation concept for years now. (almost a decade?) And I just read about it again today with the newspapers secretly meeting to try and sort out monetization methods to save their business. At the same time I am a Guinea pig living through this time of change/shift in how people find information, use information and consume things. Here are some of my observations although not in a concise dissertation format yet. 

  • We are at an odd time in internet evolution, on pause between big developments. We got email, IM, web sites, RSS feeds, Blogs, social networking and now Twitter. We don’t need more services or ways to interact on the web. We need better all inclusive ways to connect and consume all in one. Ways to make the experience more relevant and more inclusive of many kinds of content at the same time. Not wasting our time.
  • I can’t help but notice that at 33 I have never really “read” a newspaper. This indicates to me that newspapers were not that important back in the 1980’s to my generation when their profits were healthy and the internet was but a dream for most of us. (Except being something to line litter boxes and bird cages with.) I hate the size format, I hate the ink and I always have. I actually like the ads though, especially the Sunday fliers. 
  • Weeks go by without my watching any TV. This started about 3 years ago when I got high speed internet. It’s not that I don’t like TV, I just don’t have time to sit for 2 hours plus and I know if i sit down I won’t get up and get anything accomplished in the evening/weekend. And I don’t like overly repetitive things. I was watching the sell that house shows on HGTV to get ideas about how to sell mine and after about 3 I got it and didn’t need to watch any more. Reruns aren’t nostalgic to me really, more just boring. And reruns is all Cable TV is about.
  • The only TV I will drop everything for is Top Gear UK. When it is in Season we trek over to my parent’s house and watch wwith extended family weekly. Everybody drops everything to watch that show. It makes you laugh, it makes you dream of fancy cars and it inspires you to take grand adventures regardless of what the outcome is.
  • This leads me to a general cluelessness about a lot of local and newsworthy (?) events. Things like buses that are Hijacked and what the weather will be tomorrow. I also find that these things weren’t essential to me in the first place. I carry an umbrella, what’s the big deal?
  • I find myself focusing on things I’m interested in. Maybe this is the political polarization people speak of? I read my marketing emails/newsletters/blogs as well as home design blogs and write my own blog as well. I check status on Facebook/Twitter/Flickr and maybe update if I have something interesting to say. And I work a lot. I also am always investigating 2-3 new directions for my work/career. Not all of them pan out, but they help me figure out what is evolving that I need to know about.
  • I do still use the phone (yes the land line). It is the best way to reach my parents and Steve’s parents. Steve’s parents email but mine are not really into it. And we try and go visit once a week in person. In person time still matters.
  • I am a book reader because I am a train commuter. I have been for years now and it has created a small library of business/marketing/analysis books. I order from amazon when I see something I like and then go consult the pile of books for something new.
  • And that is all I have time for. Now with a husband (fiancee really for one more month), 3 cats, 4 litter boxes, a yard, wedding planning, condo selling, house hunting, family organizing, laundry, food shopping & cooking I am overbooked. I don’t even get to skype/call my friends very often. A party invite seems really daunting these days with the schedule we keep.
  • I wonder about new media uses and if we will really care about anything not personally relevant to us in the future? Will a police chase matter to everyone in Chicago or just the people who live by the highway where it happens? Will we be less distract-able by sensational news and distracting entertainment? Will we be able to channel the news, information and analysis we really need into our lives and ignore the products/content we really don’t care about?
  • On the other side of the coin, how will we ever discover new things? I find myself looking to find out what is happening on the internet a few times a week and look to Google News and the Yahoo home page. Not the Trib. Yet somehow the list at these sites is always limited and not really anything relevant either.
  • There has to be something in-between a completely open fire hose of information and one select rss feed with just content from one niche area. There has to be some middle ground between being hijacked by ads for 20 minutes of a 60 minute program on TV and not knowing at all where to find a dress for my rehearsal dinner when my usual 5 clothing websites didn’t pan out. (who has time to go to a mall?) ((and why does Google shopping suck when the main search is generally good??))
  • People won’t pay for news. Period. They will pay for some kind of extra relevant cool service though. They will pay for innovation, new products that are noticeably better for some reason. Things that simplify your life.
  • Ads should not be integrated more with content as if they were the content. It blurs the line in what is really true and what is marketing speak. And although they may pay the bills for a while, people will eventually figure it out and abandon that medium that does this.
  • We need another search player. Google is not enough and although they do some things well, I am not a fan of everything they create. I would like more companies to work on real time indexing of information as well as historical archiving to keep information accessible if anything happens to Google’s accessibility. At some point people will be so hooked they will be able to charge for a (low cost) subscription to the search engine itself. 
  • More people need web enabled phones with internet use active. I just read yesterday that out of 57 million people in the US with internet capable mobile phones only 18 million have internet enabled! (netpop stat comparing us to China) 31.5% of the people with internet use phones don’t even pay for internet access? (only 13% of all the cell phones total) This is a huge hurdle to making info more relevant and accessible because people carry their phones everywhere. Things like bigger screens, flatter profiles and easier software app use on these phones will help the adoption rates improve. 
  • Identity management and security is also a problem. We might like something like OpenID but only if sites still allow anonymous comments too. Privacy and being able to say something important without being hunted down in person for your opinion necessary for getting people to adopt this identity management software and make our lives easier between all the hundreds of web sites and e-commerce activities we do in a day and consolidating that information for our own personal use.   
  • Data mining is going to have to improve. If statistics are wrong 25% of the time like stated in the Numerati book, we really need to combine automated data crunching with human decisions about data more often. Numbers are meaningless without someones explanation. This completely changes what and how data is configured, crunched and reported and can determine/undermine your results even if you manage to collect it perfectly.
  • All this plus the only way out of a recession is through innovation. We’re waiting.

Google Search Box on the Search Results Page Sucks – Site Search

google search box, web results sucksI noticed this search box on the Google search results page beneath the Amazon.com listing a few weeks ago and thought, cool. Lets see if it gets me past the home page amazon and to the search results page on Amazon.com. It would take me one step closer to what I am looking for on this site if it worked.

But instead it just brought me a list of pages on Amazon while still being in Google’s search results. YUCK! That sucks. I don’t want to stay on Google longer, I want to get to the book/dvd/whatever I am looking for and it’s on Amazon. This added another step in my process and I hate when sites do that for profit. It’s like a big interstitial ad that interrupts your log-in process on Monster or those stupid interstitial on Forbes articles. It is bad usability and bad user experience and people should complain about it so they remove this feature. (and of course don’t use the feature because if they see usage numbers in their stats they will think people like it and keep it)

It doesn’t surprise me that Google would want to keep you on their site longer so they can serve adwords against the results and possibly distract you away from what you originally intended to do or find but what I was surprised about  was that they thought they were better about finding products/pages on amazon than amazon itself. And that is a self centered conceited view to think you know Amazon’s business better than they do and to use that as justification to poach their traffic and users. Ouch.

I think Google also may be looking at this new search box in the search results as a way to get more into vertical search using their main search box as a starting point for picking your vertical and then the second search box to search within the site or specific vertical you choose. Google probably thinks they are prime for this kind of use because they already index everything and just need to figure out a hierarchical interface to display it all and make the difference in level of detail in the results visual. Then they can conquer the world…muhahaha…The only problem with that idea is that I don’t know an real live humans that like or look for vertical search. The sites that create content around a vertical are brands and have a real product that cost money to produce so they aren’t just web companies that crawl, slurp, scrape and steal other people’s original content and display it with advertising along site like Google.

So, overall I give this search box in the search results change a thumbs down, grade F for bad user experience keeping people away from what they want longer while displaying more ads and bad traffic poaching from genuine product sites. Google should remove this feature as it does no one any good and will deteriorate their relationship with real publishing and product sites over time. And if Google thinks they can play hardball and corner companies into accepting this, think again. I am sure there are some legal eagles out there that will be happy to bring this to court.

Presidential Primary, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Political Campaign Marketing

I am usually not very political and hate how spin and vicious attacks are used to sway people’s opinion when they have little or no impact on the job that someone would do. That aside I am interested in seeing who will win this next presidential election in the U.S. and how the marketing that their campaigns do impacts the outcome.

The first thing I noticed was that all the campaigns for the presidential primary elections and Iowa caucuses were utilizing Email. Rudy Giuliani used it the least (once a week is not enough) and Ron Paul was the most primitive with text only messages that seemed to be hand written after each event, but everyone got out the info about donating this way. I noticed that Barack Obama and Jon Edwards slowly built up momentum with emails supporting the increase in number of stories they had covered in the press. Hillary Clinton (Billary) has been sending a deluge of daily emails since about 6 months ago. I would say she has over-used this medium. I am almost becoming immune to the emails now and not even reading them anymore. I did think it was a nice touch that Rudy Giuliani sent an email thanking everyone after he dropped out of the race and another one a few days later asking his supporters to join the McCain camp. It was very classy and genuine.

Online they seem to really try and use banners to advertise their sites and not the issues, but I haven’t run across that many banners or display ads yet since I don’t hang out on political sites all that much. On TV they seem to be targeting the states and DMAs where there are primaries but I think national ads will be seen soon. I just hope they remain positive because there is much more to be gained in voter enthusiasm from a carrot rather than a stick. Text ads in search have also been utilized but I don’t think they have been as targeted or flexible as they should have been. They aren’t taking advantage of the customize-able real time edit-ability of these ads. All the candidates really need someone on the bus listening to issues and going to events that can be online at that moment and customizing campaigns to reflect the outcome. Plus a team in the background analyzing and optimizing the campaigns based on tracking conversion to donation data. One guy who does this as a second job and isn’t even very good at it isn’t the right solution. Barack, you’re just giving your money away for nothing with this one. 

The news publication/blog/press/PR area is another world all together. I feel like they all try and court this market the most and rely on these writers to transmit their message. The thing is not everyone watches or reads the news. I almost never do, because I am never home. Plus these writers are pretty willy nilly all over the place with what they cover and how frequently. They write about whatever the big thing is that moment and after the day the story runs, the buzz is gone. (plus a lot of it is fluff) It’s forgotten and on to the next big thing. It’s just so short. You have to keep churning out notable stories or always be the front runner to benefit from this medium. I would find this very frustrating to be over saturating a small market/audience of people with messages that are fleeting, confusing and less meaningful rather than building a real relationship with them over time or examining the issues and candidates in depth once and getting a final vote.

An alternative medium being used more this election than ever before is the use of political humor shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and late night shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman. These shows give politicians an audience of voters who may not watch or read news because they are disengaged or apathetic. If they are light on issues and come across as like-able, funny and can take a joke making fun of themselves they may gain some votes this way from people who vote by like-ability rather than issues. I see the blur between news and entertainment blurring further in the future and this will continue to be a tactic in future campaigns.

I assume direct mail was a part of the mix although I didn’t get any mailings locally or nationally for the primary in Illinois. Lawn signs and outdoor signage in general always plays a big role leading up to the last month and days before an election. So do volunteers. This is really the backbone of the marketing organization. The enthusiasm, scripts message and overall level of performance of these cold callers and door knockers can make or break the candidate’s chances in local and primary elections. So do the quality and clarity of the leave behind brochures. They must differentiate your candidate from the others and make clear why they will be the best candidate in real terms for the voter.

Anyway, I will be watching and waiting as per usual to see how this comes out in the end. Who will you be voting for and why?

Google to hit 900? Then what?

I was reading yesterday that Google increased it’s marketshare in search by about 1 percent to 64.5% of the searches done in the US each month. The up side of this is that they are gaining marketshare from the other few search competitors and are poised to continue being the leaders for a long time to come. The down side is that they may only be able to obtain around 80% of the market (without buying competitors) and that last 15% they have to go before topping out may only take another year to obtain or 2 at the most. That means that this Google run on stock is a limited time deal. The increase in stock price seems to follow the increase in market share and we now see the end in our sights. We know they are doing a lot to pursue getting google offline to cell phones via mobile advertising and maps on gas station pumps, but this is not the same as tapping a 180 million person online market by becoming everyone’s home page. It will take a lot longer and more technology develpment before google is relevant on phones. Most people have web access but if they are like me, they decline it now as a costly extra service that runs really slowly and is difficult to use on a cell phone screen. User interfaces have to become better. Screens have to become better. Unlimited Web access has to be free on your phone with your plan. I know that Google has overcome other challenges in the past but they are used to getting what they want quickly and this beyond the web growth is not going to happen as quickly as they would like and it may not arrive soon enough to pull us out of a recession in 09. It’s the 10 year curse and it’s coming back at the end of 09.

2008 Calendars

2008 calendar, letterpress, engraved, embossedI bought my first 2008 calendar for next year already. Of course since I have been enjoyind Etsy.com so much I bought it from a crafter there. I am liking this letterpress look of paper products. It is 12 cards with letterpress patterns printed and embossed on them. I think they look best with individual ribbons hanging each card. Anyway they are a limited edition so if you like, you should go get one too before they’re all sold out!

I will most likley hang these up at home, since they are just too cute for work and then go get a “flowers” calendar from borders or something to bring for my cubicle. I need some basic calendar that I can write all over for my desk. Also there is a great post here about calendars available for 2008 online.