Articles in the Advanced Analytics Techniques Category

July 6 2009

Should I care about my Direct Traffic?

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Even though Direct Traffic is not what you thought it was, it is still a segment of traffic worthy of your valuable time. If your analytics data is currently suffering from self-referrals, redirects, or untagged email marketing campaigns, then today’s thread should be of great interest to you, as your direct traffic volume could be artificially inflated.

Direct Traffic

What exactly is “Direct Traffic”?

Direct traffic is traffic that comes to you “directly”, without the help of an organic, referral, or cost-per-click source. Folks who type in your website’s URL manually into their browser’s address bar, or folks who copy / paste your URL into the address bar are counted by Google Analytics (and most other Web Analytics platform) as “direct”.

What else can be counted as “direct” traffic?

If someone visited your website by manually typing or copy / pasting your URL into their address bar, and they bookmark your site and visit you again from that bookmark, they will be counted as “direct”. This is the good kind of direct traffic. The bad kind of direct traffic – the kind that can be destroying and polluting this valuable segment – can be caused by redirects, improper / incorrect tagging set-up, and things like banners and email campaigns that are not tagged for Google Analytics (or your favorite WA program).

How do I fix these issues?

It depends on the complexity and severity of your situation, but there is no reason why you can’t collect proper, unpolluted direct traffic data. If you are doing banner advertising or email blasts, ensure that every single link embedded within the email or every destination URL of your banners is tagged for analytics. Google Analytics offers a URL Tool Builder page that can quickly set this up for you for free.

If your site is redirecting visitors, ensure that all pages have the necessary tracking code present (even on the redirecting page itself). However, if at all possible, try to slow down the redirect, so that the tracking codes have time to fire off.

If your site spans multiple domains, please ensure that both sites and all links to and from each site are properly set-up, according to your vendor’s specifications on tracking 3rd party websites. Any analytics program will be able to do this – visit the help section of your site or contact your account rep for assistance.

It bears repeating that there should be NO REASON why your direct traffic should be a big bucket of traffic from lots of different types of sources that couldn’t be tagged properly or coded correctly. Ask your email vendor / media manager / press release guru to help you with tagging / coding issues (and if they give you any grief, tell them I said it was very important :)).

Everything is tagged and coded properly, and my direct traffic is only counting what it’s supposed to count. What next?

For the most part, your direct traffic will remain fairly steady from month to month, with the occasional lift or dip here and there. Hopefully, over the long haul, your direct traffic will have increased, as your website becomes more and more popular over time. However, if you do any type of offline advertising (TV, Radio, Print), you can use the direct traffic segment to evaluate the success / failure of your offline efforts. Did you just run a commercial on prime-time network TV featuring your website’s URL? Check your analytics data the next morning and you’ll probably find a nice spike in direct traffic. The same thing happens when your monthly catalog or special offer gets delivered to your customer’s mail boxes. Collect a few of these spikes from offline efforts and in a couple of months you may be able to gauge the pulse of your offline audience and how they respond to what you are sending them / showing them.

Your direct traffic can also increase if your latest press release just got sent out, or you just turned up the dial on your Google AdWords campaign – not everyone clicks on a link, sometimes, they copy / paste it, which will count them as direct, despite your proper implementation. For this small group of copy / pasters out there, there really isn’t anything you can do, but you should be confident enough with your clean data to still obtain great insights anyway.

Direct traffic doesn’t have to be a big pile of unorganized and useless data. It can be exactly what you thought it was, as long as you put in the work to make it happen.

May 29 2009

Down about your Bounce Rate? Do these five things to improve it today!

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Bounce Rate - Improve it Today!Bounce Rate – the most popular two words in Web Analytics today. It’s become a cliche, a catch-phrase if you will. Everyone is talking about Bounce Rate and how good, how bad, how low or how high it is, and quite a number of folks have started to use Bounce Rate as an evaluation metric for success. I can safely speak for everyone involved with Google Analytics when I extend a huge “Thank You!” to all of you who have embraced it!

Interestingly, Bounce Rate is one of the only metrics in Web Analytics that we want less of. We want lower bounce rates, not higher, and fewer bounces, not more. A question I get asked at least three times a week by clients and co-workers alike is “How do we lower our Bounce Rate?” There are a lot of things that you can do, but there are only so many options that have proven to be effective over time. Today, let me share with you five different things that you can do – today – to start decreasing your bounce rate, by keeping your website’s visitors engaged with your website.

1. A “Higher” Call-To-Action
Have you ever heard the expression “Out of Sight, Out of Mind“? A persuasive and engaging call-to-action that is very low on a page, say, below the fold of a page, can cause visitors to lose focus and get distracted by your content / video / latest web 2.0 toy, which may cause the visitor to hit the back button or close their browser before visiting the next page on your site. No matter how nice of a call-to-action you have and no matter how attractive the offer or pitch may be, it needs to be highly visible to your website’s audience so that they can react (positively) to it and click on it, thereby lower the number of folks who bounce off of the page.

2. A Sync with your Ads and your Landing Pages
No, I’m not talking about N’Sync – I’m talking about a strong connection between the ads and the messaging you are using with the page that you are directing all of your future visitors to go to. One of the biggest factors that could be driving your Bounce Rates higher and higher is a mixed message that you are sending to your potential visitors. For example, if your ad copy says “15% Off!”, you need to make sure that “15% Off!” is the very first thing that a visitor sees when they hit your website. If you have “multiple sizes and colors available”, direct the visitor to a page where they can choose their favorite color and the right size. Using a promo code in your ad? Create a unique landing page and have the promo code appear right away on the page, so that visitors will feel the connection between your marketing message and what’s really happening on the website.

3. Improper Tagging on your Website Pages
A silent but very deadly killer, untagged pages of your website can only do your website harm. When some pages are missing the Google Analytics Tracking Code, visitors reaching those pages will have their referral cookie updated, thereby resetting information like “google / organic”, the campaign, and the keyword they used to reach you. At all times, when uploading a new page or section to your site, stop and make sure that the Google Analytics Tracking Code is present on your new page(s) first before uploading. This will save you a lot of head-scratching, unnecessary report ugliness, and will decrease your Bounce Rate, all at the same time!

4. Writing for your audience
Khrysti / SEO Team – I haven’t forgotten about you, because I am still writing “Content Is King!” That statement definitely translates to the Analytics side of things, and helps reduce your Bounce Rate. Use a combination of Google Insights for Search, Google Ad Planner and Google Trends for Websites to get an idea of the type of traffic that your website can receive, as well as valuable demographic information which could represent your future audience. Once you are comfortable with the type of audience and volume you expect to receive, write your website’s content appropriately and specifically targeted, so that visitors will feel a connection with what you’re saying. To use an exaggerated example, you wouldn’t want to talk about the fashion stylings of the cast of “The Hills” if your website sells motorcycle insurance (This, unfortunately, happens a lot on the web and it leads to a high number of bounces).

5. Testing, Testing, 1…2…3!
Finally, it’s essential that you incorporate some program of testing and experimentation on your website on a weekly or monthly basis. Each and every week (or few weeks), you should think about some element of your website or some element of an advertisement that you’ll want to experiment with, to see which version is the more profitable and successful one. Google Website Optimizer is a fantastic product where you can easily create as many experiments as you’d like, and see clear results in no time. You can also create a Website Optimizer experiment from start to finish in well under 10 minutes, which means you won’t have to be bogged down with hours of set-up and design time. Testing and experimentation with Google Website Optimizer is one of the best ways to decrease your Bounce Rate over the long-run, while sky-rocketing your conversion rates at the same time!

So there you have it – 5 great things that you can do today to start lowering your Bounce Rate, keeping your website’s visitors engaged, focused, and happy with you!

May 13 2009

What are we going to do at 3:14:07 UTC, January 19, 2038?

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Start the countdown right now! In a little under 29 years from now in the year 2038, Web Analytics engineers at Google, Yahoo, Omniture, Coremetrics, and WebTrends will have some very tough choices to make – and it’s never too early to start thinking about them!

This isn’t a trivial issue like Y2K or something like the digital TV transition day on June 12th of this year – no, no, no! This has the potential to seriously compromise cookie integrity, and potentially “break” visitor tracking, industry-wide!

What is happening in 2038?

On Tuesday, January 19th at exactly 3:14:07 UTC, all computer software programs (including Web Analytics Cookies) that store system time as a signed 32-bit integer (like a Unix timestamp) will start to “wrap around”, storing time as a negative number, causing every system using signed 32-bit integers to interpret time as 1901, and not 2038.

Whoa, Whoa! Back Up – I have no clue what you’re talking about.

Okay, let me try to break this down for you. Almost every 20th century computer uses a signed 32-bit integer which keeps track of system time on your computer, on servers, ATM machines, iPods and iPhones, and so on. This “signed 32-bit integer” business is also known by another name – Unix Time (or also “POSIX” time). This time is represented by the number of seconds since January 1, 1970.

If you take a look at your browser’s cookies, you’ll see endless strings of numbers and dots, like this:

My Cookies and the Unix Timestamp

The cookie selected here in this image is the __utma cookie from Google Analytics, and the 10-digit number that I have highlighted represents the first time I visited the Google.com website. This number – 1239628694 – is a Unix Timestamp, and when you do the math (or use a conversion tool somewhere online), this number translates to Mon, 13 Apr 2009 13:18:14 GMT (of course, I most likely cleared my cookies – yes World, I clear cookies from my computer, too!)

So what’s the problem again?

Okay – the problem with this comes due to the way modern computer programs calculate this 10-digit number. That’s what you need to know (Warning: This next party is very geeky). They almost all use a very standard 4-byte integer to count up the seconds, which is 31 bits long, able to contain a maximum value of 2 to the power of 31. The 32nd bit is the sign, which of course is positive (+). When you do the math, the maximum number that computer software programs can reach and stay positive is 2147483646. When you add one more second to it – 2147483647 – the positive sign will become a negative sign, and instead of Tuesday, 3:14:07 on January 19, 2038, computers everywhere will display the time as Friday, 8:45:52 on December 13, 1901.

Can’t this be fixed? Can’t we just ignore the date and move on?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Most every operating system stores system time as a 32-bit integer, and system time is a very big component of a functioning software program (they absolutely need to be able to come up with a positive time stamp). So, it’s not an easy fix – most likely, entire software programs will need to be re-written and re-programmed to avoid Y2038K.

This includes personal computer operating systems, ATM machine software, other electronic devices with computer-like components, and, yes, Web Analytics cookies.

Okay – Y2038K? Give me a break – this is TWENTY-NINE and a HALF years away! I think you’re jumping the gun here.

You’ll be surprised how fast 29 and a half years goes by in computer programming. Think of this – we’re in the year 2009, and we’re using a timestamp that starts counting seconds from 1970 (39 Years Ago), which was first published in 1988 (21 Years Ago). Most of us are still using Office 2003 (6 Years Ago).

29 Years is right around the corner – so I hope that we can come up with some kind of conversion tool, some type of new timestamp calculation, some new 64-bit integer system that can seamlessly transition all software programs and Web Analytics Cookie Timestamps for the next generation!

*Note: Some of this blog post is obviously “tongue and cheek”. I am not really sounding the general alarm about what will happen in 2038 – but hey, it’s never too early to start planning for the future! :)”

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