Articles in the Benchmarking & Measuring Success Category

June 2 2009

Need to add a new organic source in GA? Here’s how:

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Way back in August of last year, I blogged about the ga.js file and how it automatically recognized 38 different websites as organic search engines. Today, June 2, 2009, the ga.js file now automatically recognizes 40 websites, pending Microsoft’s new engine “Bing.com” being added very soon to be number 41.

The team at Google Analytics can’t possibly keep up with every single website that appears on the internet, and depending on your own needs, you may find it useful to count a new website as an organic source of traffic, instead of counting the incoming traffic as a referral.

Perhaps you’d like to count your favorite website as an organic search engine? Or maybe you’d like to add any brand new search engine that comes out, like WolframAlpha or Bing.com, and you’d like to immediately start counting the traffic you get from it in the same report as Google and Yahoo? By making a very minor addition to the Google Analytics Tracking Code on all of your website’s pages, you can add as many new organic sources of traffic as you wish.

Here’s what that tracking code would look like on your website:

<script type="text/javascript">
var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www.");
document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "google-analytics.com/ga.js' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));
</script>
<script type="text/javascript">
try {
var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-XXXXXX-X");
pageTracker._addOrganic("bing.com", "q");
pageTracker._trackPageview();
} catch(err) {}</script>

The new line of code that you should see is the _addOrganic call:

pageTracker._addOrganic("bing.com", "q");

There are two parts to the _addOrganic call – the first part (where it says “bing.com”) is the search engine domain name. The second part (where it says “q”) is the query parameter that displays the search term in the URL of your browser’s address bar.

The domain name is easy to get – simply grab your favorite site’s URL, remove the “www” prefix, and you have a domain name! The query parameter part may be tricky, depending on how your favorite website works. For example, on Bing.com, a search for “guitar hero accessories” returns this URL:

http://www.bing.com/search?q=guitar+hero+accessories&go=&form=QBLH

See the “q” right before my search term, behind the = symbol? Entering in “q” in the _addOrganic function will tell Google Analytics to look for “?q=” and a search term after the = symbol, so that you can get search term information from your new organic source as well as having it counted as an organic search engine!

Just keep in mind that not every website will have easy to find query parameters like the one from Bing.com does, and some websites will use something other than the letter “q”. For example, AOL.com uses “query”, and they use a different structure than Bing.com:

http://search.aol.com/aol/search?s_it=comsearch40&query=xbox+360&do=Search

When using _addOrganic, make sure to update the Google Analytics Tracking Code on EVERY PAGE of your website – if a person lands on a page that doesn’t contain the _addOrganic function, their traffic source will be counted as “referral”, not “organic”, so it’s vital to update this on all of your website’s pages, not just your homepage.

Hope you found this useful! Next time I will talk about how to modify your Google Analytics Tracking Code to treat certain keywords or referring websites as “direct” traffic. Stay Tuned!

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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