Articles in The 'Analytics News' Tag


December 11 2008

The Three Evils of Analytics Tracking: Images, Javascript, and Cookies

by MoreVisibility

Tag-Based (or script-based) Web Analytics programs have excellent, business-friendly advantages that help organizations make intelligent, insightful decisions about their website. This applies to websites from businesses across every imaginable industry and size, from the local flower shop to the U.S. Government. These benefits include (but are definitely not limited to):

– Full suites of reporting options
– Colorful, easy-to-use graphics and reporting interfaces
– Data that is “good enough” for any marketer or decision-maker to use
– Fast and almost always reliable data

But with script-based web analytics – and like anything in life, really – there are pros and cons, or, the good and the bad. Unfortunately, not every visitor can be tracked with script-based web analytics programs. Some individuals purposely configure their browser settings to block web analytics tools from tracking and collecting data; others have no idea that their browser settings are configured in a fashion that would block or interfere with the data collection process. Most website visitors using mobile phones simply do not have the technical capabilities to be tracked by web analytics programs.

What this means is that tag-based web analytics solutions can only track visitors that allow themselves to be tracked. There are three separate elements that users can restrict on their browser of choice, rendering script-based analytics programs completely helpless. Users can block or restrict images, JavaScript, and cookies from loading or processing – blocking or restricting any one of these means “No Soup For You!” I call these elements the “Three Evils of Analytics Tracking” (Sounds scary, doesn’t it?).

Images
A part of how web analytics programs (like Google Analytics) operate is by requesting a 1×1 invisible GIF image to the Google Analytics servers for storing and processing the data it has just collected. If a browser does not have images enabled for whatever reason, this request cannot be satisfied, and data – although collected – cannot be sent to Google Analytics for processing, hence, no data in reports.

This doesn’t affect too many folks, as almost everyone has their browsers set to load images, and only a very small percentage of the population even knows how to do this in the first place. However, this is a major problem when tracking things like Email Open Rates, which in most (if not all) cases are handled by a request for a 1×1 clear pixel GIF image to the necessary server. If a person does not click on “Download Images”, that person is not able to be tracked.

JavaScript
The main logic behind all tag-based web analytics programs is JavaScript. JavaScript is easy and fast to implement, and it’s the type of web analytics tracking solution that makes the most overall sense across the board. It is with a few lines of JavaScript code that a website can set cookies on a person’s computer, collect data, and send that data to the appropriate processing server, be it an in-house server or a data warehouse of some kind. However, not all that glitters is gold. If users have JavaScript disabled, they cannot be tracked – it is that simple.

Luckily, not many folks disable JavaScript, as it is such a commonly used language, present on almost every website out there. However, a very small percentage of folks do block JavaScript, which is unfortunate for anyone involved with Web Analytics. This really affects mobile phone users in a big way – since the browsers on a lot of mobile phone platforms cannot execute or understand JavaScript, they cannot be tracked by default. The only thing that anyone can do about this is to hope that soon enough, all mobile phones will be equipped with a JavaScript-executing browser.

Cookies
Cookies are very small files that get set by websites on a person’s computer. These small files collect information pertaining to their activity on a website: when they entered the site, when they left the site, where they came from, what source of traffic brought the person there, how many times a person has visited the site, and so on. Cookies come in many different shapes and sizes, life spans, and security levels, but if any of them are blocked or disabled by users on their favorite browser, web analytics programs cannot store or collect data about these individuals.

Unlike Images and JavaScript, Cookie “management” is a very big concern, and it’s the biggest evil of the three. Some people block only specific cookies from specific sites. Some people block all cookies, regardless of where they originate from. Others have daily, weekly, or every first of the month cookie deletion parties on their personal computers, where they wipe off every cookie imaginable. All of these actions hurt tag-based web analytics programs, un-purifying data and distorting figures. This affects a very sizeable portion of the population – some independent reports have this figure at 3 or 4% of all internet users, while other reports have this figure in the high teens / low 20’s.

So how do I know that my data is “good”? Should I be worried about this?

This shouldn’t be something that you lose sleep over, but you definitely need to be aware. If data quality is something that your organization simply cannot live without, tag-based web analytics solutions are going to give you a lot of headaches – you want to consider using log-file parsing programs or packet-sniffing programs, although there aren’t too many of those programs available anymore. You may also want to consider using raw server log information to help.

If tracking every single person that visits your website is not the most important thing – that is, you can live with being a few percentage points “off”, and a little margin of error, then you really have nothing to worry about. Web analytics programs weren’t designed to collect the exact number of hits or queries like your server is configured for – web analytics programs were designed to give you valuable insights about your website’s performance, which can effectively be accomplished with the percentage of data that they can collect for most companies.

November 11 2008

Three of my favorite Advanced Segments with Google Analytics

by MoreVisibility

Ever since Google Analytics officially released Advanced Segmentation about a month ago, I haven’t been able to stop using it. How can you blame me? It’s awesome to slice and dice data in ways I could never have sliced and diced data before – and the things that I can learn about my website’s data are invaluable.

Here are three of my favorite advanced segments (so far) with Google Analytics. In parenthesis below, I outline what each segment means. The first segment is a default segment; while the second and third segments are custom advanced segments (The names of the second and third advanced segments are also “custom”):

1. Visits with Conversions / Visits with Transactions
(All Visits that have converted / made a transaction at some point in a visitor’s history with the website).

As I mentioned above, this Advanced Segment is one of the “default” or “pre-packaged” Advanced Segments that Google Analytics provides, without having to create your own. And, it’s one of the best ones. With it, you can see how visitors that have performed the actions that you have defined are behaving, what pages they are landing on, how often they return to your site, and anything else that you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask. You can learn a lot about your converted visitors with this segment (and get insights and ideas on what you can do to get them to convert again).

2. The Power of your Brand
(Dimension: Keyword; Condition: Contains; Value: the first word of company name; AND Dimension: Time on Site; Condition: Greater Than or Equal To; Value: 30; AND Dimension: Pageviews: Condition: Greater Than or Equal To; Value: 3)

Would you care to know how strong your brand name is, and how engaged visitors are that used your brand name or company name as their search term? This segment can give you excellent insight to your customers or potential clients who already know you by name, which means they are well beyond trying to find you, and are most likely closer to reaching out to you, or buying from you.

3. Social Media Awareness
(Dimension: Sources; Condition: Contains; Value: The name of any social media site: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, etc…)

Measuring the traffic that your website receives from social media platforms is becoming increasingly important towards these last few months of 2008, and you can expect Social Media to really become important in 2009. This advanced segment puts you in the game by allowing you to see all of the traffic from the more popular social media websites that are out there. Monitor this segment over time to get a feel for how interesting and engaging your social media initiatives are – if they are interesting, and if you have a strong social media presence, traffic will start coming your way before you know it.

BONUS Advanced Segment:

4. Are You Experienced?
(Dimension: Visitor Type; Condition: Matches Exactly; Value: Returning Visitor; AND Dimension: Days Since Last Visit; Condition: Less Than; Value:7; AND Metric: Time on Site; Condition: Greater Than; Value: 180; AND Metric: Transactions; Condition: Greater Than or Equal To: Value: 1)

This Advanced Segment excludes all pretenders, rookies, and newbies, and focuses on allowing you to analyze what your most experienced, best customers are doing. Use the clues that you find in your reports after applying this segment to learn what makes your best customers tick, and compare that against your customers who do not engage with your website at this level.

There are thousands of different possibilities with Advanced Segmentation, which means that once you start creating your own, you’re bound to come up with an advanced segment that will meet your specific needs, answer your specific questions, and become favorites of your own.

October 9 2008

Yahoo! Web Analytics has finally arrived!

by MoreVisibility

Yahoo! Web AnalyticsThe hottest news in the world of Web Analytics this week arrived on Wednesday the 8th, when Dennis Mortensen, the director of data insights at Yahoo, officially announced the release of Yahoo Web Analytics.

The web analytics community, and myself personally, have been waiting anxiously for this day, ever since Yahoo acquired IndexTools 5 months ago. IndexTools was always considered to be a great program for the price. In fact, a common slogan used by bloggers that referred to IndexTools was “…it’s 80% of WebTrends at 20% of the price.

So what is Yahoo! Web Analytics, and what can I do with it?

Yahoo! Web Analytics is a tag-based Web Analytics platform, like Google Analytics. However, that’s about as much as they share in common, barring some of the basic reporting features found in any analytics package. Yahoo! Web Analytics has worked really hard over the last 5 months to distance itself from Google Analytics, to claim its spot in the Web Analytics industry, and so far, it has been well received by almost everyone in the analytics community.

What are some of the benefits that Yahoo! Web Analytics offers?

Here are some of the goodies that Yahoo! Web Analytics offers:

1. It’s Free – In 2009, most every customer of Yahoo will be able to have access to Yahoo! Web Analytics (YWA). These include Sponsored Search marketers, Yahoo! Store owners, Small Business customers, and anyone else that is conducting some kind of online business with Yahoo.
2. Real-Time Reporting – YWA is going to provide up to the minute updates in its reporting interface, so you won’t have to wait a few hours or even a full day to see results. This will be great for Sponsored Search marketers, as you’ll be able to refine and optimize your efforts on the fly – and make intelligent decisions along the way.
3. Executive Dashboards – Fully customizable dashboards, where you will be able to create a separate dashboard for anyone within your organization.
4. Live Cost Analysis – This allows you to view Google, Yahoo, and MSN data, integrating it with the revenue that your website collects (Ecommerce).
5. Side-by-Side Comparative Reporting – This allows you to compare two different reports, one right along side the other.
6. Advanced Path Analysis – Drill, baby, drill! This report lets you drill down all the way to individual visit levels.

There are many more features outlined in the Yahoo Web Analytics features section.

My personal thoughts:

This is the best thing that has happened for the Web Analytics community in 2008, and into 2009. Everyone knows that I love Google Analytics, and that I even sometimes wear my Google Analytics T-Shirts in public (Oops…I wasn’t supposed to say that out loud…). Competition that YWA is going to provide against GA will only make BOTH platforms better over time. Each organization will likely try to one-up the other, introduce new reports or features that the other doesn’t have, and try their best to be the #1 “Free” Web Analytics platform out there. Ultimately, the true winners are you and I, the consumers. We’re going to get awesome reporting tools from both programs, and they are both going to improve and offer even more cool stuff over the course of time.

One feature that Yahoo Web Analytics will also provide users by default is data privacy. If this part of IndexTools has lived on in YWA, users will need to upload the necessary JavaScript file on their servers, meaning the data is never sent to a Yahoo server for processing. With GA you can do this, but the default option that is used by mostly everyone is having the JavaScript file reside on a Google server, meaning your data gets sent there for processing before you see it in your reports. This should be something very attractive for customers where privacy is a big concern.

Stay tuned folks – 2009 is going to be a great year for Web Analytics!

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