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October 30, 2006

Hubris (i)

Last Thursday's New Media Age carried a supplement about web analytics, and yours truly was interviewed by Nic Howell, talking about Microsoft's entry into this space. I'll leave it to you to judge whether I made a fool of myself. Plus, now you get to see what I look like!

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October 27, 2006

Who moved my cookies?

As you probably know, Internet Explorer 7 is out in the wild. It's a big improvement over IE6, but I am a wee bit disappointed that it doesn't offer a bit more finesse in the cookie management department. There's a new feature to delete all your cookies (separately from other temporary files), but you can't delete the cookies from a specific website. I suppose the thinking was that this kind of functionality is more the kind of thing that only developers need (I came across this whilst trying to delete cookies so that I could test something relating to my wife's e-commerce site, mirror mirror - I wasn't being a 'normal' user), but it would have been nice to have something to compare with Firefox's functionality in this area.

What this means is that power users will be forced (as they were with IE6) to go to the Temporary Internet Files folder to find the cookies they want to delete. As with IE6, there's a button on the General tab of the Internet Options dialog to open up the relevant folder. But if you're running IE7 on Vista, there's a surprise in store. The folder that IE opens up for you is a variant on the following (depending on who you're logged in as):

C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files

Notice that this is a different file path from the normal C:\Document and Settings\... path that things are found in on Win XP. But that's not the problem - the problems is that your cookies are actually stored in the following folder:

C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies

So, you go hunting in the Temporary Internet Files folder (which, at least on my system, still contains some cookie files) and delete the cookies you want, only to discover that IE still has the cookie. In fact, it's a little more confusing even than that, because if you're running IE in protected mode (the default) on Vista, the cookie information is written to:

C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies\Low

I feel like a bit of a heel criticizing IE 7 - my colleagues on the IE team have done a great job bringing it to the market, and you can really sense the excitement on their blog. But if you want to be able to delete cookies individually (or advise someone else how to), this information may be of use to you. Alternatively, download one of the add-ons for cookie removal from the IE Add-ons site. But be aware that some of these need updating to find the right cookies folder, too.

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October 26, 2006

Web analytics in your sidebar

Whilst browsing the Windows Live Gallery today, I came across a  gadget from MetriServe Web Analytics which shows basic web stats in your sidebar on Windows Vista (they also have a Mac OSX widget). Gimmicky as this may seem to the hard-bitten web analytics warriors amongst you, I think this is cool because it helps to drive user engagement with web analytics - having something permanent the user's desktop drives that web analytics 'addiction' which is the first step to integrating thinking about web analytics into site planning & design.

It's also a smart move for MetriServe because it is a free 'teaser' for their paid web analytics service - and anyone in the web analytics market who's not one of the big players these days needs to find some way of differentiating. My only criticism is that the gadget seems rather simple - for me, the attraction of this would be that it would draw the user in, offering some (very) simple exploration tools within the gadget itself, and then a click-through to a fully fledged analytics package. MetriServe don't seem to have done this.

Sadly also for MetriServe, this is eminently reproducible - as Google has shown, since there exists a Google Desktop Gadget for Google Analytics:

This is quite a nice implementation, but again there's no link through to the full GA interface; plus, the 'View Days' option is completely broken (it does nothing). That little goblin in the picture is my daughter, by the way.

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October 19, 2006

Google's Website Optimizer

Yesterday at the E-metrics Summit in Washington DC, Google launched a new service under their Adwords brand, called Google Website Optimizer. It's an automated A/B testing/optimization tool for Adwords advertisers to enable them to maximize the conversion rates they get from the keyword campaigns.

In essence, the system allows you to test the effect of changing various attributes of a particular page (the 'landing' page) on conversion rates later on in the site. You have to host the landing page on Google's Pages service, so that they can auto-rotate the various attributes (title, image, body copy etc).

The Optimizer service then runs an 'experiment' which involves showing various combinations of the page attributes to a proportion of users, and measuring the associated conversion rates. Once Google has decided that they've gathered enough data, you can see the results in the following report:

This report shows that 'Combination 11' delivers the best up-lift in conversion rate (indicated by the green bar on that line of the report). You can also examine the performance of individual attributes which make up that combination.

So what do I think? Well, it looks neat - though the need to host your landing pages on Google Pages will limit the appeal. I haven't actually tried to set it up myself, so I don't know how easy it is to get going with.

I can see this having a lot of appeal to advertisers, which is where it seems to be targeted - people who are spending money with Google on Adwords and want better value. There's been some talk that this would really appeal to publishers, but I'm not sure I see that myself - firstly, publisher sites don't tend to have a well-defined conversion point, and secondly, the success of a publisher's site can't be distilled down in this way.

Publishers need to generate enough loyalty and (to use an old-fashioned term) 'stickiness' on their site to ensure (if this is their revenue model) that people will eventually see an ad that appeals to them, and click it. Plus, publishers need to understand how the actual content of their articles generates click-out behaviour on ads they're hosting - this kind of service will help them to understand the best generic kinds of content, but not the specific content that works best.

So it'll be interesting to see how the take-up of this service goes. And it's very interesting for us folks at Microsoft to understand where Google's focus is when it comes to web analytics.

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October 17, 2006

SalesGenius

Via a post on Stowe Boyd's blog, Genius.com's SalesGenius is brought to my attention. At first glance, I thought this was just another bulk e-mail marketing tool with post-click web analytics built in, but they're doing something slightly more interesting here, by tracking the clicks from e-mails sent by company sales reps and then presenting post-click path data in quite a nice way.

SalesGenius provides an Outlook plug-in which enables any e-mail to be 'sent via SalesGenius'. I assume that this routes the e-mail via SalesGenius's servers which insert tracking code into the links in the e-mail. When (if) the recipient clicks on one of those links, a cookie gets dropped and their post-click behaviour is tracked.

So far, so ho hum. But interestingly, SalesGenius requires that you add no code to your site. So how do they capture the post-click page information? Capturing the first click is easy enough, by redirecting it through their server - this is how almost all adservers capture click data. But all the ad serving systems I've worked with require you to add some kind of tracking code to any subsequent pages you want to track; but they maintain that:

"Absolutely no changes are made to your company’s web site."

So how do they do it? There are a couple of ways I can think of:

  1. E-mail recipients click through to a framed page with one hidden frame that contains tracking code and a 100% frame which contains the site. As the user clicks through the site, the tracking code can capture the clicks and send them back to the SalesGenius server.
  2. The e-mails are directed through a proxy server which fetches the actual site's HTML data and re-presents it to the user, whilst simultaneously re-writing all the URLs on the page to also go through the redirection/proxy server.

If I were doing it, I'd choose no. 1, because it throws up way fewer problems; you can just track the click events (or even the page load events) in the main frame and be done. With the 'proxy' approach, you'd need to re-write all the links on a page, even if they crop up in JavaScript-controlled drop-down boxes, etc. I know from bitter experience that this is more or less impossible.

Can you think of any way this could be done? Don't all rush to answer at once.

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October 16, 2006

Is this the worst dashboard IN THE WORLD?

You be the judge. But here are my grievances:

  • Ridiculous amount of wasted space
  • Terrible visual clutter - users will get bored of the faux-steering wheel within about 10 minutes; everything else is squashed together as a result
  • Overarching metaphor puts users into the wrong mindset to make sense of the data - people are forced into thinking about 'speed' (or perhaps 'rate of progress') and 'fuel' ('resources left'), neither of which is represented on this dashboard
  • Circular elements in the middle are actually pie charts, not speedo dials, thus creating cognitive dissonance immediately for users
  • Traffic lights in top right are also dissonant - each light shows a different value, whereas a real traffic light communicates one thing with three lights (if that seems inefficient, maybe that's why you shouldn't use a traffic-light metaphor in an analytics dashboard)

The folks at AdTrack really need a kick up the proverbial for this. It's just such sloppy, lazy thinking. Bah, humbug!

(via Marketing & Graphic Design ROI)

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October 13, 2006

What is Web 2.0? (Part III)

You remember I mentioned in my first post about Web 2.0 that I was preparing to deliver a presentation on the topic to some folks at McCann Erickson in London? No? Ah. Well, I was. And I promised to post the presentation on this blog. So here it is, courtesy of slideshow-hosting site Slideshare, which itself is a good example (they hope) of a  Web 2.0 site - kind of a YouTube for Powerpoint slides. Monetization strategy seems  to be Google Adsense revenues, as you'd expect.

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October 12, 2006

What is Web 2.0? (Part II)

Following on from my lengthy post on the topic of what the heck Web 2.0 actually is, an excellent paper on Web 2.0 [PDF format] has appeared on Pew Internet's website. It draws on Hitwise data about the growth of usage of certain "Web 2.0" sites (such as Wikipedia) compared to the stagnation of "Web 1.0" sites (such as, ahem, Encarta):

They have a number of other comparisons they make which quite nicely characterize Web 2.0 vs Web 1.0:

They also provide some data that indicates that Web 2.0 is being driven by the younger generation - though a post on the Hitwise blog (via which I found this report) has some interesting data which indicates that YouTube's audience has been getting older during 2006:

I imagine this data makes Google feel a bit better about shelling out $1.65bn for YouTube - 35-44 year-olds usually have more spending power than the 18-24's.

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October 10, 2006

Should web analytics be free?

Yet again there's an interesting post on Avinash's blog about whether web analytics applications should be free. Avinash has been unjustly accused by a friend of his of asserting that all web analytics applications should be free, which he doesn't believe, though he does believe that a lot of people spend too much money on web analytics  software, and not enough on web analytics people. I completely agree with his position.

In the web analytics industry, there is room for both 'free' and paid-for solutions. The 'free' solutions fall into two camps - those that are created out of the kindness of someone's heart (or are open source), which will necessarily be fairly rudimentary, and those which are subsidized by other revenue for the companies that create them, which are more sophisticated. This is the camp into which Google Analytics and Microsoft's forthcoming web analytics add-on to adCenter fall [disclosure: this is the project I'm working on right now]. Both of these solutions are subsidized by the revenues they (indirectly) generate on the ad networks of their parent companies.

So if you want advanced web analytics functionality but don't want to pay for it yourself, you need to be comfortable that the people providing it have their own agenda. And one of the key things you have to be comfortable with is that your data, and the presentation of it, is being hosted by a company who, with the best will in the world, aren't truly impartial - Google wants to drive Adwords revenues, and we want to drive revenues through adCenter. But nevertheless, there's been a lot of concern about entrusting your web analytics data to Google, and, when we launch, I'm sure there'll be just as much concern about our solution.

We've been having detailed discussions here about reassuring people that despite the fact that we have our own agenda to pursue (bringing people to our ad network), we will maintain the highest standards of impartiality and respect for the privacy of the data we're collecting, and actively work to help people understand marketing response across both Microsoft and non-Microsoft channels.

But many organizations will want to deal with a truly independent vendor, and, furthermore, one whose product development decisions are not influenced by the desire to monetize their ad network. In that case, the software's got to be paid for somehow, and at least if you're paying for it yourself, you have a nice straightforward relationship with the vendor.  Not every type of site (for example, an intranet) can drive advertising revenues, so for these kinds of site, a paid-for solution is the best option.

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October 09, 2006

IceRocket

Whilst everyone else is blogging about Google buying YouTube, here's a post about something else - IceRocket, a free web analytics service for your blog. From the demo, it looks pretty rudimentary, but its USP (which is probably not unique, but the most interesting thing about it) is that it will provide you with a rank for your blog, based upon its traffic - unlike Technorati, which ranks based upon inbound links.

But really, how are they going to make any money? Do they plan to sell the ranking information, or use it to broker advertising deals with the busy blogs? Or do they have enough savings that they can run a free service until they get bought by a larger player? Watch this space...

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