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July 24, 2007

Eric Peterson on 'Free vs Fee'

image Eric Peterson has published a report which draws on some of the data he got from his web analytics practitioner survey a couple of months back to highlight that organizations who use free tools tend generally to be:

  • Small
  • Less committed to web analytics
  • Less strategic in their user of web analytics
  • Newer to web analytics

Eric uses these conclusions to argue that organizations who standardize on free tools are in danger of under-investing in web analytics. The argument sounds alluring - if you're too cheap to invest in web analytics software, you're probably too cheap to invest in all the other things you need to do to make a success of web analytics - but I worry that Eric has his reasoning backwards. For me, use of a free web analytics tool is likely to be a symptom of a lack of ability (or desire) to invest in web analytics, not the other way around. A lack of ability to invest in this area is particularly pronounced in smaller organizations, of course.

Eric makes a great point in the report that just because a company is small it doesn't necessarily follow that the web isn't important to that company. This is true, but lots of things are important to a small company - paying salaries, keeping creditors at bay, unblocking the toilets, making sales, doing tax returns, keeping the website running, and so on. it's no great surprise that web analytics comes some way down the list, even to small companies who are primarily web-based.

It's true that larger organizations should have more resources to devote to web analytics, including perhaps paying for a tool (and, more importantly, paying for the all-important service capability that comes along with such tools), but even here there is a wide spectrum of importance of the web to an organization: an online travel site that transacts close to 100% of its business through the web is going to take a different attitude to web analytics (or should do, at least) than a concrete manufacturer whose website is primarily informational. Though to be fair, Eric's poll was amongst self-defined web analytics professionals; you'd expect to find them in organizations that take the web reasonably seriously.

Interesting to see the debate on this stirred up though, particularly considering my day-job. Nice work, Eric.

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July 22, 2007

Microsoft 'Gatineau' sneak peek

So, some screenshots of the interface for beta 1 of our web analytics product (codenamed 'Gatineau') have slipped out onto the web, courtesy of Dave Naylor. Dave attended our adChamps briefing in London a couple of weeks ago where he saw a demo of the software and spoke with my colleague Justin (who did a sterling job of flying to London at less than 24 hours' notice when I had to cancel because of another engagement). Not quite sure how he got these images (we were planning to make an announcement ourselves soon), but... hey. At least gives me a chance to clear up a couple of things:

Beta date
Beta 1 of Gatineau will likely hit the web later this summer. If you'd like to participate in the beta, please fill out the online beta request form, but please note that this will be a limited beta and so you may have to wait to be admitted. I'm not going to make any promises around how long that wait might be. If you've already e-mailed us, no need to do so again - we know who you are.

The beta is a work-in-progress. We're planning to add more reports to the product before we consider it "done" (whatever that means in this day and age).

Demographic data
One of the reasons we wanted to wait for our own announcement around the beta functionality is because we wanted to explain where we get our demographic data from. Beta 1 will include the ability to segment data by both age and gender buckets, so you can get more of an idea of what kind of visitors you have. Questions are already being asked on Dave's blog about where we get this data from; the answer is that we do get this information from users' Live ID (formerly known as Microsoft Passport) profiles, but I would stress that we get this information anonymously, and there is no use of PII (Personally Identifiable Information, such as name or e-mail address) in the product.

Hopefully I'll be able to post a more comprehensive explanation of this process very soon (in fact, I started writing one in this post, but halfway through my implant started bleeping so I hit the delete key before my brain stem was fried). Will be back once I've checked with Legal. In the meantime, if you have any comments on this or any other aspect of the product, you know where the comments box is.

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July 06, 2007

Yahoo launches SmartAds

yahoo-y Yahoo has put a funky name to their targeted ads service - SmartAds, and has added some extra juice. Yahoo's been strong in demographic and behavioral targeting for some time - they have a significant team working on it - but SmartAds is new for a couple of reasons:

  • It allows targeted ad delivery based on in-session activity (i.e. what the user just clicked on)
  • It allows ad creative to be dynamically composed based upon the targeting information available

At the moment the service is being tested by a couple of airlines in the travel sector. The idea is that if, for example, a male is browsing the Yahoo network looking at information about Vegas, a profile-specific ad will appear, say, offering flights to Vegas from his city for $99 (see this demo). The ad copy and the offer can be dynamically varied, essentially offering a very large number of creative variations for different audience segments.

Obviously, varying the creative dynamically requires that the variants be created by the advertiser (or their agency); and if offers are to be varied, then the advertiser's site will have to honor those offers, which also implies a degree of sophistication on the part of the advertiser. So it will be interesting to see how far down Yahoo's advertiser tail these kinds of capabilities penetrate. I can see dynamic composition of text ads being something that even smaller advertisers could handle. And perhaps Yahoo Stores will add functionality to carry through any custom offers to the advertiser's site.

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