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October 29, 2007

It's here

image The wait is finally over. Beta 1 of our "Gatineau" web analytics product is finally open for business! Today, Monday October 29 (coincidentally, Justin's birthday - happy birthday, Justin), we've started sending out beta signup invitation codes.  So what can you expect in beta 1? Here's the run-down:

 

Demographic segmentation

image As previously trailed, demographic segmentation - the ability t0 compare the behavior of men vs women, or different age groups who are using your site - is a key feature of Gatineau. All of Gatineau's tabular reports support this segmentation capability, so you can compare bounce rates across segments, for example, or see which of your marketing campaigns played well with women, and which with men.

Custom taxonomies

image A neat feature of Gatineau beta 1 which hasn't had much air-time is the ability to define a custom taxonomy (i.e. site structure) as you're instrumenting your site. So, for example, if you use a CMS to manage your site, you can map the document hierarchy from your CMS into the instrumentation, and see this in the Gatineau reports. When you're viewing page reports you can then select the custom taxonomy from the "Browse" menu drop-down at the top of the report box.

Funnel Report

Funnel Of course, no web analytics product would be complete without a funnel report. We've put a bunch of effort into the one inside Gatineau - as well as providing a nice visualization of the drop-out through a defined process, it also shows the top entry points into the funnel, and the top exit destinations.

Outbound link tracking

Kinda kicking myself that I didn't mention this at E-metrics last week in DC, given that Google then announced the same functionality the next day, but beta 1 provides automatic outbound link tracking. All you have to do to enable it is set a variable when you implement your tracking script, and all outbound links will be tracked - including downloads of things like PDFs. This is key functionality for folks who use server log-based reporting tools to track this aspect of site usage, as tag-based web analytics tools have historically not been great at tracking downloads.

Inbound referrals

image Gatineau's Inbound Referrals report is pretty much what you'd expect it to be; however, it includes a very useful "Not Referred" group which shows the amount of direct traffic to the site (i.e. people typing in the URL directly, or clicking on a link in an e-mail or other non-referrer-generating source).

ROI reports

image One of Gatineau's main goals is to provide marketers with a real view of how successful their marketing activities are. Beta 1 provides four ROI reports to achieve this - a Campaign Overview report which provides an all-up picture of marketing effectiveness, and E-mail, Banner and Offline Campaigns reports which provide more detail for - you've guessed it - e-mail, banner and offline campaigns. We're still working out some technical details to integrate paid search data properly into Gatineau, and when we do, paid search (including automatic integration with Microsoft adCenter paid search) will appear in this report group.

Goal analysis

image Every website has goals - even ones which don't take money from people. Gatineau's Goals report shows how many visitors are reaching the goals you've defined for your site, so you can decide if you're being successful or not.

Client system reports

image Gatineau contains the usual array of reports about your users' location and browser set-up. So, for example, you can see whether you can design your site based upon a 1024 x 768 resolution, or whether you still need to stick to 800 x 600.

 

Other stuff you need to know

There are some other things to bear in mind about this beta. The first is, if you've requested a beta invite, you'll be on the list and will receive one in due course - but remember, some people have been in the line since January, so please be patient as we ramp up users slowly; there's no need to remind us that you're waiting.

The other thing that it's worth reiterating here is that if you don't have an adCenter account already, you'll have to pay $5 to set one up in order to get access to the beta at this stage. Yes, we know this is - how can I put this? - regrettable. It's a strictly temporary situation that has arisen for no other reason than some development timeline issues internally. As soon as we can remove the $5 requirement, we will, rest assured.

Resources & Feedback

To coincide with this beta launch, we're putting some resources in place to help you get the best out of the beta. The first is a "Web Analytics" discussion board on our adCenter forum, at the following URL:

http://forums.microsoft.com/adcenter

Secondly, we'll be posting official announcements about Gatineau on the official adCenter blog, at the following URL:

http://adcenterblog.spaces.live.com/

Thirdly, even though Gatineau's just in beta, we have support folk lined up to answer your queries. You can access this support through Gatineau's online help system. Just click the "Get more help" link in the bottom right of the help window for any Gatineau help topic (the Gatineau UI is peppered with helpful little question marks which you can click to get help about that page). We're testing out our support as well as our software in this process, so we need you to try it out and let us know what you think.

Fourthly, you can send us feedback about Gatineau using the following online form:

Gatineau Feedback Form

Please feel free to send us any feedback at all that you have about the product based upon actual usage of it. If you don't have access to Gatineau yet, or you want to give us feedback about the product in general, or the beta process, please use the forum.

And finally, if you haven't requested access to the beta yet, you can do so at the following URL:

http://advertising.microsoft.com/gatineau

And finally...

We're incredibly proud of this beta, even as we know that we have a good deal of work still to do. We hope you enjoy using the product that we've put together. And I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everybody at Microsoft who's worked on the project thus far, and also our friends outside the organization who've taken the time to give us the benefit of their opinions about the project.

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October 25, 2007

Holy crap!

SilenceOfTheLambs200 Will it never end?

Whilst I (and the rest of the world) have been predicting consolidation in the industry for the last several years, and it was no secret that Visual Sciences was looking for a buyer (or being courted, depending on who you ask), this news is still a shock to me. Omniture has spent well over $500 million - a quarter of its market cap - on acquisitions since the beginning of the year, and whilst its earlier acquisitions were for complementary functionality to the Omniture suite, there's a huge overlap between Visual Science's technology and Omniture's.

So a lot of the value of this acquisition will be burned off by retiring product lines and switching customers from one platform to another. Presumably Omniture sees sufficient synergies to justify the nearly $400m price tag (albeit that this mostly a stock deal), but it's going to be interesting to see how it plays out. They've got a ton of integration stuff to do there.

Is this part of a well-thought out strategy to broaden its customer base and acquire essential new functionality, or an expensive way to prop up Omniture's extraordinary stock price? Only time will tell.

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October 23, 2007

Another peek at Gatineau

justincarder Following on from my Gatineau movies last week, my colleague Justin Carder has appeared in a video interview shot by the folks over at VisitMixx, talking about Gatineau and showing some more of its functionality. Justin is becoming quite the media personality, it seems. Sadly his rise to fame comes a little late for us here - Justin is leaving Microsoft to go on to pastures new. So if you're interested in working for Microsoft and having a very significant influence on the direction of this exciting project, at a pretty darn exciting time for the company (what with the aQuantive acquisition, and all), please get in touch. Contact details on my about page.

And Justin, it's been a pleasure working with you on the Gatineau project. May you find great success with your new (ad)venture!

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October 17, 2007

MVT consolidation continues...

image ... with the acquisition of Optimost by Interwoven. This is an interesting acquirer for an MVT firm - only yesterday at E-metrics, I was saying to someone that until MVT was a built-in option in content management systems that essentially allows users to press a button and have the site "deliver the best content/layout", it will always remain something of a challenge for many people. So clearly Interwoven have seen the opportunity to add value to their CMS platform by embedding this kind of capability.

This means that the MVT market is starting to really tighten up. Offermatica and Optimost (the two biggest players in this market) have both been acquired recently, with Kefta acquired earlier in the year by Acxiom. This really only leaves MemetricsSiteSpect, Vertster and Widemile as independents. It looks like this market could disappear before it's really got started.

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October 16, 2007

The skinny on Gatineau

Another E-metrics conference draws to a close (minus me, as it happens - I'm already back in Seattle). Highlights for me included the chocolates and cigars provided (as ever) by Rene, and the hospitality shown by Jim in inviting us all back to his (absolutely enormous) room at about 12.30 am until we were kicked out by the hotel management for disturbing the other guests.

For those of you unable to come to DC to see my demo of Gatineau, or if you were there but feel like you missed something as I whizzed haphazardly through the stuff I had to show, here are some screen-cap movies of the features that I focused on in the demo. First up, logging into Gatineau:

Things to note here are that Gatineau lives within the Microsoft adCenter UI; as I've previously posted, you'll need an adCenter account to gain access to Gatineau. At the moment this means you have to give us $5, but this requirement will go away in due course.

Once you've logged in, you can set up multiple profiles to manage the web analytics data associated with the sites that you want to analyze. And, of course, in order to get data into a profile, you have to take the Gatineau tracking code and put it into your pages. Applying tracking scripts is still the #1 barrier to web analytics adoption, so we decided to make it easier by adding some automation to the process: [Note: this is a beta 2 feature]

A key thing to note about this functionality is that we've implemented it as a browser plug-in; so, although it makes an FTP connection to your web server (and therefore requires you to provide username and password information), this information isn't sent to Microsoft, and we don't store it. So there's no chance of us stealing your login, logging into your webserver, and changing all your website text to say, "Microsoft rocks!", or something like that.

Finally, here's a video of the reporting UI, showing the segmentation functionality, and something that I didn't show on Monday - the funnel report. Note that the data in this demo system is rather funky - we've been deliberately throwing all sorts of odd data at the test system to try to break it, which is why the funnel has an odd look to it. Your funnels will look like funnels, I promise!

I'm not going to post videos of the Campaign or Treemap visualizations, because they're still in development. More information on these soon. I should be able to post pretty soon about the beta 1 availability date. So watch this space...

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October 12, 2007

See you in DC

wormwood I'm off to Washington DC on Sunday (along with the rest of the web analytics industry) for the E-metrics Marketing Optimization Summit. On Monday morning at 10.30 I'll be standing up in front of the entire class (about 600 people - eek) to show how Microsoft's been getting on with its homework assignment. Wish me luck - perhaps I'll get an apple from teacher. Or maybe I'll just get pushed off the swings by Mo.

[If you're going to DC, I'll be there from late Sunday evening until Tuesday afternoon. Please do come and say hello. I'm staying at the Omni Shoreham, so you may find me in the bar there on Monday night]

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October 05, 2007

In praise of TVersity

tversitylogo Nothing to do with web analytics or online marketing, this, but I had to give a shout out to TVersity, which (together with my Windows Home Server box) has delivered on my long-cherished vision of being able to download TV from the Internet (strictly legally, you understand) to the server in my home office and play it via the Xbox that's connected to the TV in my living room.

One of the great unsung features of the Xbox is its ability to stream media files from any Windows-based PC running Windows Media Connect (now part of Windows Media Player 11). The only snag is that for video you can only play WMV files this way.  And we all know how much WMV-format video you can download (not much, if you need telling). TVersity fixes this by allowing you to stream DivX-encoded video through your Xbox; but it doesn't stop there: you can also stream live video (encoded in RSS feeds, even) from the Internet, as well as listen to Internet radio stations.

Why am I excited about this now? Because the new UK series of Strictly Come Dancing starts this weekend, and Mrs Thomas is a huge fan (don't mind it myself, come to that). We moved to the US last year in the middle of the last series, and in order to watch the rest of the series I had to set up a cumbersome system involving recording the show in the UK onto hard disk and downloading it laboriously onto a laptop here which we then plugged into the TV in our corporate apartment. This year will be so much easier. Ah, the relentless march of technology - what a wonderful thing.

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October 03, 2007

An MVT buyer's guide - part 2

hippo Welcome to the second installment of my MVT "buyer's guide". In the first installment, I provided a short introduction to MVT and talked about one of the biggest challenges - that of getting statistically significant results in a reasonable amount of time. Now let's move onto two more key things to look for: analytical power, and segmented optimization.

 

2. Analytical power and segmented optimization

Once you have your experimental results, the answers should just pop out, right? Well, if you're working in an ideal environment, where you can deliver the same optimized page (or ad, or e-mail) to your entire audience, and you have no external constraints and a simple, universally agreed-upon goal, then maybe yes, you can just pick the winner and bunk off work early. But as you surely know, the real world doesn't work like that.

Heading for a goal

Say you're looking to optimize a key landing page that you're driving traffic to via (say) search marketing. The goal that you could optimize around could be one of the following:

  • Time spent on the page
  • Clicks through from the page
  • Clicks through to specified other pages (e.g. "add to cart")
  • Conversions (purchases) during the session, or subsequently
  • Progress through a defined path (e.g. a checkout process)

So at the very least, you need an MVT tool which allows you to choose whichever one of the above success criteria suits you the best. An even better tool would allow you to pick more than one, and to score or weight them against each other, so that you can achieve a blended optimization across multiple goals. This is essential for organizations that measure the success of their website in more than one way - for example, one part of the organization may be focused on acquisition (and hence be more interested in clicks and conversions) and another more focused on engagement (where perhaps time on site might be important).

Tweaking things

The second thing to look for is the ability to tweak the model once it's run. For example, the MVT engine might report that the purple banner, combined with the lime green "apply now" button, delivers the best results. But the creative director at your agency decrees that this color combination is more than he can bear, and threatens to throw himself off a cliff if you use it. What to do? Well, a smart MVT solution will allow you to say, "what would the effect be if we switched out the lime green button for a dusky pink button?" You may not get absolutely as much uplift as if you'd gone with the computer's first choice, but everything in life is a compromise, and sometimes it's extremely helpful to keep key people on-side during this kind of process, notwithstanding the need to avoid the HiPPO (Highest-paid person's opinion) effect.

One size doesn't fit all

If everybody were the same, we wouldn't need testing or MVT - by now, there'd be a universally agreed-on set of website templates for common online apps ("selling shoes? Make sure your website is blue with yellow text") and that would be it. But everyone is different, of course, both in terms of innate characteristics (male vs female, old vs young), but also in their context - people who arrive at your website from search may have very different needs from those who arrive from a CRM e-mail campaign.

What this means for MVT is that you need to be able to generate optimized results for different segments of your audience base. It may be that by optimizing for a "one size fits all" approach, you'll generate a 15% lift in click-throughs from your landing page; but if you optimize for (e.g.) men and women separately, you see an average 35% increase.

A smart MVT solution will not only be able to optimize on a segmented basis, but should be able to advise you about how to segment your audience for the maximum lift. This involves building optimization models for all the user segment variables that you throw at the system and then seeing which ones generate the best average uplift. It may be that it's not age or gender that matters most in creating the perfect page, but instead the number of previous visits to the website for that user. You shouldn't have to work this out yourself; your MVT solution should do it for you.

 

That's it for this installment. Check back for more on this topic, including:

  • Results automation
  • People
  • Getting started
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