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    Flash cookies leave a bitter taste

    November 9th, 2010

    Privacy is, and always has been, something that needs to be taken very seriously. People will only return to or do business with sites they trust. This means that while a website can track everything, it does not mean that it should. In fact, several large media sites have recently been sued over the use of “flash cookies”, which can be used to identify returning site visitors even after the user has deleted their standard cookies.

    From a measurement perspective resetting cookies is excellent, as it creates a full view of the customer and their activity with your site. The allure of that level of information is obvious (lifecycle marketing, retargeting, etc.), but the user cleared their cookies for a reason and resetting it via a non-standard method can easily break trust. If you are thinking of trying out the use of “flash cookies” to reset browser cookies, you are in a very gray area and run a real risk of breaking the trust of your users–not to mention possible legal action.

    In fact, because the speed of change in the web analytics industry, you should review your privacy policy to make sure that it is up to date and that the appropriate information is available to your users. To take it a step further, keep an eye out for the recently published Web Analytics Association Code of Ethics; it provides a starting point for discussion around best practices within the web analytics industry.

    Use these best practices to preserve the trust of your users. Always keep privacy top of mind – even when it means reduced tracking capabilities. If data collection and privacy are not handled properly they can become a lightning rod for criticism and an unnecessary distraction from the real value that web analytics can provide.

    Originally written for Catalyst, reposted here with permission.

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.



    New Amazon “Add To Cart” Being Tested

    September 30th, 2010

    I am pretty excited today because I am in a test group of the new Amazon.com “Add to Cart” process.  Instead of serving up a new page they are doing an overlay of the page you are on, a much better experience in my opinion.  As a web analyst I can’t help but wonder what sort of impact this is having on their conversion metrics.

    It is clear they are testing it because a search on twitter for “Amazon new add” yielded only a few results, but it looks like more are coming in.  They must be opening up the gates a little bit since launching it a few days ago.  Perhaps as early as 9/26 for some users.  New stuff on one of the biggest e-commerce sites on the Internet is fun stuff!  We’ll know how it is working for them based on if they roll it out to everybody over the next few days  or weeks.  This would be key to have up before the holiday shopping season kicks into full gear.

    As a side note (as you can tell from the image), I can’t wait for Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book – The Thank You Economy.

    Do you have the new “Add to Cart”?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Why Google SSL Search Is Good For Google

    May 28th, 2010

    Recently within the #measure community there has been much talk about Google launching https://www.google.com which is an SSL version of Google search.  The big issue is that when a user clicks through a search result the referring site is stripped off and there is no way for the destination site to tell what keyword was used.  What will happen next depends on who you talk to.

    Perhaps this means that businesses don’t know what is driving traffic to their site (via natural/organic search) so they will not want to spend ad dollars on keywords that may or may not be used frequently by their visitors.  Maybe businesses switch spending to a different service, such as Bing, where they can feel more comfortable knowing what they are spending on.  For the web analysts, like myself, there is the issue about where the traffic shows up in marketing channel reporting.  We will no longer know how much traffic Google is driving to our sites.  Since Google is such a major player in the search game this could be a huge issue.

    But there is one problem with all of this.  While I -  as a web analyst – care about this,   I -  as a customer, as a searcher – don’t give a crap what a company does or doesn’t get.  That’s their problem to work out.  In fact, with all the talk about privacy from all the Facebook changes, as a searcher I would be happy with any new security Google can provide for me.  So this means that the users of search are not going to drive Google away from defaulting to SSL searches and perhaps do the opposite and attract more pepole.  That only leaves the businesses paying for advertising, but they hardly have any strength at all.  Really, it just means businesses will not spend money as efficiently as they could be so they would have to buy more keywords or risk lost revenue from lack of paid traffic.

    That inefficiency is one of the smaller ways Google could make some money.  There is an even bigger opportunity that is revealed in Google’s own statement about the service:

    Searching over SSL doesn’t reduce the data sent to Google — it only hides that data from third parties who seek it.

    You see where I’m going with this?  Google could start charging for access to the natural search.  This is sold to senior leadership at businesses by stressing that without the data the company 1) won’t know what is driving search traffic to the site and 2) won’t be able to spend their search advertising dollars efficiently.  It is a grand slam for Google.  Furthermore, before you get up in arms about the thought of paying for this data, have you ever used Acxiom data to gather targeting information on customers you otherwise know nothing about?  If you’re not in the direct mail space, then what about Hitwise or Comscore?  All of that is the same thing. Nielsen Ratings? Same thing.  Just a company collecting (or buying) massive amounts of data and packaging and selling that data to clients.

    At the end of the day businesses simply cannot afford to say “screw Google, we’ll buy ads elsewhere”.  They will pay for this data, and probably line up to do it (after the mandatory complaining about how they used to get it free).  We all know that Rupert Murdoch is changing the face of news on the internet by charging for it.  There were even talks about making Google pay to index it.  Google needs to keep looking for new ways to generate revenue; charging for search data may be it.  At the very least it could come free with Google Analytics, giving you one more reason to switch.  I bet that wouldn’t make Omniture / Adobe very happy.

    I think things could get interesting.  What do you think?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    The Problem With Reading Site Tools

    May 6th, 2010

    Businesses want to see the product that they have.  That is fairly obvious.  What may be slightly less obvious, though we probably all know it if we stop and think, is that businesses want to provide us with the tools we need to engage with them.  A basic offline example is carts at the grocery store.  This is provided to you simply to make shopping with that store easier and so that you can buy more stuff (as opposed to if you had to carry it all in your hands).

    These same sorts of tools exist on almost all e-commerce websites in one form or another.  A simple example is a search box.  The option to search provides the visitor with a tool to find what they are looking for.  Another example is product categories.  A company doesn’t just put all of the products they have and place them into a single index page.  They try to group them by how they think their (potential) customers would group them.

    All of these things make it easier to engage with the business.  The tools make it easier to shop or discover product.  This, hopefully, will get you to buy more product which is how the business can justify the investment in whatever tool they have developed.  Some, like the search box, are easy to see the value in while others may just be for fun.  Either way the end goal is the same.

    Clearly it costs money to develop and implement these tools, therefore the initiative has to generate money.  This could be directly (sale now) or indirectly (brand goodwill for later purchase and/or consideration).  The hard part is measuring the value of one of these tools retrospectively.  If it was upfront, then test, test test.  But, in some cases, that just isn’t possible or wasn’t done for some other reason and yet the leadership will still want some number to hang their hat on even if it is just a very rough estimate.

    The problem with reading tools after the fact is that it is very hard to prove direct value.  Sure you can see how much demand came through the tool.  Or how many visits interacted with it and how many times it was used in total.  You can look at participation metrics for the tool.  You can look at data point after data point but one very tough question will remain: how much of this is incremental?.  Even if you launch something and it is used by a significant portion of your visits, you will still have a hard time saying what is truly incremental.

    For instance, mother’s day is coming up.  Let’s say you launch a page that lists many products for mom.  You may see that for those visits the % of time that a product is viewed and then purchased will decline.  But don’t worry, they are just browsing for gifts.  They are using the tool exactly as expected.  But if this change in behavior happened on the whole site you would have an issue because people are viewing product and simply not buying.  You might read that as a poorly designed product page or that your visitor can’t find the information they want.

    On the flip side, you may launch some tool and find that anybody that touches the tool is like pure gold.  Conversion is up 50% for visits that use the tool.  Everything looks great, right?  Well, what if all of those people were your best customers anyway; what if they are your most engaged and most likely to buy?  Perhaps your tool is actually lowering conversion for these people, but the fact that they perform so well compared to the site as a whole causes you to miss this issue.  And, at worst, to declare the new tool a success!

    The solution, of course, is to test everything.  That way you will have a true and clean read of the exact lift of a new tool.

    What are your favorite tools that you wish all sites had?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Use Events To Track Progress

    April 30th, 2010

    Conversion, however that is defined for a site, is always the reason the site exists.  For me, a conversion is a visitor viewing at least 2 pages.  If I can do that then I know that I have engaged the person enough to look around the site a bit more.  You probably have some other definition of a successful conversion on your site.

    A fairly common conversion point for a website is account creation or e-mail capture (e-mail sign-up).  The most common way to look at how successful the sign-up process is is by using a fallout report.  A nice funnel that shows how many you started with and how many fell out at each step.  The bottom of the funnel is the total number of people that made it through the process.  This is a great way to look at things but there are two very different ways of doing it.

    The first way is based on pages viewed.  This is a very common way to look at fallout.  People that made it from Page A to Page B to Page C.  This works nicely in a very straightforward way.  It gives you a nice view of the total performance of that site path.  Unfortunately, at least in some WA tools, that is about all you can get at with the basic reporting capabilities.  The problem with this is that you might be missing some huge cake scraps, or golden nuggets, of information by looking at the data in aggregate.

    Setting a success event on each of these pages will provide a much greater degree of flexibility.  For instance you could very easily look at campaign tracking codes and see how many of each event was set for each tracking code.  This might give you information that you simply didn’t have before.

    Say, for example, that you had both display advertising and paid search campaigns pushing traffic to your site.  In all likelihood you know what the conversion is off of each of these tracking codes but you might not know how many of your email sign-ups are coming from each campaign.   It is very easy to start setting a success event on the sign-up confirmed page so that now you can get a count of that event by campaign tracking code.  Perhaps you find out that your paid search converts better but they don’t come and sign up for email.  This might cause you to change the messaging that you are doing in paid search (perhaps message email strong to drive sign-ups or message something else since e-mail sign-up just didn’t work).

    Similarly, if you had a 2-step process, and set a success event on each page, you would be able to see if one type of campaign had huge sign-up issues.  Perhaps you would learn that you want to create a different on-site expirence for that type of campaign to drive up sign-ups.

    Another thing that is great about using events is that they are easy to trend across time whereas fallout reports based on page views can be a bit more difficult or time consuming to generate.  The downside is that you probably have a limited number of events, so use them wisely.

    What type of conversion goal do you have for your website?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    More Web Analytics To Come

    April 29th, 2010

    I think I am going to try to refocus myself a little bit and talk about my life in the world a web analytics a bit more.  This was one of the things that I talked about at the onset of the blog and, while I have made a few posts on WA, I don’t think I did quite enough.  I didn’t publish what I was learning.  I didn’t take time to look back at what I learned in any given week.  Learning happens, often times, in small steps and so if we never take a moment to look back we never realize just how far we have moved.

    Have you looked back on your acquired knowledge recently?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Conversion At Carnival Cruises

    March 2nd, 2010

    Well, their advertising got me in the door.  I decided to check out what this whole cruise thing was all about.  It looks like a great time, but I can’t help but think that their User Experience could be significantly improved (and therefore their conversion rate). Carnival is making some HUGE mistakes.

    Making sure you have a usable website, one that is intuitive and easy to navigate, is a key element of converting your visitor into a sale.  Lets take the first page after I entered in some information about where and when I wanted to take a cruise:

    The first thing I notice is that I am left to assume that these are per person rates.  Maybe it says that somewhere on the rest of the page, but this section is clearly the focus.   Making sure your user knows that this is a per person rate will save on hard feelings down then line.  After all, I am booking a room and rooms (at hotels) usually don’t care if you have 1 person or 2.  If I have never been on a cruise (and I have not) I could easily assume these are rates per room.  Update: It does not say that on the page, only when you hover over the lowest price (not shown in picture); does not show up when hovering over any of the other prices.

    Next I see that the base room would cost me $729 while the Suites will cost $1,399.  That’s quite a difference.  I wonder what I get for $1,399.  Let me click on the “Suites” link with the camera icon.  This is what will sell me on getting the expensive room.  A nice overlay pops up on top of the current page looking like this:

    Hmm…the first thing I notice is that I clicked on the Suite and the picture that pops up looks pretty unremarkable for the price.  Oh wait, the Interior room is selected.  Huh?  That seems like a pretty big miss.  But okay, I figure that out and click the suite.  I give them another chance to sell me on the room.  And…it is just an enlarged picture of the little thumbnail.  Thus far I am not convinced that I will double the price of my cruise.  But what could they do differently?

    First, they could give me more pictures.  It is basically free for them and would do tons to help convert me.  Some pictures that I would love to see:

    • What does the view out the balcony look like?
    • How big is the balcony?  What does it look like?
    • Is there a TV (like in the other rooms)?  Where is it?
    • How big are the closets?  Where are they located?
    • What does the bathroom look like?
    • It says it has a large vanity/dressing table…where’s that?
    • A whirlpool tub is listed.  Again, what does it look like?
    • How big is the desk in the corner of the room?

    All of these things are items that people want to know.  They want to know what they are getting for their dollar.  Instead there is one generic shot that does almost no good.

    The next things is the text below the single picture: “Includes stateroom category: JS, OS and VS.”  Ohh, right.  Category JS.  I’m not sure what JS means to them but to me it means Jack Squat.  Why would these letters have any meaning to me?  And, to make matters worse, I cannot click them to figure out what the heck they are talking about.  It is just meaningless text unless I’m some sort of cruise expert in which case I wouldn’t be on this page to begin with!

    Sorry Carnival, I’m not even all that interested in what your big green details button would give me.

    What do you guys think?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    The Best Use Of Participation Metrics

    January 28th, 2009

    In my previous post on participation metrics I got a great question about how participation works across multiple visits.  And as long as I was going to write about that question, I thought it would be a great time to also state the single best reason to use participation metrics.

    First, I will address the question about multiple visits.  It is a great question, and I would expect nothing less from a guy who is crunching Milwaukee Brewers stats dating back to pre-1900 over at Brewer Leaders.  Hell, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe wasn’t even playing yet (bonus points if you tell me why he was famous in the comments).

    Getting back to the subject at hand.  Participation metrics are generally only good for a single visit and a visit is arbitrarily defined by ‘the industry’ as you leaving the page or being idle for 30 min.  A full dictionary (pops a PDF) can be found here.  Therefore if you added a bunch of stuff to your cart and ended your visit the next time you came only the pages that you then touched would be counted.  This is the same for the non-participation metrics as well.  Therefore it would be possible to have a visit that only has one page and has an order and revenue associated with it.  Just think of a person sitting on the order confirm page, going idle for 31 min, then checking out.

    There are metrics that will track across multiple visits, but because this is all based on cookies, to say they are reliable would just be wrong.  They are only as right as cookie deletion rates allow them to be.  Anyway, that is a whole post in and of it self.  But now you know about participation metrics (or most other metrics) across visits.

    The other things I wanted to touch on – and the title of the post – relates to when to use participation.  The single biggest reason, in my opinion, is ease of communication.  People like to see big round numbers.  If you can say that a promotion page was viewed by 50% of your visitors by participated in 60% of your revenue that is easy.  There are less moving levers.  With revenue distributed, when page views go up for some reason (say you are doing a lot of liquidations and people have to click around to find something is a size or color they want) it is going to give an odd looking number compared to what people might be used to seeing.

    Giving a nice number or % of total revenue just makes communication much easier.  And sometimes, when you’re working on something that you don’t really want to work on, finding the answer and communicating it out and being done with it is all you want.

    These metrics discussions sure are fun, no?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Participation Metrics

    January 27th, 2009

    I have not had a post on some basic elements of Web Analytics in quite some time.  Previously I have talked about how a person is tracked on a web site both with internal campaigns and e-mails.  I think that stuff is great to know for anybody surfing the internet.  It gives you an idea of what all that stuff in the URL is.  Check it out if you haven’t.

    Once question that comes up quite a bit centers around what a report or analysis means when it talks about Revenue Participation or Order Participation or other ‘Participation’ branded metrics.  The first thing you need to know is that it is not the same thing as non-participation branded terms (i.e. revenue <> revenue participation).  The second is that participation metrics are related to single pages within a website.

    Simply put, when a metric has “participation” attached to it, the metric changes from being a distributed metric to a non-distributed metric.

    Lets just concentrate on revenue, but know that the example is not specific to revenue.

    Lets assume that I came to a site and purchased $100 worth of stuff.  Let us also assume that I saw 20 pages in that time, including checkout pages.  When an analyst is looking at reoprts on a page basis there are 2 ways to look at that $100 I spent.

    The first way is to attribute (or distribute – however you want to think about it) that $100 across all 20 pages.  This means that each page gets $4 worth of demand.  This would include any page that I viewed, including the checkout pages.  This is nice because no matter how many pages I am looking at I am not double counting revenue.  It makes it simple.  You can just add up whatever pages you are interested in and you have your revenue number.

    The second way is participation.  this would give each page that I saw $100 worth of revenue attributed to it.  You probaly don’t need me to tell you – but I will anyway – you cannot add up multiple pages with this method.  If you did that for my hypothetical purchase you would get $2,000 worth of revenue participation.

    It seems a bit odd, but there are definite uses for each way of looking at revenue.  The first way – distributed – seems logical at first, but then you are giving revenue away from an index or homepage and giving it to a checkout page.  There is not $4 worth of demand on each checkout page.  With participation, each page gets full credit, but then you cannot add up multiple pages.  Each has its place.

    I hope that that clears up the difference between participation metrics and non-participation metrics, at least as far as it relates to those metrics from a page within a website standpoint.

    Do you have a preference between these metrics?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Don’t Lose Sight Of Your Benchmarks

    January 20th, 2009

    In any field it is easy to look at day over day comparisons, week over week, month over month, and even year over year.  If you are diligent you might even go so far as to trend your data over time.  Perhaps you will include a trend for the current time period as well as a trend for the historical time period.  The graph will be very pretty I’m sure.  That is all great stuff.

    The problem with all of this is that it is far too easy to get caught looking at the micro picture without ever taking the time to step back to look at the macro picture.  Where were you at the pinnacle of your stats?  Where were you at the depths?  And not just in the time period you are comparing.  I am talking about ever.

    These are the things that you need to be aware of.  Not with every project you do, but just in general.  This gives you perspective.  Have your sales been increasing each year?  Great, maybe they have even been increasing for the last 4 years.  Even better.  But what if you are still at half of your sales from your peak 15 years ago?  The company was capable of doing it then.  Ask yourself “why are we not at that now?” and then try and figure out how to get there.

    Don’t be satisfied with being close to the industry average.  While it is great to know where and how you tack up against others, it should only be a component of your overall picture.  Who cares if you are far above average on conversion?  Someone has to shoot for the stars.  Somebody has to be the new benchmark.  It can be you.

    The point is that as an analyst, and we are all analysts to greater and lesser extents – in your job or not, you need to be aware of the overall picture.  Don’t just be a reporting monkey.  Know your stuff.  Know what potential there is.

    And if you are setting a new benchmark, then pat yourself on the back.  You deserve it.  But then ask, how can I (or we) push that even further.

    How have you pushed a benchmark in your life?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.