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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.



    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.


    You Are Being Tracked: Internal Campaigns

    September 22nd, 2008

    So you know that you are tracked by e-mails.  You are going to beat the system.  You are not even going to use a search term to get to the website because you know Google will track you along with the website.  You are going to direct load – typing the URL into the address bar – and avoid being tracked.  Almost, but no.  Chances are that the site gave you a cookie last time you were there.  Oh well, you tried.  But that is not what this post is about.  Just because you got to the site without tracking, does not mean that you will not be tracked.

    Internal campaigns are exactly what they sound like.  They are campaigns that are internal to the site.  A campaign is anything that the site is doing to try to get you to buy more stuff (or whatever the conversion metric would be, such as filling out a survey or something).  E-mails are campaigns.  Billboards are campaigns.  A site or company runs advertising campaigns. You get the idea.

    The banner that you see across whatever site you are on is sure to include an element that says that you clicked it – a tag.  Note that I am only talking about a banner that is on the site and for the site, not an advertisement for a different site.  The advertisement for a different site would be an external campaign for the company that bought the ad.  We are talking about an ad for another item on your site – perhaps for an LCD monitor when you are looking at computers.  I call this a real estate campaign or an internal campaign.  I call it real estate because the site is tracking based on the tag on the banner and the site knows the location of the banner, the real estate. I call it an internal campaign because it is for another product that will take the visitor somewhere else internal to the site, not push them out the door to an external site.

    So you clicked the banner and were tagged.  It is in this way that the site can track how often the banner is being used (instances) as a rate of how many people saw the page it was on (page views).  This also allows the site to understand where someone is clicking on the site.  Each area of the banner could contain a different tag, thus if you clicked the t-shirt you could get tagged with a value of tshirtclick while if you clicked the jeans on the same banner you would get tagged with a value of jeansclick.

    Internal campaigns are very useful for a site because they allow for a wide variety of reporting.  The site will know how many conversions they got that clicked on the banner and how much revenue is associated with it.  This also is a much easier way to track traffic from a page.  Perhaps a single page has multiple banners and the site wants to know how many people clicked the banners.  With no tagging on the banners, all the site would be able to do is look at what pages visitors went to next and add them up.  For instance if there is no way to get to the jeans page from your home page and yet 20 of the 100 visitors took that path you can assume that they must have clicked on the jeans banner.  But then to add that up with the page that took them to the t-shrits and the page that took them to the pants, and to…etc. is a huge pain. By the time you get to the number of estimated clicks (because in theory they could have the page bookmarked or something like that) you won’t care any more.

    Look for more the post forthcoming about purchase influencer tagging on Thoughts From Thee Cake Scraps.


    You Are Being Tracked: E-Mail Style

    September 6th, 2008

    Most people probably already know that they are being tracked.  There are all sorts of programs and ways to do this at all sorts of levels.  For instance your ISP may track you and give (sell) your data to a company like Hitwise – privacy policy can be found here.  I actually saw this in a newscast last week.   They interviewed some guy about what popular search terms are and tried to make it sound creepy.  Amazing! People search for weird stuff on the internet like “how to make bombs” and *gasp* “porn”.  This guy must be some sort of genius!  And he looks at historical data! Brilliant!

    Hopefully you know that Google keeps track of everything you have searched for.  Ever.  Anyway, the part that people probably don’t know as much about is how individual sites track you.  One way a site can track you is by tagging you when you click through on an e-mail they send you – the focus of this post.  Think of tags as dated stamps in your passport book.  Interestingly enough, some of this tagging can be easily found in the address bar of your browser.

    When you see something in the address bar that looks like emid=584783 that is telling the website that your internal – meaning site specific- e-mail address ID is 584783.  This value is unique to a single e-mail address. Each e-mail sent to that e-mail address will have their unique emid attached to all links in the e-mail. This also allows a site to build a history of that e-mail address – not only for activity, but for response rate as well.  Now every time you click through an e-mail for that site they have more history.  Note that larger sites rarely look at individual behavior but instead classify a behavior and then analyze that group.  Still, the information is there.

    In addition to an e-mail ID, there is usually a campaign variable such as cid=Sep08FreeShipping.  This allows the site to report on everything with Sep08FreeShipping stored in the cid variable. All of this information is contained within the link that you click from the e-mail. If you get the e-mail and directly load their site, not through the e-mail, the activity will not be tracked because in a direct load no value would have been assigned to cid.

    These variables do not have to remain in the web address the entire time.  They are stored in the background after the initial click. So when you no longer see emid or cid in the address bar, but originally arrived at the site through the e-mail, you and your activity is still being tracked.

    Look for at least one more installment of how you are tracked. There I will focus more on how a site tracks internal campaigns. Hope this helped give some people a better understanding of how websites track you.