Tag Archives: Analytics

Nobody Knows Anything

I’m going to start the week by running the risk of bumming you out. At least we’ll have the rest of the week to recover, right? I was looking at some analytics data this morning and as I looked at it, I realized that much of it is wrong. So is a lot of the other information this client is using to make decisions. Yours is too, by the way. I’ll explain why but along with the realization came an insight that I think will be helpful to your business.

When I began in digital we used server logs to track traffic. They were pretty accurate although pretty limited as well. Web analytics came along and the quantity and quality of the information we got about who was coming to our web sites, how they got there, and what they were doing improved quite a bit. As business people, we were able to make content and marketing decisions based on the data we were getting.

Things have grown quite a bit more complex over the last 20 years and that complexity has obscured much of the good, useful information. Anyone who knows analytics will tell you that much of the referral data you see (where traffic comes from) is wrong. “Direct” traffic is way overstated. “Referred” traffic is encumbered by referrer spam. A lot of so called direct traffic is really dark social traffic (I send you a link). Transfers from HTTPS to HTTP sites report as direct as well. Keyword data is “not available.”

I’m not trying to make your head hurt nor to get really wonky. The point is that if you’re relying on that data to make decisions, you’re really just guessing. It’s the same with much of your ad data. I’ve written before about the lack of transparency in the programmatic ad markets and that opaqueness obscures the validity of the data as well.

I can add search data, email data, and more to the list of what probably isn’t what you think it is, but all of this fostered a thought: what do we really know that’s truly actionable?

I can answer that. We can know how our products and services are really differentiated and how much better we are at solving peoples’ problems. We can know (yay review sites!) how good our customer service is. We can know how our revenues and costs and changing and we can ask why.

I’m the last guy to say we should ignore that large and growing amount of data every business gets each minute. But maybe the time has come to act on what we KNOW and less on what we really don’t. What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?, Reality checks

Who’s Working For Whom?

Ever encounter a situation where things seem backwards? Maybe you’ve seen a parent being told what to do by a child or a customer being berated by a service rep. It makes you wonder who is in charge or who is working for whom. I have another thought along those lines today, and it has to do with data. There was a post from AdAge by their data reporter, Katie Kaye who wrote the following about the NY Times piece on Amazon: 

The article should inspire us to question the value of decisions based entirely on data to create business efficiencies at the expense of human empathy and the arguable imperfections that can benefit any organization or project.

I like that. It makes you ask who is in charge here: the humans or the numbers. We all ingest more data than we can consume, and, unfortunately, some of us allow that massive intake to be regurgitated as unconsidered decisions. That’s a bad idea. The data is there to serve us, not the other way around.

I’m the first to say that we need lots of data. Without impartial feedback, we’re flying blind, and data can help us make better decisions. The key there is “help US”.   Data without the context of a plan is useless. Data that’s not actionable is useless.  Data that causes us to overreact, however, is  dangerous.  If you watched any election coverage last night, you probably heard a lot about early results and the need to wait for data from key precincts.  How many times has someone in your organization overreacted to an early piece of data, only to find out that it was not at all typical of the overall results?  We need a plan, we need context, and we need a little patience.

When we chase after outliers, we’re working for the data.  That’s backward.  Data, and all the other technological tools in our arsenals, needs to work for us.  Make sense?

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Little Data First

One of the more interesting experiences is my first trip through a new client‘s analytics. Much of the time I will have asked them before I look what conclusions they are drawing from what they’re seeing. They are often very detached from the reality of what’s going on, usually because of a couple of reasons. Given the emphasis on data these days, this is a problem, so let me mention a few things and hopefully you can ask yourself if they’re true about your data.

The first reason is faulty setup. One client was all excited about their volume of traffic and the depth of visiting until I told them that they weren’t filtering out visits from their own office. Once we did that the traffic declined quite a bit (but was obviously more indicative of what was going on). Another reason is that there is no filtering in place for spam links. I’m not sure why these companies (whose names I won’t cite here to give them any more visibility) refer traffic to so many sites, but it has the effect of ballooning bounce rates, decreasing time on site, and distorting a few other things.

Another reason the data is less useful is that they haven’t set up site search to report. Most sites of any size have a built-in search box. Analytics can report on what is searched for. This can help spot problems in navigation or topics that need to be given more prominence – maybe promoting them to a main navigation tab, etc.  Sometimes the client has an app that replaces their mobile web experience but they’ve failed either to install analytics or to link them to their web reporting.  Both are huge data fails

Finally, and this one is a bigger problem than most of the others, clients fail to figure out why they have a website in the first place.  What is it that they want users to do?  Buy something?  Fill out a form?  Visit a particular page?  Those should be set up as goals and successful completions should be counted. They fail to link all their other tools such as Webmaster Tools or their paid search such as AdWords into the analytics suite.  All of these things allow you to figure out the most cost-effective ways to use marketing and your site to drive revenues.

It’s funny to hear people talk about big data when the reality is that they still haven’t figured out the little data.  Once you’ve got the little data under control, you’ll be well-prepared to add additional layers to the complex views that result.  Got it?

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Are We Getting Dumber?

Every day there are more articles written about the vast treasure trove of data marketers, publishers, and others gather from their interactions with customers.  Every mouse click, every social interaction, every store visit is another source of information that a business can use to make the

English: Somerfield, Spilsby One of the last c...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

customer experience more enjoyable and, hopefully, more profitable.  Nice ideal, but the reality is far from it, since most of the time the data is not collected, analyzed, and organized by capable people.  In fact, I’m willing to bet that the folks who could benefit most from all of this information know the least about it.

Here is something from eMarketer:

In a March 2015 study by Signal, 51% of marketers worldwide reported that they did not have a single view of customers/prospects across devices and touchpoints. In comparison, just 6% said their current solution provided an adequate single view of their customers. And Econsultancy polling in association with ResponseTap in March 2015 found that only 5% of client-side marketers worldwide had a seamless integration of customer touchpoints across channels that allowed for exploitation of opportunities. Just under a quarter had integrated channels but were channel-focused, not customer-focused.

That was about marketers’ understanding of mobile but there is much evidence that the same sort of low integration applies in other channels as well.  I mean think about your own experiences on-line and off.  I know my supermarket knows everything I buy because I’m diligent about using my card to get gas rewards – cents off gasoline purchases. That is a great value received – along with some good store discounts –  in return for me giving up my data.  That said, when I check in the scanner doesn’t acknowledge me by name nor are the coupons I sometimes receive at checkout very well targeted.  The mailings I get from the store – not the circulars – that’s asking a bit much – the coupon packs and email offers don’t seem very well targeted at all.  They have the data – they should be getting smarter and I should never want to go shop anywhere else – but nether of those things are true.

Every customer interaction counts.  We are getting a lot better about collecting them but we’ve got a long way to go to create a better experiences for our customers.  Media need to understand how to create that same better, efficient experience for their advertisers.  Heaping 15 minutes of ads into a 60 minute window isn’t it and the data can show us that.

So are we getting dumber?

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Dark Social

I will admit upfront that today’s screed is a little wonky.  You might want to stay with me though – you might just figure something out about your business as we go.  Ready?

The topic today is what’s been called “dark social” traffic.  No, these are not teenagers cruising Main Street late at night.  It refers to people coming to your website based on a link that’s been shared to them socially.  In other words, when I see an article I like and share it with a friend via email or messaging, most web analytic systems don’t really get how the recipient got to the website (although some are beginning to).  Since they clicked on a URL and went directly to the site (not from another website), it’s reported as direct traffic which is a big dumping bin of mostly unknown sources (even though it’s supposed to be users who came by typing the URL or via bookmark).  With me so far?

I did a little exercise on one of my client’s site traffic.  I looked at direct traffic which didn’t enter the site on the home page, an indicator to me of dark social traffic since people don’t generally type in long URL’s.  11% of their traffic was dark social.  With another client it was 34%.  I did some research and it turns out that those numbers are pretty typical – The Atlantic Monthly, which receives 5M monthly uniques, reports 60% of traffic from dark social.  Smithsonian Magazine realized it was 82% of their shares. Why is this important to you?

If you’re spending time analyzing your data to make better marketing decisions – which audiences to target through which channels, which content is socially relevant, etc – knowing what’s being shared and by whom is important.  The client I checked usually has a somewhat older skew and we use that in marketing.  The dark social traffic, however, demonstrates not only a higher rate of sharing of content among younger (18-24) people but also a higher conversion rate.  Very interesting and actionable data point.

The broader point is one you’ve heard before.  We need to spend time thinking about how our customers and potential customers come to and interact with our brand.  We need to formulate good questions and try to answer them with the data.  Data for data’s sake is useless.  Using data to drive actionable business decisions is where we are right now in marketing and business, at least where I and my clients are.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Helpful Hints

The Only Two Numbers That Matter

Everyone in business has heard talk about “big data.” It Takes 2!There is no question that we know more about our customers, their buying patterns, their media usage – heck, just about anything – than ever before. It’s easy to get trapped into micromanaging all that data which will overwhelm even the best systems and the smartest analysts.  So today I’m going to try to get you to follow some great advice from Thoreau:

I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.

He wasn’t exactly talking about big data, but he might have been.  In my mind there are really only two numbers that matter.  While I’m going to speak of them in web terms the reality is that they apply to every business as I will explain.  They are:

That’s it.  Multiply those two and you get a measure of success.  The first is how many opportunities you have to create a successful interaction; the second is the rate at which you do so.  That successful interaction can be a newsletter sign up, a sale, a social share of some content – you will need to define it.  Taking the number of times that successful thing happens and dividing it into the number of people who potentially might have done it (your traffic) gives you a conversion rate.  Simple!

You would be surprised how many of the analytics accounts I’ve looked at over the years haven’t set up goals, and without goals there are no conversions.  It’s not just web-based businesses that can do this.  Retail can count foot traffic and numbers of sales, for example.  Numbers of customer service calls with a successful (in the customer’s eyes) resolution.  Once you’re focused on measuring traffic and conversions, you can place everything else you do in marketing in those contexts.  More traffic without conversions is useless.  More conversions from the same traffic is fantastic.

Big data is great and I use it all the time.  As with all things, however, start with the simple, which often gets overlooked – the necessary and the real, as Thoreau says.  You agree?

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Getting Engaged

Last night was the annual advertising festival known as “The Super Bowl.”

The San Francisco 49ers' Super Bowl XXIX troph...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They play a football game while the ads aren’t running although the one they played last night was not great. If you think I’m emphasizing the ads over the game or being a little too tongue in cheek some polls find up to half the viewers consider the ads their favorite part of the viewing experience.

This morning there is ample discussion of the ads and given that time in the game itself cost north of $4,000,000 for a 30-second unit, the brands running these ads try to deploy them before the game in the hopes that they’ll “go viral” to some extent.  They were successful: Super Bowl ads running on YouTube weeks before the big game were watched 66,058,625 times before this weekend. Since that’s all the ads in the aggregate, it’s only a fraction of the audience the commercials had in the game broadcast.  However, every eyeball is valuable and the digital versions can be looked at in other ways that demonstrate engagement.

According to Tubular Labs, an analytics company,  a number of the ads also generated some buzz via tweets and  Facebook shares and they compared those activities to the ads’ YouTube views to measure the total viewer engagement with the ads.  That’s where I get a little lost and here’s what I mean.

There is an AXE ad with  3.6million views.  It was shared on Facebook 50,000 times and tweeted roughly 5,900 times.  The analytics company says these social actions translate into a 1.6% engagment rate which was the highest they saw.  The lowest engagement, for a Butterfinger ad, was tiny – .03% and shares were in the hundreds.  Interesting, but it leaves out a very key measurement.

What is every one of those shares for the AXE ad went something like this:  “Kiss For Peace” is the worst ad I’ve ever seen.  Why would you waste money on this crap?  I’m never going to consider AXE again.  Engaged?  Yes.  But is that the sort of engagement we want as marketers?  What if every Butterfinger share raved about how good it the ad was and expressed a desire to eat a Butterfinger immediately?  Better?

It’s always important to measure.  It’s also important to dig a little deeper into those measurements.  I’d take smaller positive engagement over larger expressions of anger every time.  It’s not just “what is it?” but also “what of it?” as we gather data.  Make sense?

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