Tag Archives: Google Analytics

Losing The Lottery

We’re all bugged. If you carry a smartphone, you may rest assured that it’s possible to identify that device as it moves through the world and interacts with various services. How difficult do you think it is, once someone has a device ID, to associate it with a phone number‘s owner?

I think none of that is a surprise to you, nor is it to me. I try to keep the list of organizations tracking me to a minimum and to a list of companies I trust. Unfortunately, that takes more effort that most people are willing to exert but it can affect you in more ways that you might know.

I uninstalled a lottery app this morning. It was doing a number of things that caused me concern. First, it alone was responsible for 65% of the data traffic from my phone when the phone was idle. The app was idle too, or so I thought. In fact, it was busy sending my phone number, my device ID, and several other very personal pieces of data (Facebook and Twitter ID’s among them) to…someplace. Who knows what happened to the data from there.

I installed this app a few months ago when the Powerball prize pool was ridiculously large. It seemed like a convenient way to input my tickets and get notified if I won anything. What I won, apparently, was the ability to be tracked as an individual and have my battery drained unnecessarily. Buh bye.

What’s the point today? I guess it’s a message for you as you’re on either side of the desk. As a marketer, we can’t violate our customers’ trust by using the permissions they give us to collect usage data and selling or sharing that data to companies with which the customer has no relationship. More than 70 percent of smartphone apps are reporting personal data to third-party tracking companies like Google Analytics, the Facebook Graph API or Crashlytics. Generally, those companies are there to improve the user experience. The problem is that in many cases, app developers that that permission as carte blanche to send the data anywhere. I’ve seen how that data can be used for profiling and targeting and believe me, it’s frightening.

As consumers, we need to pay more attention to privacy and where our data goes. It’s not just to keep your battery from running down. Given the role that our smart devices play in our daily lives, it’s quite possible that a bad actor could know way more about you than you’d care to share. I don’t just mean by monitoring your texts or any unencrypted data you send. It’s also tracking your movements. As a positive, location-based services can help us (you get an alert for a sale at a store you frequent as you pass within a quarter mile) but the possibility of an unscrupulous third party misusing that data is exceptionally high. Check your app permissions. Why would a game need to know your location or have access to your camera, for example? Turn off the permissions that don’t make sense.

I’ll be looking up the results of the money I risked on Powerball some other way since trying to make my life a little easier made it a lot more risky in other ways. It was a good reminder to let my devices work for me and not for people who want to spy on me. You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Reality checks

Throwing Back The Small Fish

You’re probably a user of one free Google service or another. Odds are that you’ve used the search engine (probably at least once already today!). Maybe you get your email via a free Gmail account or watch videos on YouTube. It’s no secret that each of those services is provided to attract eyeballs (and usage data) for the ads Google sells.

Let’s think for a moment about the other side of that equation. How do those ads get there? Glad you asked! Google also provides a number of other free services to support marketers as well as other free services such as Google Analytics that provide data (to Google and others) about what’s going on in the web world. Lately, Google has been doing some things with those services that are instructive to the rest of us for our businesses.

What they’re doing is making those services less useful to marketers who don’t spend money with them. You might remember the outcry a couple of years back when Google stopped providing search term information in the free version of Analytics. At the time they said it would affect only a small minority of the data. The truth is that today nearly all of the search terms are (not provided), which is where Google lumps them when they don’t want to show them to you.

A few days ago, Google did it again. There is something called Keyword Planner which is used to plan search advertising. Google announced that “advertisers with lower monthly spend may see a limited data view in the Keyword Planner.” How much lower? No one knows.

How does this relate to your business? As you might expect, the response from the search marketing community has been outrage. This comment (and there are pages and pages of them on Google’s Advertising Community page) is typical:

First Google took your organic keyword data away. Now they are intent on impoverishing those without enough budget for the data.

There are many times more small accounts using Google for search than there are large accounts. Is it a good idea to favor the big spenders? Yes, it is, actually. Any good business rewards its best customers with perks. Those perks, however, shouldn’t diminish the ability of a small customer (or a new customer) to become one of the bigger ones. That’s what this change has done. Do I think it will drive marketers to another search engine? Maybe, but I’m guessing your business sector doesn’t have anyone who is as dominant in it as Google is in the search realm so you probably don’t have the luxury of not caring a whole lot.

The Boss wrote, “from small things, baby, big things one day come.” The only way to foster that growth is to provide support and tools, no matter what business we’re in. I think Google has taken a step in the wrong direction. You?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

No Clue

You are probably aware the there is a war being fought in the world of digital advertising.  Unfortunately, the combatants are publishers and their readers who use ad blockers.  With the release of iOS9, which supports ad blockers within Safari, the fighting escalated to another level.  I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, why users are using blockers, and how screwed up the advertising-supported world of digital media has become. This is not going to be another one.  Instead, just as every war has “collateral damage”, I want to focus on a side effect this war is having, one that is causing harm even to sites (like mine) that are ad-free.  

Simply put, ad blockers have the effect of throwing the baby out with the bath water.  They often will “break” sites, leaving them unreadable or unusable.  More importantly, even if the sites render correctly, ad blockers will often block the analytics – Google Analytics or Adobe Omniture – that most sites use to measure traffic and other things.  That means that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to get an accurate measure of which content users like, what’s useful, how the site is performing technically, how to optimize the viewing experience based on browsers, etc.  Publishers have no clue.

I’ve admitted before that I use both Ghostery and Privacy Badger.  That said, I do whitelist Google Analytics and Omniture so that sites I visit know that I’ve been there. I’m not proud that I block most of the ads, but I’m also not a fan of what many sites have done with respect to commercial loads, pop-ups, rendering speed, and  constant remarketing.  If, as is being talked about in some places, many publishers band together to collectively block their sites to people who don’t want to give some value in return (check out The Washington Post’s actions), I’ll either make a site by site judgement with respect to whitelisting them (as I do some ad-supported sites now that carry reasonable ad loads and aren’t a mess) or I will find the content elsewhere.  I understand their position; hopefully, they care about mine.

Where I do draw the line, however, is with the analytics, and if you use an ad blocker I’d ask you to think about letting sites measure traffic.  Your privacy is still maintained (yes, I’m aware it’s possible to track individuals across sites but that’s the exception) and you’re providing some value in return for the content you’re receiving. It’s a small step towards avoiding collateral damage while this war rages on.  You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

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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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Foggy Lenses

Are you confused about what parts of your digital marketing are working?  I suspect you are and if you aren’t hopefully today I do a little bit to make you less comfortable about your certainty.  No, this isn’t some cruel April Fool’s joke – it’s me wanting to be helpful.  While sewing confusion might not seem to be helping anyone, I’m hoping what follows gets you to ask more questions and to refocus your efforts a little.  I’ll add, as any good teacher does, that if you’re still confused come see me (OK, call or email me) after class for extra help.

Source: farm2.static.flickr.com

Let’s start with a quick story from my TV days.  When the college football overnight ratings would come in they would be one number.  The overnights were 25 metered markets, mostly the biggest 25.  When the national ratings came in a few days later, the ratings would have changed.  One might expect this as the rest of the US was now included.  However, when you’d look at the Northeast region, for example, the rating might be very different even though nearly all of the population was included in the overnight ratings.  We’d get told it was two different samples which, of course, were measuring the same thing in the same area but through different methodologies and different homes.  It was extremely frustrating.

Fast forward.  We’re deluged in numbers.  The problem is that many of them measure the same thing but give us different answers.  Take search.  You want to know how people search for your site or product.  Google Analytics is mostly useless now since Google’s (not provided) result tells you nothing and represents a ton of your search traffic.  Webmaster Tools provide some search term information but when you compare some of the other information with the same data points in Analytics the results are shockingly different.  Which do you take as gospel? Add to that the data you get from AdWords – also different – and you’re now thoroughly confused.

Speaking of ads, most of the clients I know look at the top of the conversion funnel – how many people saw an ad.  The problem is that some studies say 50%+ of ads are not viewable.  Obviously that affects conversion rates, ad copy effectiveness measures, etc.  You also have these kinds of issues with content publishing on other social platforms and broad measures such as “likes” and “follows.”  The social guys are doing a better job of cleaning up fake accounts but there is still a long way to go.  The results of a content campaign shown to 5% of your followers that are real vs. 5% that are fake will obviously vary widely.

What can you do?  First, look more at trends than at any data point and second work backwards.  Metrics such as sales (lower-funnel metrics) are hard to get wrong.  Each step back up the funnel increases the uncertainty somewhat so be wary and ask questions.  Experiment, watch trends, measure sales, rinse repeat.  Just be careful about attributing that success to anything based on measurement tools that might have fogged up in the heat of battle.  You can’t see very well though lenses that are mostly obscured.


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Filed under Consulting, digital media

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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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Helpful Hints

(Not Provided)

We’re going to get a little esoteric today, and while the specific subject matter discussion may be unfamiliar the overall topic is one that concerns almost every business.

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

You might have heard something a year ago about the folks at Google restricting the availability of some information in analytics reporting. This information has to do with the specific search terms people use when coming to your web site if they are users who are signed into a Google account when they perform the search. What that means is if I’m logged into Gmail and jump into another tab to search for something, the sites I visit as a result of that search don’t see the term I used to get there. Instead, (not provided) shows up in the analytics report, and it’s not just in Google Analytics. Any analytics system sees that same (not provided) in lieu of the search term.

When Google made this change, they estimated that it would affect a small (under 20%) portion of the visits to most sites.  However, a year later a study by Optify shows that 64% of companies analyzed in the study see between 30% and 50% of their traffic from Google as “(not provided),” and 81% see more than 30%.  As someone who is constantly working with clients using this data, it’s gone from a nuisance to a real problem. Discoverability – getting found –  is a constant battle, and every piece of information that helps us to understand how our content/products are found is important.  That’s why this affects every business that’s on the web.

Of course, if you’re willing to use Google’s paid search program – AdWords – you can get the data.  Why that mitigates the privacy concerns Google claimed were causing them to hide the information in the first place is beyond me.  I’m sure if most users understood what information Google is capturing on their web habits (unless you’ve turned off their ability to do so) they’d be far less concerned about Google telling site owners how we came to be there and a lot more concerned about how Google is using the dozens of cookies they drop on our machines.

I like Google and use a lot of their services both free and paid.  I use an Android-powered phone.  I’m concerned, however, that just as they’ve done with Wave, Buzz, Google Video and others they’ve made a strategic error here.  As in those cases, I’m hoping they re-think it.  In the interim, they’re damaging the ability the rest of us have to make a better, more usable web.


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Filed under digital media