C is for Cookie

The whole furor around cookie deletion rates (1st and 3rd party) has been brewing in the Web Analytics scene for a while, so likewise, I've been meaning to comment on it here for a while. How the cookie crumbles is a topic I've been fielding repeated questions about for a solid year or more, and in that time for my clients I've maintained that, relatively speaking, the matter has been a bit of a media-fueled tempest in a teacup.

It was only a matter of time until someone published a thorough discussion of why. If you didn't catch the final version of Stone Temple's very intriguing 2007 Web Analytics Shootout, hit it up and watch for these gems:

...some of the largest sources of error, such as those that relate to session management and counting, do cause a variance in the traffic results returned by the packages, but they do not affect the ability of the program to minitor the key performance indicators (KPIs) of your site.

Even if an analytics package is measuring the behavior of only 80% of their users, it remains highly relevant and valuable data. By contrast, the traditional print industry relies on subscriber surveys, and feels lucky if they get 20% response. They would die for data on 80% of their customers.

The fact is that some percentage of the questionable data is bad, and some of it may actually relate to a real user. The package that throws out too little gets skewed on one direction, and the package that throws out too much gets skewed a little bit in the other direction.

Neither of these changes the ability of these packages to measure trends, or to help you do sophisticated analysis about what users are doing on your site.

Thanks, Eric. I couldn't have summed it up better myself, especially in consideration of how cookie deletion and/or blocking is just one "error" type that can occur.

Now, critics of this stance cite the revenue models of advertising networks, specifically those that make their money by serving impressions (typically pricing by CPM). My opinion there though, is that they have essentially the same calibration tasks to embrace - as part of routine maintenance - as their customers do. The issue is not that in there is no perfect number. It's human nature to seek out impurities, and do things like brand all forms of hypocrisy band along the way and other short-sightedness. In the works of online analytics though, those urges have their place but do have to be kept in check. In this game, yes, actionable guidance is real and essential. As far as hard numbers go however, there is no "final answer."

The real issue is more that it falls to publishers and advertisers to be mutually prepared to haggle it out if/as their numbers don't match up and it's invoicing and/or contract renewals (a.k.a. "remind us again what we pay you people for") time. Sink your teeth in and take a bite; it's part of the fun. Always be tracking and auditing your own end via multiple tools i.e. disparate reporting sources if/as it really, really matters.

  • If you're a publisher, advertisers should want to keep your business. If/as you've a good case to make, do so... or at least make sure someone (your agency if you have one) is watching over your house attentively. It's part of what any involved intermediaries should be there for (and why it's good to have an agnostic middleman in the mix sometimes).
  • On the other hand if what puts food on your table is charging by Impressions (if you're an advertiser), build maximum deviations into your pricing model as a safety net. It's not like publishers don't need you to maintain visibility.

If the relationship's been working out and neither party's made itself a rep with the other for being a choad, problem solved.

I'm using the report's publication as a chance to spew scream cookies about this a little, as one of the most common traps I see people fall into in this space, is habitually obsessing over small incremental accuracies too much, while not monitoring longer-term trends, too much. Some marketers lack patience to pay enough attention to larger trends, and/or worse, fail to invest in positioning to monitor them - caveats and all - from the moment they hit the Web. Among the biggest sacrifices that gets made when problems like these happen is it prevents marketers from getting around to ad-side and/or site-side conversion optimization: Tasks like A/B - or even better - Multivariate testing, for examples. I'm not saying the issue isn't important. I'm saying it is, and things can be done about it, but beyond noting that it's not the end of the world, marketers need to check their heads re. expectations. Different vendors / tools calculate sessions - hence metrics like Visits, Unique Visits and others - differently. Some natural variance in between is going to happen inherently, i.e. even if/when implementations happen flawlessly.

So I've given enough of a spoiler on the report and done my soap-boxing. For more of its details, data and otherwise, go read it. In consideration of top-tier vendors it's unfortunately sparse on Omniture data, but to be fair, aside from their being a market leader I'm picking on that a little extra just as a relatively deep and frequent Omniture user, myself. Anyway... that's good enough for me.

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Emetrics Summit, New Tools

Holy Hasselhoff's Hamburger! The new version of Google Analytics is out of beta! Before getting the email notifications directly from the 'plex or logging in to-day meself to heed the general advsory message within, I noticed SEW reporting on it this morning. Anyway, so now after keeping it on the down-low over the past few weeks, I can comment on it publicly. I may not have known about to-day's Emetrics event nearby until that girl from marketing IM'd me about it last night (Cheers, Natasha), but this product's update was one particular I'd seen coming and had been testing out.

Long story short, the new version is markedly impressive. Again, Google shakes things up on the low-end / lightweight tracking tools tier, giving our friends in Santa Cruz like Clicktracks and others a run for their moolah. Some highlights purely off the top of my head include:

  • It's got a faster, more intuitive and prettier interface.
  • It's much easier to get trended data now. With the initial version of the tool, when one had specific landing pages as conversion KPIs one had to call them out as a specific success event just to get that, even. Now it's no longer a requirement. Trended data on basic metrics like Views, Unique Views and others are now on-hand for any logged directory or URL by default.
  • Data can now be exported in more formats. One used to be able to basically only get at CSV as far as anything usable, but now one can actually export graphs. Now, whether the output CSV still come out occasionally "dirtied" i.e. with certain chars in logged URLs (ex. Top Content reports) getting interpreted as if they were tabs upon export, the tool may still have that problem... but I've not seen it in this new version yet (here's hoping that's fixed).
  • New drag-and-drop customizable dashboards (another nod to something Omniture did first).

To be honest, I had a feeling a new version of the tool was coming, even before I got the privilege of playing with it before to-day's release. I think as early as 3 months ago or more, I started seeing want ads for SEs / Reps around this product running on the WAA's jobs board.

The new release is rolling out gradually. In a masterful marketing move (though it's aexisting subscribers might feel subtly snubbed perhaps), it's going first to new subscribers (remember, being an Adwords advertiser is what gets one in), and then existing subscribers will get migrated over eventually. I half-expect the latter will go down similar to how when Adwords accounts, and then also Blogger accounts, eventually got subsumed into Google Accounts: For an interim period, users may get a "Not Yet" option re. making the switch, but that will eventually go away and all sheep will stay herded accordingly.

But I/clients don't want to run Google Analytics on any/all sites!

Oh, really? Well hm. Far be it for me to wonder what the reason might be 😉 ...but have no fear! Like Anne Rice's "Interview with a Vampire" to Kenneth Branagh's "Frankenstein," this isn't the only important new thing you can be giving a spin; there are other coincidentally cool releases to consider alongside the the reigning blockbuster of the moment: Another item I've been tinkering with of late has been the Beta of Reinvigorate, a similarly lightweight tool only with convenient hooks especially for bloggers and other social types, i.e. with plug-ins for WordPress and Drupal aside from a default tag type (for sites in general).

Another recent find, for me anyway, has been Compete, a cutesy-style complement (my first impression) to Quantcast in one's toolkit. Tools like these - which monitor sites across ISPs, advertiser and publisher networks, from the outside essentially - help with more than just competitive surveillance. They're also handy in trying to stay on top of the increasingly hot debate over cookie deletion rates... a subject I'll comment on more in a dedicated post.

Bottom line of this one: There's absolutely no reason now, why any webmaster, site owner, blogger or other online pimp/whore should now have problems with doing some intelligent auditing reads of just WTF is happening on their properties. Between tools like these, along with freebie open-source tie-ins that just about any decent host would provide (like AWstats and/or Webalizer), one should have no excuse. Nada. None. Maiyo.

If you aren't tightly monitoring your junk already (also, staffing tools with people who know how to use them in the event you're using high-end infrastructure), remember that every moment passed is intelligence lost. So get crackin' - get trackin'! Sandwich your site(s) between a few tools, get some data, and take a big byte. Time isn't just money. It's worth much, much more.

Knight Rider... I took it seriously, didn't we all?!?

Don't let your time run out...

(and stop Hasseling the Hoff; in all seriousness alcoholism is a devastating disease - as is meat addiction for that matter - so that girl's not keeping a lid on her clip was fucked up).

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Based out of Northern California, bl.asphemo.us is a bl.og dedicated to the advocacy and study of high-impact, data driven marketing disciplines and related concerns: Analytics and Data Mining, Marketing Automation, Integrated Advertising (targeting, retargeting), Demand Generation and Lead Nurturing, Social Media / Social Engineering (Crowd-hacking) and the new PR, Privacy, Security, CRM, SEO / SEM, CRO, ROI... more TLAs (three letter acronyms) than any sane person's daily lexicon should include.

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