Wednesday, 18 November 2009

In beta: Web analytics tools market share in Nordic news outlets

I was inspired by KAIZEN Analytics recent post on web analytics tools market shares in the automotive industry, to do a similar study on online news outlets in the Nordic countries, specifically Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Just as Kaizen, I will use WASP to inquire each web site what tools they use. Moreover, I only care about core web analytics, not ad trackers etc. I also took the liberty to add the LinkPulse numbers (as WASP does not recognize it, but I know who they are).

I would like to emphasize at this point that this is a research project in the making, and I'm publishing preliminary results to see if there's interest in these numbers out there. For now, I have far more data for Norway than for the other countries because it's much easier for me to decide which ones to count and which ones not to count. Basically I've tried to include web sites that correspond to daily news papers, as well as online only sites which center around dissemination of news, may be portals or niche sites such as sports or economics. Another criteria I've been considering is amount of traffic according to official metrics, but haven't followed this strictly so far.

Further work on this research will include establishing more rigid selection criteria and gathering more data from the other Nordic countries. Other considerations to make are groups of sites that buy tools collectively because of common ownership, as well as using the fact that most sites have more than one tool.

Another interesting possibility is to factor in each sites' official traffic numbers. Thereby we could see something about what tools account for the most traffic, or some such.

As of now, I have counted the tools on 66 sites, of which a little under half are Norwegian.

One difficulty is to account for at least two "disturbing" factors in the data. One being that one of the tools, Google Analytics, is free and therefore has a far lower threshold for use than the other tools. The other disturbance is that all the Nordic countries have one tool that is used across the board due to common agreement to provide official metrics.

I haven't decided how to account for some of these issues and therefore present the data with a big juicy footnote to consider it largely incomplete. I think, nonetheless they give an interesting view of what is being used generally in news sites.

Nordic countries
The first pie shows the usage of web analytics tools in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, weighted so that it totals to 100% even though some sites use more than one tool. These numbers are schewed by the fact that almost half the data are from Norwegian sites. Another difficulty is that TNS metrix and Gemius are "forced" tools in some countries, but also used voluntarily in other countries. This is an issue that I will work to solve.

Norway only
The second pie focuses on the Norwegian data only. Also I have removed both Google Analytics and TNS Metrix. Google Analytics is free and therefore used by virtually everyone and TNS Metrix is the official tool in Norway, therefore used by literally everyone (at least all the sites that I gathered data about). The usage of these may be interesting in and of itself, but may overshadow interesting facts about usage of the other tools.

 No conclusions

Since this endeavor has just started, and since there are yet so many issues to be resolve, I refrain from making any sort of conclusions about the data so far. I just let the pies stand as they are.

What I would like to get comments on is if these sorts of numbers are interesting for anyone out there to follow, as well as suggestions on how to resolve some of the issues I have raised that may schew the data.

Also, if you know of anyone else doing similar research, I'd love to know about it, especially if it's related to online news media.

Of course, if there's anything else you have on your mind about any of this, feel free to leave a note.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Agile journalism and Web analytics are friends

I had been thinking about different ways to approach web analytics for news publishers, and specifically journalists, for a while when I came over Eric T. Petersons white paper "The Coming Revolution in Web Analytics" where he discusses what the future holds for web analytics, and what third-generation tools need to do to make it happen.

Peterson's emphasis on making decisions in real time is one that resonates highly with the agile software development methodology. Iterative processes, high information saturation and high degree of freedom have proven successful catalysts of creativity in this domain.

I wanted to check if anyone had written about the parallels of agile methods in software development with the new working environment of journalists. Google is my friend, so I entered 'agile journalism' and got about a thousand hits. So, it's not an entirely new idea.

Actually, the first use of the term 'agile journalism' that I can find (on Google) is in Arthur Symons "Studies on modern painters" where he describes the style of Helleu as "superficial draughtmanship", but at least "far more alive", "chic in all its hasty expressiveness a wholly Parisian art, hardly more serious than agile journalism, but how clever of its kind!" Symons recognizes, perhaps somewhat prematurely, the value of agility in reporting from a scene.

Several bloggers have also commented on the similarities of the shift towards agile methods in software development with media's "shift" from print to online publishing. Newspapers have "a gigantic machine with many small cogs, devoted to producing something that is frozen in time"  but enter the web and journalists must "change their way of thinking" .

Florin Duroiu recently even pointed out his epiphany that "process journalism really is agile journalism".

Others feel, more bluntly, that "the future of journalism is agile", but is anyone linking 'agile journalism' to web analytics? Googling 'agile journalism + 'web analytics' gave me no hits, and a quick scan of the initial search result didn't seem to include any discussions about how web analytics can help journalists be agile.

I have come to appreciate that journalists and front page editors really can benefit from having access to certain metrics if it enables them to react fast and see the response. The focus is not on the tool, but on the questions that arise instantly from looking at data that, for instance, don't make sense compared to the past. Can I change the picture, or the headline to drive more traffic? Are there any related articles I can link to in my text to drive down the bounce rate?

Of course, web analytics can't tell you about people's emotional response. But it can tell you that you're doing something wrong, and enable you to make up for it fast. I think the revolution in web analytics will come, at least for journalists and editors, when they get easy access to reports that are tailored for them and an assurance that anyone can be an analytics expert.

Agility comes with the willingness to experiment, and web analytics may just be the safeguard to allow that to happen.

Image: Wikimedia Commons - Paul Helleu "Madame Helleu Sur Son Yacht Letoile" 1898-1900

Friday, 30 October 2009

Chief editors: Content producers should have access to performance data

I've spoken to a handful of people lately who seem to be skeptical about letting content producers have access to data about their stories and front pages. Some chief editors may fear that their reporters will spend too much time looking at numbers while they should be out there catching the good stories. Some web analytics experts may be afraid of their jobs.

Web analytics departments in news corporations focus on ad optimizing and long-term conversion analysis. In many cases, that's money well spent too (if they can convince advertisers that they are measuring useful stuff).

And of course, news media executives love to use metrics to brag about traffic increase, while still lacking a way to monetize it.

Not even journalists themselves seem to care about using web analytics to perform better. For example, in this article at about using web analytics to improve the web, there's no mention of anything remotely relevant for a journalist.

Bloggers have long realized they can use web analytics to improve their blog. The news media should follow up. It's well-know that web users scan instead of read, which is the first reason you should not just go ahead and publish online at midnight whatever you have in print the next day. Since online readers are impatient, they scan for important keywords, links and actionable items such as videos, that make their reading easier.

If they don't find what they're looking for, they will search elsewhere -- oh no -- at a competing site.

Of course, online you have an advantage over print; you can change stuff -- at no cost! As often as you want! And you should - right now!

Because if you do, your next reader will stay instead of going to your competitor's site.

For frontpage editors, this may involve changing the headline, or picture, to see abrupt increases in popularity of a particular story. For reporters, it might involve adding linked related content or multimedia

Fortunately, everyone can be a web analytics expert.

And while you're at it. Don't just send the reporters an email with the performance data. Let them look it up in the analytics tool themselves. And don't forget to display all the snacksy key data on a big screen in the desk room!

So this is a pledge to all chief editors: make performance data available to content producers, and your front-page editors and journalists will soar by actually knowing how the users respond. Depending on what tool you have, they may even get the relevant data in time to make cool changes, and make your users happy enough to stay and read on.

Image: Creative Commons

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Why can't everyone be web analytics experts?

The trend is easy to identify: Web analytics is a becoming profession, and a lot of people want to call themselves experts in the field. Particularly, the big three, Google Analytics, Omniture SiteCatalyst and Webtrends, boost the self-confidence of these people by certifying them as professional users of their tool. Latest: What is your Google Analytics IQ?

Obviously a good marketing move---if you want your customers to think that you need a bachelor's to use your product effectively. I've seen SiteCatalyst's user manual: it's thicker than the bible, the Qur'an and the vedic scriptures combined.

I have no intention of bashing would-be competitors of our product LinkPulse (others do it for me). I find their strategy a bit strange, that's all. And I have to admit that it begs the question: "Why can't everyone be web analytics experts?". The answer, of course, is that they can. And they don't have to work very hard either.

Occam's Razor's recent post "Analytics Becomes Intelligent. Hello Insights!" had a heart-warming introductory remark saying that
"web analytics tools like Site Catalyst, Yahoo! Web Analytics, WebTrends, and yes even Google Analytics, are mostly glorified data pukers. Each tries to outdo the other in trying to collect ever more data and regurgitating it. For all the math they do, it is astonishing how little intelligence they have, how little actual smarts are applied."
He then goes on two demonstrate a couple of new features in Google Analytics that are more goal-oriented. And with that, Google Analytics is on the right track. Unfortunately, it seems to be a side-track, just another way to do it, while it should be the focus. It is hidden in the plethora of other data-oriented mashups, and I wouldn't be surprised if GA ends up like SiteCatalyst, and endless list of specialized reports (that all have to be set up individually and manually).

Really, "do web stats necessarily need to be made this complicated"? I think lack of accessible knowledge and familiar terms is what frightens non-experts the most, and therefore perhaps are more willing to spend their happy dollars at the certified experts, to help them "interpret" the numbers. As if the numbers themselves contained some sort of magic secret about all the potential buyers in the world and their uncle.

David Meerman Scott, I think, is right when he says that "there’s a difference between an online presence and online marketing". If what you do online is marketing, then hire an expert to churn the numbers for you. You're already wasting money so why not waste some more.

If your focus is online presence, (unlike Omniture) then you already know what to look for. Numbers will only aid you in confirming or rejecting your theories. Your presence will force you to look for tools that put you in the driver's seat. Soon, the tool will become an exo-cortical element of your mental web analytics department. And your boss will love you for disproving that it takes "a village of analysts — and maybe even a city of supporting functions — to get the job done right", and he won't have to post a job listing on WAA.

And who are you? Anyone! Reporter, editor, designer, UX, programmer, administrator or CEO. Get in the driver's seat of your web presence. Choose whatever tool you want, but make sure it actually fits your needs. The big ones may be big, but they also need to cater to everyone. Resulting in a lot of stuff you don't need.

Image: Wikimedia Commons