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