Friday, January 30, 2009

New Signals to Search Engines - a "thought" paper by Mike Grehan

New signals to Search Engines by Mike Grehan - download it for freeIf Marianina Mannings is the Web Analytics princess then Mike Grehan, global KMD officer at Acronym Media, probably deserves the title of "Google king" :-). I had the chance to meet Mike Grehan at last year eMetrics Summit in London and I attended his very insightful presentation "New signals to search engines". In December 2008, Mike finally released his "thought" paper on that topic, a teaser of his new book due Spring 2009. I really enjoyed reading the paper and found it really interesting. If you have any interest in Search Engine Marketing or in Web in general, this is definitely recommended reading!

In his paper, Mike introduces interesting thoughts, concepts and ideas on how the evolution of Internet, its usage and the so-called social media will impact not only search but all marketing. 

The paper starts with a quick introduction on the origin of Internet and some of its key concepts in order to understand how search engines were born. Then it moves on explaining why search engines need to explore new ways to crawl and analyse the Web.

Getting signals from end users
Search has been mainly based around "signals" from content creators (HTML tags, text, links etc.). But what about the end user signals? Searchers submit queries, reformulate them (query chains), click on the results and then navigate away from the search engine explains Mike Grehan. This means that the destination page (i.e. the relevant information from a end user point of view) is not always the search result that was clicked as most searchers browse far from the search results. 

Search query and click-through logs can be used for implicit end-user feedback by search engines but it's post-search browsing behavior which provides valuable information on destinations that are truly relevant to the user's information goals.

Mike gives a good example of how such information is collected by search engine: the popular search toolbars. These allows search engines to capture not only what you were searching for (the queries) but also the search context (on what site you were when you did the search) and where you went after the search. Mining the search trails of surfing crowds provides search engines with unique insights that help identify the most relevant websites.

Coupled with artificial neural networks, search engines may be able to adapt the search results based on what users actually looked at in the past. The beauty of a neural network is that it can make reasonable guesses about results for queries it has never seen before based on their similaritiy to other queries. It would mean that two persons using the same query would get different results based on their "history".

The Ten Blue Links Must Die!
The Web is no longer just a huge collection of HTML pages. It's video, images, audio and all sort of user-generated content. Search engines are adapting themselves to this evolution, changing the rules of search marketing.  Mike demonstrates this fact by using Google Universal Search as example. With the inclusion of "visual" elements in search results, such as maps, images or videos, being somewhere on the first results page is no more a guarantee of visibility. 

First, visual elements get more attention than text - they catch the user's eyes. Secondly, these elements - usually displayed on top, are pushing down text links below the fold. So it is not about being in the top 10 anymore but in the top 5 or even the top 3! Do a test! 

Google Universal search makes digital assets more important
In the example above, I searched for "Lexus IS F" (the super Lexus IS) on Google Belgium. The screen resolution is 1024x768 (still widely used). How many organic links do you see? These are first pushed down by local sponsored links and then image results are pushing organic text listing further down the screen.

Universal Search offers many new methods of increasing visibility at search engines. Understanding these methods and combining it with knowledge of end user behavior can be extremely powerful.   

Integrating data from social networks
But there is more to come as Mike explains that much research is taking place in combining data from social networks and traditional linking networks (like PageRank) to create a socially-enhanced search results ranking. Why?

social media introduced information-seeking via a chain of trustBecause social networks are changing the way people seek information. The knowledge possessed by your friends and people who knows acts as a supplement to the web's huge amount of information. Using such knowledge to get answers to specific queries is known as information-seeking via a chain of trust. For Mike, there is no doubt that we are moving into a new form of information retrieval, one of networks of trust.

Search engines can no longer ignore the importance of the information contained in user-generated content that encompasses all type of electronic contents: movies, images, tags, rankings and more. So more changes will come. Which ones? The paper does not tell (but I guess Mike Grehan wants to keep few things for his book :-)). 

Search tomorrow
Search will change that is for sure.  But what will be the impact for us, who are involved in online marketing? 

Well, traditional SEO days are numbered according to Mike (and I he's probably right) - here comes Digital Assets Management & Optimization.  Emphasis will be put on optimizing a wide range of content, from images to video and more, not just texts and links.

By taking into account more and more signals from end users, search will transform into more of a personalized experience (the launch of Google's Search Wiki is a first step in that direction).

Monitoring of the customer's voice will become much more important than pushing a brand message. Monitoring search results for different file types will become increasingly important as end users or competitors upload content that may be related to your brand. Reputation management will be highly valued as Marketing continues it reversal from a broadcast medium to a listening medium". Amen! 

I can agree more and it reminds me the "The break-up" video. A classic! But still so many who don't get it... 


 
Want more? Read Mike's paper!
This is only an overview. There is much more in Mike Grehan's "tought" paper (it can be downloaded for free on Acronym Media website). Of course the document only introduces ideas and concepts illustrated with interesting examples. It does not go into "technical" details nor it explains how practically to prepare ourselves to the coming changes - I guess we will have to buy his book to find out. :-)

As I see it, it will mean more things to master and handle (i.e. more headhaches :-)) for marketeers and analysts. And it is not tomorrow that SEM agencies will close doors... If they can adapt themselves. But most of all, it will mean exciting challenges and times ahead!

Thank you Mike for sharing your work! I really liked it.  

And you did you read it? What are your thoughts about it?


Related resources & posts:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Web Analytics Wednesday in Antwerp @ These Days - Summary

Web Analytics Wednesday at These Days - Antwerp, BelgiumOn last Wednesday, the first Web Analytics Wednesday (WAW) of 2009 in Belgium took place in Antwerp at These Days office. From start, it was already a popular success as around 40 persons attended the event - it could have been more as many people cancelled due to current flu epidemy! A majority of the attendees was from Web agencies: LBi, Queromedia, Boondoggle, Emakina, The Reference and more. Vendors were represented (Unica, Google, Nedstat). It seemed that practioners were a rare specy :-). We also had some international visitors from the Netherlands and from Northern France. All very enthusiastic!

Building a Web Analytics community in Belgium
As Web Analytics Association (WAA) Country Manager for Belgium, I started the show with short introduction on the WAA. Even if a majority knew about the association, it was not useless as some people told me they would likely join. Good!

It was followed by the first presentation on "building WA community in Belgium". The main goal was to initiate an open discussion and "take the temperature" of the crowd and see reactions.
And there were many interesting reactions - during the discussion and afterward. In short, main outcomes were:
  • Openness: The community should not be limited to Web Analytics geeks and SEM addicts. It should be open to business users and other areas. It should help marketeers and companies with their first steps in Web Analytics, to understand the business added-value of our industry. It should focus more on the business part rather than the technical / IT aspects. The WA Community should also interact with local marketing associations (IAB, BDMA...)
  • Practical cases: People want to see real practical business cases from agencies or companies that shows how Web analytics are used to support & improve business performances. Cases should not be the "so-common" vendor/agency sale speech :-). The community should not be just another "hunting ground" for agencies & vendors.
  • Learn and collaborate with other WA communities: It was great to have few persons from France and the Netherlands. The later has a well established WA community. We may learn from their experience (in order to avoid common pitfalls and reinventing the wheel) and maybe collaborate together. Webanalysten.nl, the Dutch community website is very popular and according to our Dutch guests, around 20% of its audience is from Belgium!
  • Web Analytics Wednesdays: There is strong interest to see WAW organized on a regular basis (every 2-3 months). In the beginning, it will be mainly a gathering (or "group therapy" ;-)) of people working in the field of Web Analytics or Search Marketing but in the end we must make it open to a broarder audience. The format (location & content) is still open for discussion but it should focus on practical cases and best practices.
  • The role of vendors: Involvement of vendors is important in order to stay up-to-date with technology evolution. Short presentations (15 min) on new or specific features during WAW's may be considered on occasional basis, if requested by the community members.
  • Creation of taskforces: Inspired from what is done in the Netherlands, taskforces of volunteer experts will be created. Their goals will be to write articles, white papers available to evertone or to do presentation during WAW's on specific topics (targeting, SEA, testing...). They could also assist practioners when internal presentations about their field of expertise would be required.
There were few other topics that were discussed but in my opinion these are amongst the most important to start with.

An analysis & optimization case study - Pioneer Europe by These Days
Pioneer EuropeAfter the discussion, Siegert Dierickx from These Days & Rafael Nolens (strategy consultant) presented a case-study on Pioneer Europe and online marketing campaigns.

I liked very much their global approach based on continuous improvement (KAIZEN philosophy:-)) based on 6 main steps:
  1. Define KPI's
  2. Select tools & data collection methods
  3. Build reports & dashboards
  4. Teach users & automate reporting
  5. Analysis
  6. Take actions
Siegert Dierickx presenting These Days continuous improvement process for Web AnalyticsIt may sounds obvious but to see how other companies apply such principle in real life is always interesting. It was not just theory - most steps were illustrated with several pratical examples.

For marketing campaign, they used an interesting KPI (among others): Cost per Brand Interaction Hour (BIH) that measures campaign cost divided by the total number of hours spent by the users on a Pioneer Web site.

These Days reporting tool based on Google Analytics APIThey showed also some interesting dashboard example but also an impressive reporting tool they developed using Google Analytics API. The tool is very simple and it is aimed for business users such as Product managers. They can select specific products (the tool is also connected to the CMS), country sites and get key metrics displayed in nice graphs. They can compare trends for different products, categories, countries... No need to access a heavy interface with tons of reports & data!

You can also read Nicolas Malo's post on the Pioneer presentation.

Networking...and drinking time!
It ended with one of the most important aspect of the Web Analytics Wednesdays: the networking & the free drinks! It was really great to meet many people from Belgium. It seems that many enjoyed it as I did. I could see a lot of motivation as well and I got a very good feedback and received great input by emails.
Networking time & free drinks!
I have uploaded some photos on the Web Analytics Wednesday Belgium group on Facebook.

What's next?
So lot of work ahead, that's for sure. But in short terms, next actions will be
  • Organize the next Belgian WAW around mid-March (date & location to be confirmed). A call for speakers, host and sponsor will be made in due time (do not hesitate to contact me: michaelnotte at yahoo.fr)
  • Launch first taskforces (I have already some volunteers).
More information will follow in the next weeks. To be informed, do not hesitate to join the Web Analytics Belgium group on LinkedIn.

Thank you!
Last but not least, I would like to thank the great people at These Days for hosting the event (and for the drinks & snacks). And also a big thank you to all of you who came and made this first WAW such a enjoyable event.

See you at the next WAW!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Feedburner & Google migration - not going so well!

Feedburner LogoAs many bloggers, I am using Feedburner for my blog RSS feed. It is a great tool, easy to use with good stats. It is one of the many things that has been bought by almighty Google a while ago. Few days ago, I have been asked to move my Feedburner account to my Google account as - logically - Google is "integrating" Feedburner with other Google tools & services.

Account migration apparently went well...until I saw my stats for the last days: total subscribers dropped of more than 50%! Aaaaargh! I was so happy to see it slowly increasing and then BAM! Such sudden change made me react (as any good analyst would do). A quick check on Feedburner Help group showed that I was not the only one: many users complained of having huge drops of subscribers (and other problems). A blogger claims to have lost 30,000 readers!!!

Google LogoIt seems that the migration is NOT going smoothly at all. What is very frustrating is the silence of Google / Feedburner. No answer, no notification in the Known issues & workarounds" section after more than 3 days. No one knows if this is a temporary technical problem, just corrupted stats or if subscribers are really lost for ever. Very frustrating. And lot of damage done here to Feedburner and Google image for those using the service. 

I am really angry at youThe lesson learned here is that communication is key - especially in crisis time. No answer is worse than a poor answer (like "we are working on this, all apologies"). Just have a go at some user comments on the Help group

"What bothers me is the stunning silence from Google. 
They used to be very responsive to customers, but now the silence 
seems like arrogance...they don't have to respond because of who they 
are...very sad."

"I am LIVID!!! This is bs.

"I trusted and I was wrong, you all trusted and were fooled"

"Disappointing and not very googlish"

Not really something you would like to read about your company or products - if you care about your customers. Everybody does mistakes - even Google is not flawless after all.n  Communication & quick reactions are essential - do not let rumors propagate.

I know some might says that: how do you dare to complain - after all it is a free service. Yes, this is true. Still it is very frustrating from a user point of view and "damaging" for the brand image. It also shows that getting great services for free is cool until it runs into troubles. 

All in all, I hope it is just a temporary technical glitch and that I will get back my subscribers. Otherwise, I will have to do my best to reconquest all these lost readers... :-(

UPDATE (24th of January 2009): On the 23rd of January, Feedburner finally responded and added the issue in their list of "Known Issues". Checking my stats on the 24th showed a return to normal. So no real harm done? Well not for me but these days of silence created unsatisfied/frustrated users and "damaged" the brand image. Maybe it is limited and it will take little time before all forget about this incident. Still my point is if something goes wrong, communicate and take fast actions even if very basic (don't use the ostruch tactic and put your hand in the sand :-)) 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dear Readers - Let me hear your voice

It is time to hear your voice"People love to talk if you give them a chance; they are after all, your customers" said once a wise man (who is now working as the Web Analytics evangelist in a very well know company :-)).

I can't agree more with this quote - except that I don't have customers but readers (i.e. you!). Therefore I decided to give you a chance to talk. First, I will run a satisfaction survey using 4Q survey from iPerception and Avinash Kaushik (the author of the introduction quote) for few weeks. Later, I will probably use a less "intrusive" feedback collection method.

Why the hell would I want to listen to you? ;-)

First of all, it is part of my own Kaizen process - I would like to continuously improve the quality of my blog. To do so, I need to get a good understanding of how people feel about it. Do I write interesting stuff or not? Boring style? Too long? Too short? Bad layout? Let me know!

Secondly, I am a curious person, I want to know more. I already get a lot of information from Google Analytics data - the "what" & "when" - but I am missing the other important elements: the "why" & the "how". No way one can get these out from clickstream data.

Finally, I want to experiment a bit Voice of Customer (VOC) tools in order to extend my skills and experience, to put in practice all great advises from our favourite Web Analytics experts (it is part of the reasons why I am blogging: to try stuffs). VOC tools are key elements of any "advanced" analytical framework or approach- whether it is called "Website Optimization Ecosystem", "Trinity" or simply "Web Analytics 2.0". Such experience will be very useful also for some projects at work.

So if you get prompted, pleaaaaase take few seconds to fill in the survey. I would really appreciate.

Pleeease, let me know your feedback :-)

Thanks in advance!

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

My Web Analytics 2008 Top 5

My Web Analytics Top 5 - 2008In my seasonal end-of-the-year greetings,  I did not really want to spend much time writing about 2008. However, someone I know quite well asked me if I could at least give my "Analytics" top 5. So what would be for me, little Web Analytics practictioner, the 5 things that I would definitely remember from 2008, regarding Web Analytics and my work?

I spent some time thinking about it between two glasses of champaign. Globally I think I have been more impressed by people and their work rather than technology itself. So here is my personal Web Analytics top 5 for 2008:
  1. Increasing maturity & adoption of Web Analytics at my workplace
  2. The Web Analytics community
  3. The Nokia Methodology
  4. Immeria's WASP
  5. Google
Let me detail these:

1. Increasing maturity & adoption of Web analytics at my workplace
Increasing organization maturity leads to successThe efforts of previous years finally delivered great results: business-driven KPI's that are used to not only measure business performances of our marketing websites but also to drive the global online strategy with the ultimate goal of continuously improving results & customer expericence. It was not just about measurements but analysis and actions. The participation level to our pan-European analytics program was quite high and with rather good results. And it is just the beginning, there is still lot of room for improvements & developments. 

I was also very impressed by the increasing maturity of many of our national companies where Web data have become crucial (some even became really addicted! :-)) and are used in a broader scope, not just for the online business. 

This is really motivating as such people - I tend to call them my local heroes - are pushing me further, giving me new challenges to tackle, new opportunities to learn and develop my skills and expertise. 

2. The Web Analytics community
Web Analytics community - you will never feel aloneFew years ago, when I discovered the Web Analytics community  - blogs, Yahoo forum, Web Analytics Association and more - I was amazed by its collaborative and open mindset. People are helping each others, sharing experience, best practices and tips - whether they are top experts (like Avinash Kaushik, Eric T. Peterson, Dennis R. Mortensen) or humble practioners (like me :-)).

In 2008, the WA community just kept growing and got stronger - very professional & many great posts on blogs, interesting threads on the Yahoo forums (too many to be able to point a particular post or article).

I am also very thankful to the folks of LBi-OX2 for their on-going support but also for the opportunity they gave me to participate to London 2008 eMetrics summit as speaker. An unforgettable experience. 

Finally, the Web Analytics Assocation achievements in 2008 were also very impressive - improved promotion & communication, better organization and many great initiatives like the Web Analytics competition (unfortunately I did not have the time to participate), Webcasts, new industry standards and more...

3. The Nokia methodology
Nokia vision on Web AnalyticsFirst version of the Nokia methodology (from Vincent Kermorgant) on how to define business-driven KPI's was already great. The second version released in 2008 was even better. I am not just a big fan of it, I really used it in several opportunities and it worked very well. I am so enthusiastic about it that I even wrote a post on it (that became the most popular post of my little blog!). 

It is part of my Top 5 as it was much more than just an interesting reading - it is something that really changed the way I work and it helps me in my daily job. So I am really thankful to Vincent Kermorgant and Nokia for sharing this great methodology with the rest of the WA community (you see another example of why I really think that the WA community is so great).

For more details on this methodology, I invite you to read my last year post on this topic.

4. WASP (Web Analytics Solution Profiler)
Web Analytics Solution Profiler by ImmeriaIn 2008, I discovered Stephane Hamel's great tool: the Web Analytics Solution Profiler aka WASP. Anyone using it knows how useful it is for quality check and tagging testing. I quickly adopted it for my own work but also proposed it as support tool for our national companies and agencies for testing tag implementation. It makes such task much easier and much more user-friendly. In the end, it reduces testing on our side and contributes to better tagging quality in externally developed content.

The tool has been constantly evolving during the year - Stephane Hamel is listening closely to all feedback sent by the community. And I am sure that WASP has a lot more to bring - I still have to use more advanced features - this is on my agenda in 2009!

It is also a good tool to do some "researches" on what tools are used in other (competitor) websites and industries. I even used for my own little research on Web Analytics usage in the European automotive websites.

5. Google
Google has released some really great tools in 2008 such as Google Trends for websites or Google Insights for Search - providing basic but good competitive intelligence tools for free and many markets. These are good tools to complement exisiting Web Analytics framework any company may have. It is really useful and can provide interesting insights to anyone who can use it in the right way. Avinash Kaushik provided the WA community with a excellent series of posts on these tools - really recommended reading (see related resources at the end of the post).

Google also released some great improvements to Google Analytics like "custom" reporting, event tracking, customized segmentation and the "over-hyped" motion charts. While I am not using Google Analytics for my work - I started using it for my own blog and I must admit I was very impressed by the tool. It is still lacking several features that entreprise-level tools are offering but I am sure that Google will continue to close the gap.

I am really curious to see what other surprises Google will bring  in 2009.

Runner-up: my blogging experience
As I said, I really enjoyed it and I am sure I will continue to do so. It has been really exciting - confirming that I am definitely a Web Analytics geek! I really learned a lot of things I would not have learned at work: blogging, social media, Google Analytics and other aspects of Web 2.0. I was also very happy to bring my little contribution to the Web Analytics.

I hope that 2009 will continue to bring great surprises and experience. The future may look quite difficult but I want to see it as a challenging and unique opportunity to strenghten my skills and experience. To conclude, I will reuse Enstein's quote from Steve Jackson's excellent post "Thoughts about Analytics in the recession of 2009":

"At the heart of every difficulty is an opportunity" 

And you, what would be your Web Analytics top 5 for 2008?


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