Monday, March 30, 2009

Applied Segmentation & Targeting - two case studies from WAW @ Ghent

WAW @ ZebraStraat - what a beautiful location
Two months after first Belgian Web Analytics Wednesday (WAW) of 2009, a second one took place last week in Ghent. The event was hosted and sponsored by bSeen, a Belgian specialist in Search Marketing but also in Web Analytics. For the occasion, they hold the event in a superb location – at the Zebrastraat.

Thanks to lot of promotion done by bSeen who invited many of their customers, the event drove more than 90 persons! This was really great to see so many attendees and for once also many “practioners”.

Theme of this WAW was about “applied segmentation & targeting” with two case studies and one vendor (Nedstat) short demonstration.

Case 1: Targeting customers and optimizing lead generation @ Volvo Cars Belgium
Volvo CarsFirst case was about Volvo Cars Belgium and it was presented by Jourik Migom, from Boondoggle, their digital agency.

In a very traditional way, Volvo Cars is using online advertising to drive traffic to campaign microsites or main site where the main goal is to turn visitors into leads that are then passed to the retailer network through a CRM system.

However the problem was that until recently, online media analysis was limited to "basic" analysis (impressions, CTR, CPC...) and there was no link with the leads generated by the various campaigns. One of the main obstacles was that the different steps of the funnel (media -> microsite -> main site -> lead) were tracked with different tools. Volvo wanted also to use behavioural data in order to increase lead generation in general.

Netmining - behavioral targeting solutions for automotive industryFirst, a behavioural targeting solution was implemented: HitsIntoLeads from Netmining. The "intelligent" solution identifies visitors who are considered as potential hot leads based on their behaviour (e.g. visit frequency, key sections visited…). Specific content is then pushed to these “hot” visitors – for example an invitation to test the car or to receive a product brochure.
Volvo takes action based on visitor behavior and invite potential leads to request a brochure
But in order to go further and to link CRM data with online media activities, Netmining tag was added in online campaigns allowing Volvo to better measure leads generated by the various online channels (banners, emails and others). Behavioural data is also passed along with the lead to the retailer, providing key information about the visitor main interests. Next step for Volvo will be to close the loop and link online campaigns to sales.

The case was really interesting (I am always curious to hear case from competitors) but it was lacking more details about the actual results (for confidentiality purpose I guess). All that was said is the behavioural targeting helped increasing the number of leads but in what extent? We were not told…

It ended with a quick but optional introduction from Netmining. At least they showed us a sneak preview of their new impressive real-time control room.

Case 2: "Practical customer segmentation: basic ideas with great results - &"
Steve De Veirman from bSeen presented the second case: two very simple examples of how user segmentation was successfully applied using Google Analytics segmentation functionalities.

The idea is very basic: think about your audience and split it in limited number of key segments. Try to identify them explicitly on the website - ask them who they are (whether when they enter the site or via navigation options)! From there, measure and segment results accordingly – get insights and take actions.

The first example,, a provider in hosting & domain names solutions, defined key segments (IT starters and IT professionals) and redesigned its website accordingly (still on-going) to better serve each type of customer. Proposed products and offers will be adapted according to the segment.

Isotrie asks visitors to tell what type of users they is selling isolation products for house builders and renovators – each type of customer having interest in specific products & services. Therefore Isotrie defined 2 key segments builders & renovators (each being split in two sub-segments: Belgian Dutch and Belgian French). The Welcome page was modified: when entering the site, visitors have to select if they want to isolate their new construction or their renovation. The selection defines the customer segment. The product page is adapted based on the selected option – appropriate key products are presented on top of the page.

A/B tests were conducted in order to full assess the impact of the new design – results were more than encouraging – boosting conversions!

All was conducted in few months and showed that you don’t need complex sciences or to be a Fortune 500 company to be able to successfully applied customer segmentation.

You can find the case presentation below (from SlideShare)

View more presentations from stevedv.

Next WAW – call for hosts, sponsors & speakers!
The cases were followed by WAW traditional networking and drinks. As usual it was great and I really enjoy it. Again, a big thank you to bSeen for making this event possible and more important, such a success.

Now, it is time to start thinking about the next WAW. Target is to have another one before the summer holidays – ideally end of May (or early June).

So I am making a call: if you want to host and/or sponsor the next Web Analytics Wednesday, if you think you have a great case you would like to present – do not hesitate and contact me (michaelnotte at

See you at next Belgian Web Analytics Wednesday!

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Web Analytics, recession!

Is Web Analytics recession proof?
Is Web Analytics a recession-proof job? How does it feel to work in Web Analytics in an industry that is severely hit by the current economic crisis? How does it affect one’s daily job? And future? How to survive it? Here are some personal thoughts & experience from a Web Analytics practioner working in the automotive industry

“Web Analytics – the recession-proof job”
That was what many professionals were saying last year before the recession really hit hard on the world: whether it was survey from the Web Analytics crowd or predictions from various industry experts such as e-Consultancy. All sounded good. Maybe too good to be true?

Later, Eric T. Peterson took a different position and wrote a very relevant post raising the question: “is Web Analytics really recession-proof?” Eric’s post and reactions from other Web Analytics experts showed that maybe Web Analytics was not so “recession-proof” after all.

Everybody knows it: the automotive industry is badly suffering. I am working as a Web Analytics specialist for a major automotive manufacturer. Do I feel protected from the recession? To say “yes” would be a lie! I used to think that working in Web Analytics would leave me more or less unaffected by the crisis however as situation evolved, I had to seriously reconsider my opinion.

The good olds day are gone my friends!
I am working on the IT side (the dark side :-)) but working very closely with business as Web Analytics is sitting in between. My work has high visibility on business side and as far as I know, I think I can say it is appreciated. While being so focused on my work for the business, I forgot one important think: make Web Analytics and my work more visible to IT management. A big mistake…

Web Analytics has never been put in question before – it has been always considered as a necessity, a must-do – especially in a company used to analyze everything in details and take decision based on facts and where continuous improvements (Kaizen) is a part of the company’s culture.

But with the severe recession, major budget cuts had to be applied and all projects / positions were reviewed and yes, Web activities and Web Analytics were put in question. The good old days where online marketing had not to be justified (“hey, it is marketing!”) were gone and future looked suddenly quite dark. Wasn’t my job supposed to be “recession-proof”?

“In the heart of every difficulty lies an opportunity”
That’s what good old Einstein said once and he was right. I could have let it down. Instead I decided to bounce back and I seized the opportunity. It was time to make Web Analytics more visible to my top management. How? By demonstrating the potential value of using Web Analytics efficiently. I stopped talking about “improving conversion ratios” or “reducing landing page bounce rate”. Instead I used money, a language that everybody – especially top management – understands. I talked about “increasing profits”.

With the economic situation, priorities for most companies are more than ever to:
  1. Raise profits
  2. Reduce spending
  3. Increase customer satisfaction.
With Web Analytics, you can certainly make a case for first priority and that you can better spend the money. You need to demonstrate that Web Analytics can achieve a significant positive return on investment (ROI). This sounds so obvious but let’s be honest how many really does it? I think we – Web Analysts, tend to focus too much on improving whatever ratio but forgot to link it to money!

Money - the manager language!Demonstrating ROI is not always straightforward especially for websites without tangible/direct revenues. Still you should link your website activities to money value using a monetization model. You will need to define your own model! It will not be always easy but it is a must-do in these times!

Base your monetization model on facts you have and make assumptions for the rest. Start with a simple one and then elaborate as much as you can. It doesn’t have to be 100% accurate. What it needs is to be consistent, realistic and most important to be convincing!

Did it work in my case? Well, I managed to get extra budgets in a period where the trend was to cut them down so I guess I did not do too bad…

A “positive” consequence of the recession is that Web is getting much more attention from business stakeholders and their management. They became highly accountable and therefore there is a high demand for measurements, analysis and optimization. This is a unique and challenging opportunity to move Web Analytics out of the shadows and bring it to the frontline. It is a unique opportunity to change the way people work. It is now or it will be never.

Recession is hard!
But unfortunately the crisis has many negative impacts that make this challenge difficult. It is far from being joy & happiness all over the place. Severe measures and uncertain future have impact on the working atmosphere and employee’s morale – including mine. I am human. Seeing your revenues and benefits cut down is not the best motivator.

In addition, teams got reduced – in my case I lost a precious support resource as number contractors is significantly reduced. This means more work, more pressure on my shoulders.

Finally, I am a bit sad (okay – I am really sad) as there will be no London eMetrics summit this year for me. And it is not this year I will participate to Stockholm Internet Marketing Conference (sorry Lars). So sad…

So it is not always easy – but at least work remains exciting and as I said – there is a great opportunity on the long-term.

Make your job recession-proof!
I don’t think Web Analytics is per se recession-proof but it is up to you to make sure it will be!

Make your job recession-proof!Here are some tips to help you make yourself more recession-proof:
  • Demonstrate your added-value: Build a monetization model and prove that you can contribute to a positive ROI. Even if not perfect. Get a good “story” – stop bothering management with bounce rates & conversion ratios – they don’t care! Use money, the language they understand!
  • Make your job more visible & get support: Communicate about all the great things you are doing. Look for support from Business stakeholders / managers. It is not always easy when you are always the head underwater but make sure to allocate some of your time to advertise yourself!
  • Have a plan B (and C & D…): Keep an eye on job boards for opportunities - if your company does not see the importance of Web Analytics role in such times, maybe others do (honestly I would do everything to avoid that but…).
Working in a recession is not easy – don’t be over-confident because you are doing Web Analytics. It is what you do with Web Analytics that will make your recession-proof.

Still these challenging times are a unique opportunity to really shine. As Jim Sterne said in this year WAA New Year letter: “Now more than ever it is time to show the value of our logic, ingenuity and insight. […] We have the power to make a difference, to effect change and to help our colleagues and our companies in the short term and in the long run!”

Good luck and keep faith!

Here are some very interesting related posts on Web Analytics and recession. Worth reading if looking for tips & advices:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Your Web Analytics data vs. online advertising data: why they don’t match (and never will)

Web Analytics data vs. Advertising data - why they will never match
Whenever you fully measure an online campaign (SEA, banners, emailing), you usually get data from your beloved Web Analytics tool (what I call internal or onsite data) and data from your advertising agency (what I call external or offsite data). A common reflex is to put both together, trying to reconciliate them… But they won’t and (almost) never will. How is that possible?

“There must be something wrong!”
I have stopped counting the number of times I got asked this question “I got figures from my Adwords/banner campaign but when I look at our WebTrends data, I don’t get the same numbers. Why are there some discrepancies? Which data are correct?”. Be prepared –if you start tagging your campaigns with your own tool (and God knows you should if you don’t) and if you get advertising data – you will be asked such question a lot! It is also a recurring question on the Yahoo WA forum.

“Welcome to the real world!”
You will have to accept that "external" data and “internal” data will never match (or you are very lucky if they do) – external ones (from banners/adwords) being usually higher. The difference can vary to a large extent: from few percent (very good) to more than 25% (not unusual).  Is this abnormal? Not necessarily.

In a perfect world, one would expect that figures would match. After all, isn’t the Internet highly measurable? Isn’t Web Analytics a science? Well, world is not perfect – far from it. Same for Internet and Web Analytics.

Why they will never match
Business stakeholders want an answer. Something else then “because, it’s like that” (it hardly works with my 3-year son so…). You need to provide explanations. Here are some of the reasons why these damned figures don’t match (they evil!)

  • Clicks are NOT visits: Most of the times banners/ads performances are measured using impressions and clicks while your tool will report visitors and visits. These are totally different measures & concepts. Comparing these is like comparing apples with er… well something else :-) Again in an ideal world, one would imagine that 1 single click would convert into 1 visit. But not in the real world. Why? For example a visitor clicking on an ad, bouncing back to the original page and going back will result in two clicks but 1 visit. If you really want to compare clicks to something else, the measure that comes closer to a click is a page view.

clicks are NOT equal to visits!!!!
  • Different tools, different results: Add to the unit difference the fact that two different tools will give different numbers because they have their own way to collect data and they have their own secret algorithm & measure definitions. The final results will differ (but it should be in a limited extent).  
  • Link tagging issues: Most Web Analytics tools rely on specific parameters added in the URL’s to identify campaign traffic (for example: utm_campaign in Google Analytics, WT.mc_id in WebTrends). If no present, traffic from these URL's will be considered as “normal” traffic. This is a very frequent source of discrepancies so make sure that all your campaign links get correctly tagged – what you need are good guidelines, standards & process (see "Working with Web Agencies - Take control" post). If not tagged, clicks from these URL's will be counted but not the visits (well, they will be but not as campaign traffic). 
  • Landing page tagging issues: If the landing page or microsite is not tagged (or badly), no visit will be counted while ad clicks will be - leading to discrepancies. Always double check (quality process)! 
  • The use of first party cookie: In many tools, campaign traffic measurement is based on a cookie (usually a first party cookie). But not all users will accept it and they will not be counted as campaign traffic – introducing some differences in visits/visitor counts (while ad clicks are based on server hits recorded at server level).
  • Tag position: it is usually recommended to place your WA tag at the end of the HTML page – giving priority to content (and therefore to the user experience) over measurement. However with heavy content (often the case with Flashy campaign microsites), the page can be slow to load. This gives enough time to users to bail out (you have no idea how quick they can be) before the tag is triggered. The click is counted, not the visit. Or they can have time to move to another page – in this case the visit will be counted but the campaign referrer will be lost.
  • Referrers got lost in between: If the ad points to a URL that does a redirect to the actual landing page, the referrer parameters will be lost (if no special mechanism in place) and the visit will be considered as “normal” traffic. It may seem obvious but it happens more frequently than you think.
  • Technical issues or bad configuration: If the page fails to load (can happen) or if ad links are not correctly set-up, users will never reach the pages while clicks still got recorded.
  • Others: Filters that prevent some visits to be reported in your reports, users who deactivated Javascript (I always wonder how can one surf today’s web without Javascript), click fraud (never be confronted to such situation but I know it happens), etc.
“Ok but what can I do?”
The first thing is to understand and accept there will always be some discrepancies between external & internal data. You can have a look at the difference between the various sources and check it remains more or less constant over time. If not, there may be something wrong happening.

Time to investigate Mister HolmesAlso if you see a major difference, something like above 30% - it’s time to put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and start investigating!
  • First check that URL’s are correctly tagged & configured (no redirect).
  • Inspect your landing page and make sure it is correctly tagged and that the tag is fired quickly enough (use WASP or any HTTP sniffer). Also if your campaign measurement relies on a first party cookie, is it set-up correctly?
  • Check server monitoring logs to see if there was any performance issue or downtime during the campaign.
  • If you are using page tagging, a good way to investigate is to have a look at the Web server logs and analyze them with a log analyzer. Are the results closer to your data or the external ones?
Another advice is to define a quality process & checkpoints to ensure that tagging is done correctly and fully tested before going live. Again, it seems so obvious but still happening too often.

To conclude, here is an example from my personal experience:

Once, one of our local markets made an important banner campaign for our luxury brand. They decided to have it tagged using our central solution (WebTrends) in addition of usual advertising reporting they got from their local agency. After the campaign, they got back to me as the difference between the figures reported by their agency and WebTrends was above 50%!

The first point to solve for me was to check if ad requests reached or not our server. We took the Web server logs and analyze them with our WebTrends software installation. The campaign traffic figures were quite close to the ones from the page-tag logs. So the problem occurred upfront. The agency investigated and discovered that a technical issue prevented some of the banners to work correctly so clicks were recorded but visitors never reached the site. Case solved!

What do you think? Does it make sense? Any other sources of discrepancies? How do you tackle such situations?

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