Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Google Trends for Websites - do you trust it?

Google Trends for Website - competitive intelligence for freeGoogle Trends for Websites is one of the free competitive intelligence services provided by Google. It is pretty easy and straightforward to use: just type in domain names of sites you want to compare and it gives you traffic trends over time (for the selected period) and some additional data. Unlike Compete free service, Google Trends for Websites offers worldwide coverage with the ability to segment results per country. Cool, isn't it?
Compare your site traffic vs. competitors
Simple but valuable
While simple, it is a very interesting service as you can compare traffic trends of your site vs. your competitors. You can learn a lot like the impact of competitor advertising campaigns (were they successful?), product launches, announcements... You also get the key search terms used by visitors and the sites they also visited (and find out who are your biggest rivals). Super-cool isn't it?

See what sites your visitors also visited
(Note: for competitive search terms analysis, I strongly recommend Google Insights for search, another cool free Google service. See the practical example I did earlier this year)

For me the main limitation is the fact that data are only available for sites with traffic above a certain threshold (Google gives no details on this limit). Practically, it means that it is only usable for big sites and big countries.

Still, even if the provided information is limited, it can be very valuable and, hell, it is FREE (and ones knows that it is important nowadays :-)).

For more examples or details on Google Trends for Websites, read Avisnash's excellent post on that topic.

"But are Google data reliable?"
This is the question that usually comes when I show Google Trends for Websites. For quite some times, Alexa is offering similar service but it has received a lot of critics regarding its accuracy and reliability. Alexa collects data mainly from the Alexa toolbar - not the most used toolbar to be honest. The consequence is that the sample is rather limited (from a size & geographic perspective) and therefore it is quite biased in my opinion.

For Google it is quite different. Google has access to a huuuuuuuge amount of information from a variety of sources, such as aggregated Google search data, aggregated anonymous Google toolbar /Google Analytics data, consumer panel data, and other third-party market research. As Google claims in Google Trends for Websites help section - the data is aggregated over millions of users. So that is how Google can get information on your website traffic - even if you don't measure your site activity with Google Analytics.

Ok sounds good but still is it reliable? To answer the question in a simple way, I decided to do a simple test: compare our own data against Google Trends for websites data. I took the traffic trends for 2009, for 2 markets with high traffic volume, no Google Analytics on it! I put everything in Excel, I adapted the scale to get as close as possible to the scale of the Google tool and this is what I get (without any data tweaking, I swear!):
Own data vs. Google Trends data - test 1wn data vs. Google Trends data - test 2
I think the result speaks for itself (a picture is always better than long explanations :-)). Spooky, isn't it?

Maybe I was lucky with my 2 examples but for me it is a simple way to show that Google data is certainly not bad quality and that somehow I can trust it. Therefore I usually propose it as a data source for benchmarking in appropriate cases - taking into accounts its limitations.

I would be really curious to know if anyone did similar comparisons and what was the outcome. Did it work out for you or Google Trends for Websites results were miles away from your own data? What do you think about this Google service? Like it or not? Please share your experience.


(A little side note: surprisingly Google Trends for Websites can give you trends for or but not for... (see here). Doh!)

Related posts & resources:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My little Web Analytics bookshelf

What a nice bookshelf
When it comes to advices on how to get started in Web analytics and or how to expand your Web Analytics skills, nothing beats practical experience. However theory is also important. Blogs from Web analytics expert are a good sources of inspiration and knowledge (check my little blogroll on the right side for few ones). And Web Analytics books. Yep, books that talks about Web Analytics.

Not so long ago, Web Analytics books were a very rare specie but now these are almost like rabbits. There are plenty of them and the number just keeps growing. Just in the course of this year, many famous Web analytics experts published their own book. Like if you don’t have written a book, you can not qualify as being a true Web Analytics expert (Shame on you then! :-))

Web Analytics books are really useful. Serious. Not just to look smart or to impress your boss. These are a highly valuable source of ideas, best-practices & knowledge, whether you are a beginner or an experimented practitioner. No need to read them all, one can be more than enough. And it can change the course of your career. Actually it did it for me.

So let me present you the few ones I read and few others I plan to read.

The ones I read
  • Web site measurement hacks by Eric T. Peterson“Web site Measurement Hacks” by Eric T. Peterson: This is not a new one but it was the first one I read – almost 4 years ago (gosh, time flies!). This book changed my professional life. Simple as that. It made me evolve from a reporting squirrel to analysis ninja rookie. I will never be grateful enough to the nice people who offered it to me (hi Aurélie, René & Siegert :-)). Personal memories aside, It may be bit old by now but I still think it is a very great book, well written by one of the most influential and experienced Web Analytics expert. Most of it is still relevant even after all those years. As its title says, it focuses more on the “measurements” part but it is where Web analytics starts, no? No one can pretend doing good WA without the right measurements. It is very practical – plenty of ideas that can be applied right away. And if you are a “code” geek – you will learn how to program your own Web tracking tool.
  • the Big Book of KPIs by Eric T. PetersonBig book of KPI’s” by Eric T. Peterson: Bought it just after reading the previous book. It is not a book that is meant for reading chapter by chapter but more to be used as a reference, a source of inspiration for finding KPI’s based on the type of site you are working on. Even if I believe that best KPI’s are not found in a book but the ones that you defined yourself (using a good methodology like the Nokia’s methodology) – there are few standard and universal KPI’s that you will find in this book. Still worth to check it out. (Remarks: it is only available in electronic format. There is also a French version (for free) thanks to Julien Coquet and other contributors who made a great job translating it.
  • Web Analytics an hour a day by Avinash Kaushik“Web Analytics an hour a day” by Avinash Kaushik: Do I really need to present it? If you don’t know Avinash Kaushik then start reading his blog, right now! His book is a must-buy for anyone having interest in Web Analytics whether you are a beginner, an experimented Web analyst, an online marketer, a marketing manager involved in the Web, an HiPPO... It covers lot of topics from the basics to more advanced ones (segmentation, processes, organization, framework…). It is written in Avinash’s unique style that makes it easy to read, funny and entertaining. You won’t get bored. For me it is constant source of inspiration as I keep diving in it regularly. I can’t wait for receiving my copy of Avinash’s 2nd book (see further). On top of that, you do a good action by buying this book as all proceeds goes to the Smile Train and Médecins Sans Frontières.
  • Actionable Web Analytics by Jason Burby and Shane Atchinson“Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to make Smart Business Decisions” by Jason Burby & Shane Atchison: Another book I got offered (yes, I know such nice people :-)) and a pleasant surprise it was. In my opinion this book is less for beginners but more for those who want to go further in Web Analytics as it addresses more advanced topics like creating a “performance-driven" culture, KPI’s definition, organization (setting-up a team, selecting partners…) and more. But the most important, it provide methods to take “smart” decisions. How? By using a monetization model to prioritize your action. The idea behind the monetization process is really great and it makes this book a very recommended read.
The one I will read (as soon as it is delivered)
  • Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik"Web Analytics 2.0 – the art of online accountability & science of customer centricity” by Avinash Kaushik: Let’s just called it “Web Analytics 2.0” :-). Avinash Kaushik just released the follow-up of his first great book. Knowing the quality of his first book and his blog, one can imagine that the 2nd book will as good as the first one – if not better. According to the author, the book covers topic like the web analytics 2.0 model (I am a big fan of it!), multi channel analytics, social meda measurement, multichannel campaign attribution analysis, mobile analytics, and so much more. Can’t wait to get my copy (too bad I ordered it on Amazon UK and it won’t be available before early November. Aaaargh!)
The ones I want to read later
There are two books that are currently on my “books I wish I will find time to read them as I heard they are very interesting” list.
  • Multichannel Marketing Metrics by Akin Arikan“Multichannel Marketing – Metrics & methods for On & Offline Success” by Akin Arikan: For me Web analytics is only one piece of the puzzle and Web data should be integrated with other data (i.e. offline) – especially when you are working for a company where Web is just a channel or an activity among others. This book covers aspect like developing better marketing programs, optimizing online-offline advertising programs, selecting the right metrics for your specific needs, collecting measurements and reporting on customer behavior across channels & more. Why would I like to read this book? Because I heard a lot of good feedback on it and Arin’s blog is also one of the blogs I enjoy reading.
  • Cult of Analytics by Steve Jackson“Cult of analytics – driving online marketing strategies using Web Analytics” by Steve Jackson: For once, a book that doesn’t come from the US but from an European expert! This book is a detailed guide on how to build an analytics driven culture in your business or organization (well that's what the cover says :-)). The book is said to be very practical, full of examples and “tools” like scorecards, dashboards and more. Learning how to “do” Web Analytics is a first step. Making it a organization practice is one of the toughest challenges that comes next – and I am talking about experience here. So that is why this book on my wish-list.
The one that you should read if you speak French
  • Web+Analytics = Profits by Nicolas Malo and Jacques Warren"Web + Analytics = Profits" by Nicolas Malo & Jacques Warren: the first brand new complete guide on Web Analytics in French. It is set to become the reference book in the French Web Analytics community. Like Avinash's first book, it targets a large audience: whether you are an analyst, a manager, new to the field or experienced. The book explores step by step key concepts that anyone need to master to leverage the real value of Web Analytics. The two authors are really great and talented people (Congrats to both of you!). I will certainly add this book on my bookshelf (for once, it will be a change to read a book on Web Analytics in French).
So that's it for my personal bookshelf (and its future evolution). These are just a sample, there are plenty other great books out there, recent or older that worth reading.

I would be curious to know what would you recommend as a must read for a Web Analytics specialist? If you had to choose just one book – which one would it be?

All suggestions are welcome. I have a bookshelf to fill in. :)

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