6 Truths of the Internet and Web Analytics

Well I was reading an article (essay?) in the Guardian yesterday about the internet and it led me to the conclusion that I don’t write enough posts that are number based.  So I decided that maybe I should create a list based post.  At least then I can sensationalise it on a Twitter with a “Top 6 things to make your Analytics work” headline.  And who said headlines were dead in favour of SEO friendly titles?  Not me.

Anyway, the inspiration for this post was based on a couple of quotes in that essay linked to up there:

A funny thing happened to us on the way to the future. The internet went from being something exotic to being boring utility, like mains electricity or running water – and we never really noticed.

Do you know why that was?

I’m writing this in 2010, which is 17 years since the web went mainstream.

1. The web happens very quickly 

Or maybe that should read, things happen on the web very quickly.  Can you remember what you were doing 17 years ago?  I can just about.  I was 12 years old, I’d just started senior school.  In the summer I played football non stop in the park (jumpers for goal posts, etc).  My home computer was a BBC micro.  I read books and played on a game boy.

The BBC Micro (yes I did play Elite on it)

Today my home computer is a widescreen laptop that overheats when more than one process is running.  I read books on the tube (at least that hasn’t changed) on the way to work.  My gameboy has been replaced by a mobile phone that doubles up as a camera, a video player, a music player, a video recorder, an email client, an internet and, at one point, a spirit level to put up my blinds straight.  Plus I’ve got a dodgy knee injury that stops me playing football in the park with jumpers for goal posts, although I wished it hadn’t.

What is the point of this story Alec?  Well the point is that in 17 years the whole world wide web has happened.  It is a very short time span.  We have gone from nothing, to a world where you keep in contact with your friends not through house phones and letters, but by facebook and twitter.  Where you write something and within hours people all over the world are reading it.  If you don’t evolve with the web then you are going to be left behind very quickly.

What do you have to do to stay up to date?  You have to change your site frequently, experiment lots and see what works based on the data that you provide.

See a rather brilliant piece by James Kelway on why you should have agile UCD.

2. Don’t forget the long term 
Whilst you think that changes happen quickly on the web and you should change frequently, experiment and test lots, don’t forget the long term goals of your website.  Your website does have some long term goals, doesn’t it?
Good.  
Whether your long term goals are to be the best in your industry, to gain an audience share or make enough money and customers to sell out to a larger company (or whatever else) then you also need to think about the long term.  Long term strategies mean that you can’t go chasing quick bucks if you end up with a long term downtrend.  This is as true in the media world where publishers go for a short term page view/advert boost for their bottom line now, rather than thinking about how to grow their audiences over time.  Maybe Rupert’s bold move with The Times is one of these moments.  Although the suspicion is that too much of going for short term has affected his long term offering.
The truth of the matter is that whilst there is still an audience who are moving online from offline, it can often seem like it is easy to get a bigger audience (even if you are cannabilising your own audience).  However this shouldn’t shy away from using competitor analysis to find out if you are doing it better than your rivals.  See tips on using Hitwise (maybe I do have list posts) and Avinash’s 8 competitor intelligence tools post.
3. The web isn’t all of the internet 
Ok, I’ve nicked this one from the Guardian, but they’ve worded it differently.  If you don’t believe me, go an have a look.  See – they didn’t claim they’d stolen if from the Guardian.  It is very popular at the moment to start going on about how it is the best thing in the world to embed things on your pages.  Whether it be a YouTube video of a cat falling asleep (yes that is cute, isn’t it):

Or an embedded twitter stream, or a picture of whatever, or a podcast, or…, or…

It is all very well and good adding these things, but what value do they add.  Can you measure the value?  Can you measure how used it is?

At a previous company I worked for they introduced a video channel on the site, because video was a new thing at the time.  It was used a bit, but most of the users wanted to see related content – be that a video about something similar, other articles about a similar subject, etc.  Why does Wikipedia work so well?  Because of all those links, inline, to related content.  Why do video channels not work?  Because only the website owner turns up at the website to see the videos.  How do we know this?  Because we measured and analysed it.

But on the other hand, ignore these at your peril.  If you are providing the content in a variety of different ways, your rivals are going to.  get those podcasts in.  Get those streaming videos in.  Get those links to files attached.  You’re providing a service, not a website.

4. You have competitors 
Without doubt, whichever industry space you are in, you will have competitors.  Even I have lots of competitors.  If you search Google for Web analytics blogs, you get 44million results.  There are two ways you can deal with this information.  You can either decide that you are going to embrace this information and treat them as your peers or you can try and crush them as your enemy.
Some loser website’s Analytics blog.  They’ll never amount to anything
Personally I always think that option one is better.  If you met an attractive woman who you thought would go perfectly with one of your lifelong male friends (or vice versa) you would introduce the two of them.  You’d tell each of them about the other one, the features, the pros, the cons and when you use them.  Your new acquaintance is going to value your judgement and keep you in mind next time they think of something similar, to see what you know.  Your lifelong friend, on the other hand, is probably going to keep coming back to you because they know that you give good advice.  Plus they wouldn’t have been your lifelong friend in the first place if they didn’t know this.
What’s more – in a real world environment of websites, you can measure this.  You can tell if people are coming back more frequently or not.  You can measure all of this.  If you try linking out and find out more people come back, then you are doing a good thing.
5. Your users will get involved
Remember the old adage that 90% of your users will just read your content, 9% will comment and 1% will actually contribute.  If you don’t embrace that principle, you are going to lose 10% of your audience straight off.  Those are the 10% that want to comment or contribute.
Want to know what?  This is the 94th post of this blog.  There are 57 comments on this blog.  There has been one guest author.
What does this mean?  If you don’t allow your users to contribute, they are going to go places where they can.  When they contribute, they are going to persuade some of your 90% to go with them.  The user reviews, the comments, the “this is my situation that is relevant”, this is what happened to me, this is what I think.  They may not all be valuable, but the users who read it are going to be appreciative of it.  And the websites are all going to be appreciative.
So if you don’t want to put reviews on your website for products?  Your rivals will and your users will go there.  Don’t want to put yourselves on price aggregators?  Your rivals will and your users will go there.
What’s more – you can measure these things.  No really.  I just did it up there.  You can monitor how many comments you get over time.  If you’re clever with your analytics tools you can even measure how many people look at the page depending on how many comments you have, etc.  Web Analytics, remember, isn’t just about what your Analytics tool throws out at you.  You need to get all of that customer Insight about your site/brand and bring it all together.  That’s what being a web analyst is about.

6. Information paralysis is not your friend
There is a lot of information on the web.  Not just that, but your website produces a lots of data.  I’m going to say it again.  There is a lot of data.  Your job is to find out which of it is useful.  Why?  Because your boss probably isn’t going to, they are going to rely on the people below them to do that for them.  Then they are going to do whatever the one with most convincing argument suggests.  You have to be the one with the most convincing argument and the only way you can do this is through providing data.
The Guardian article talks about Orwell and Huxley.  Orwell was of course determined that the state would control power by monitoring everything and only releasing the information that was important.  Huxley maintained that the way things were going there would be an ever increasing amount of information that it would be impossible to tell what was important.  Funnily enough, it turns out that they were both right when it comes to Web Analytics.
Posted in Web Analytics
3 comments on “6 Truths of the Internet and Web Analytics
  1. @c_r_macpherson says:

    Great post, gave me some new angles to consider when running usability. Thanks

  2. Anonymous says:

    nice post, thanks to avinash for linking to this post. I am about the same age as you, and while I never owned a BBC, I used to play Elite on my grandads machine.

    What about the Warez evolution!!
    from BBS’s to Torrents.. ?????

  3. WhenCanIStop says:

    I have to admit, it has been a while since I thought about that BBC. Back in those days floppy disks were floppy. I used to have a tape player that would load games at an excruciating 20 minutes ago, just for them to crash after 10 minutes of playing. Glorious.

    Thanks for your comments guys.

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