We like to think of Web Analytics as a brave new world. I often see “web analytics is in its infancy” used as a means to brush away worries about measurement gaps and adoption. We seem to rest our assumptions on a main base assumption that while users may not behave as we expect, they will still behave in a fairly uniform way within that frame of the unexpected. With websites becoming more community-based and interactive, pandering to the wants and perceived needs of the visitor/customer, do insights lose focus as visits become more personalised?
Visitors are no longer plodding through websites, quietly adding to cart, leaving a site when clicking on an exit link (that old chestnut) – they’re free running all over the web creating more of a collective experience. Why open a door and step through when you can leap over a wall? Semantic arguments over art and science aside, there is a need for greater context in the way understanding is applied to outcomes measured.
Are arguments over the definition of a “bounce” not a touch moot when a “bounce” can be interpreted completely differently on a blog and a shopping site? Surely a compound metric is required here, not a measurement of how many people viewed one page on a site. Contextual metrics would imply that the same measure has a different meaning depending on the type of site involved. Shouldn’t the argument be moved to a different level?
These are simply my own observations, but over the last year I have noticed more and more instances of people acting like people on the internet, instead of the sheep we’ve all come to love and predict. Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him to fish and you lose all sense of control! Have insights derived from web analytics brought about a revolution in autonomy which has added to the complexity of web analytics itself? Accursed free will!
We need to remember that web analytics is not simply the act of measurement or the act of interpretation; it is an organism that we need to nurture if it is to survive. As we come to the end of 2009, here is a list of sins to which I must confess. I and my kind are surely kicking at the supporting wall of web analytics and must be reigned in!
- Tabbed Browsing: Oh, thou loathsome though entrancing Siren, how you have transformed the way in which I trawl the internet! I confess I have left umpteen windows open, broken sessions with abandon, comparison-shopped across several shopping sites at once (filling multiple carts, then abandoning all for no discernable reason), left useful pages open for the entire day, given the impression I had great interest in an article when really I had just forgotten to close it… I could not be said to have a cogent behavioural pattern in any of these sites – I auto-pilot my way through them and across them.
A year ago, I behaved completely differently, with far more order to my browsing, simply because I didn’t like to have more than one browser window open.
- Search Engines are “the internet”: I remember (to my chagrin) laughing and making cruel jibes at someone who thought of a search engine as the homepage of all web content. I mocked them with my compulsively organised bookmarks as they used a search phrase to call up their favourite news site every single day to check the headlines. But now, I find myself often doing the very same thing! It’s the same number of steps to open a bookmark and query a search engine (especially if you have compulsively organised bookmarks) if you know what you’re looking for, and there are sites I have never bothered to save but visit every day. I find it quicker than typing in the URL (which I may never bother to learn), and faster than opening my bookmarks.
- Search is the only form of navigation: I have abandoned sites on the homepage because there was no search bar available and will confess to have done this without even attempting to use the (possibly wonderful) navigation system available. I’m part of the instant gratification generation I’m afraid – I don’t want to navigate through Books / Science / Freaky Monkeys, when I could save time by typing “Freaky Monkeys” and clicking search. Anecdotally, it seems that people want websites to behave like search engines (because everyone loves search engines, right?). They just want search engines with pretty pictures.
- Security is not my problem: I’m a fan of privacy. I’ve used dummy email addresses to sign up for newsletters just in case a website’s promise to “never knowingly share” my data proves to be mere lip-service. I will go to that kind of trouble myself, but so help me, if a website tries to force me to get involved in the security process I back off, snarling menacingly. Just go ahead and try to get me to complete a form where a “strong” password is obliged. Goodbye. Better luck next time.
But if you let me use “password” as my password and the account is compromised – it’s your fault. It’s only natural.
So, as we look towards 2010, reflect upon your own sins. How have you contributed to the Ovine Revolution this year? How do we measure that which is increasingly varied? How do we interpret that which is increasingly multifaceted?
Don’t we need to stop seeing web analytics as a baby and start seeing it as a quickly growing toddler that can make us all proud if we take a little more care in our parenting?