Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Web Analytics Solution Profiler - WASP!

Background

I was thinking about various ways of using web analytics and/or commonly faced problems when implementing or using web analytics solutions. At least two ideas emerged:
  1. Checking site tagging integrity is a common problem to all vendors, consultants and analysts.
  2. Providing realistic information about 3rd party vs 1st party acceptance is often raised, but actual studies are very limited (one of the best reference found is from Benjamin Edelman, "Cookies Detected by Anti-Spyware Programs: The Current Status", if you find others, let me know!)

WASP

With the WASP (Web Analytics Solution Profiler) project, I will address the first concern. After some investigation, I found those solutions:
  • WAVcheck, from Webbanalys, extends on the same idea with an executable version which can detect up to 27 different vendors.
  • Rahul Revo posted on his blog a request for a Greasemonkey extension that would detect Google Analytics. Mohnsish Rao proposed a simple solution.
  • Mike Keyes, on his blog "On the trail", created a simple bookmarklet (a one-liner JavaScript you can put in your favorites) that will detect a bunch of different vendors. Cool, simple and is sufficient in most cases.
  • Some vendors usually provides their own debugging aids, usually in the form of a somewhat limited bookmarklet that will display the parameters being passed to their data warehouse.
  • Some have proposed developing Unix-based scripts with grep and wget or perl but it looks to me like a pretty complex endeavors that have its own limitations.
  • Or you could get help from your vendor or ask for a independent consultants to help you out. Maxamine is one of them.
  • Other "complementary" solutions that might help: Watchfire WebQA is particularly good at crawling a site and looking for specific code.
  • AlertSite recently posted a Firefox extension named DejaClick. Not only is this extension wonderful as a very powerful macro recorder, but it is also one of the best packaged extension I have seen so far.

Proof of concept

I created my own little proof of concept using Firefox and the Greasemonkey extension. Basically, while you browse, it will show which vendor is being used. The next is to display which parameters are being set. I added more intelligent detection to highlight default values and those that are overwritten by the tagging.

The solution

WASP combines all the above ideas into something much better and powerful:
  • Come as an handy Firefox Extension.
  • Detect a large list of web analytics and ad network solutions (over 50) while you browse.
  • Detects the exact handshake between your browser and the vendor's data warehouse by providing multiple levels of details:
    • HTTP Headers: helps understand if the query is getting trough
    • QueryString: shows exactly what is being sent
    • Cookies: indicates their values and the way they are being served (1st party vs 3rd party)
  • Analyze the tagging and offer best practices advises:
    • highlight tags default values and overwritten ones
    • common mistakes includes using the wrong tag variables
    • missing page tags
    • JavaScript errors
    • Using old versions of the vendor scripts
    • Mixing pages with 1st and 3rd party cookies
    • etc...
  • Crawl a whole site to detect missing/incorrect tags.
Your comments and suggestions are welcome!
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