Friday, February 29, 2008

Troublesome targets: where analytics and audience meet

Every once in a while I'm chatting with my friend Joseph Carrabis. In just about a year since we've met at eMetrics San-Francisco we've shared thoughts and ideas, learned a lot from each others, even had fun flying kites in the nice S-F weather and had dinner in Quebec city just after a snow storm.

What began as one of our usual chit chat turned out into a great article Joseph wrote on "Troublesome targets: Where Analytics and Audiences Meet".

The storytelling skills of Joseph provide a great example of understanding the role of web analytics as a tool to measure business objectives. But one has to first know and understand who's the audience and what those business objectives are! Than we can put the mechanisms in place to measure, understand those metrics and take action accordingly. What's of interest here is M.Carrabis company, NextStage Evolution, come from the sociological, psychological and behavioral angles while I come from an IT background, applying my expertise to the field of web analytics and online business process optimization.

The result is interesting: two spot lights on the same object of study, making the whole picture a lot clearer.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

New business models: wrap up from InfoPresse day

Yesterday I attended a conference entitled "New business models: Google and revolutionary management" organized by InfoPresse. Very interesting and thought provoking.

(Note: You will see that the next logical step from those presentations is to come at the InfoPresse day about web analytics where I will talk about "Elements of a successful web analytics program" on April 16th, along with Jacques Warren and Avinash Kaushik.)

Bernard Girard on Google management

M.Girard is the author of a book on Google management. M.Girard highlighted some interesting facts about the "ecosystem" of Google: lower legal constraints, a closer relationship between universities and companies, the availability of venture capital and business angels and cultural differences that made, and still make Google, a fertile ground for a different management style.

Whereas management capability is typically limited by the cognitive capacity of a company manager, Google triumvira composed of Page, Brin and Schmidt has proven to be successful. Girard compared Apple's Steve Job to Michael Angelo, working with a team but getting all the glory for the result, Microsoft's Bill Gates closed and controlling practices, and Google's multiplication of experiment approach.

Let's face it: free stuff, frequent release and availability of beta versions, open architecture and incremental evolution are all fine. But what strikes me as being most interesting is the focus on user behavior analysis rather than spending a lot of time watching out the competition. It's observing how user interact, use and think of new ways of using their application rather than doing long and often biased marketing research. That's sounds like a melody to my ears :)

Stéphane Gauvin on the Social Web

M.Gauvin is professor of marketing at Laval University and closely involved with the eBusiness MBA. An amazing and fun speaker who mixed university style "rigueur" and provoking messages that brought laughs from the crowd. There was a lot of highly interesting facts in his presentation: web penetration is saturating at around 70% (far from the >98% of television), effective usage is around 50%, but the core of the message was that so called social media is not the panacea that some people would like us to think. There's a noticeable slowdown in Facebook and the Twitters, MySpace, Blogger, Flickr and other social sites are eclipsed by Youtube amazing growth.

James Surowiecky on the Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds as become a best seller for basically saying that so called "experts" are not so great... and it's wiser to tap into the diversity and amazing power of statistical significance of a correctly sampled group. Numerous examples reinforced the concept, presented in a way that makes perfect sense and didn't need to go in the methodological aspects of statistics. The keys to The Wisdom of Crowds are:
  1. diversity of opinion,
  2. independence of members from one another,
  3. decentralization,
  4. skills at aggregating opinions without interfering.
As stated in the editorial review on Amazon "The diversity brings in different information; independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader; people's errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are "smarter" than if a single expert had been in charge."

#1 key takeaway from the day

"Listen, observe, measure... measure... measure..."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Quality assurance using WASP: tag all pages

In a post from a year ago, I was commenting on the challenges of JavaScript tagging. Here, I want to share some insight and advantaged of doing web analytics implementation quality assurance using WASP. This will take the form of a series of posts, each one addressing a specific issue.

Tag all your pages!

First and foremost, we need to make sure all pages are tagged. Obvious isn't it?

What strikes me when beginning with a new client is how bad their web analytics implementation is. Missing tags is the #1 problem to look into. Sadly, the area that are left out are transactional areas: the outcomes! Why?
  • It's more complex to tag transactions beyond the mere "page view" tags
  • Content areas are often rendered out of templates, transactions require case by case tagging to be implemented
  • Transactions are often under the realm of IT and changing them implies "negotiation" for resources, timely delivery, tests and answering any security considerations.
  • In some cases, transactions are on a different host and even a different technology altogether

The WASP advantage

Using a crawler such as the excellent SiteScan by EpikOne to check if all pages are tagged is a start, but it's not enough (plus, that's fine for Google Analytics but none others). A crawler won't be able to log into secure areas of your site, fill forms and execute transactions. Most crawlers will look for a specific string within a page, so even if the JavaScript code is there it doesn't guaranty it will be executed (more on JavaScript execution in a later post). Using the debugger provided by the solution provider, such as the one from Omniture, is fine for ad hoc tests, but hardly usable and often hard to decipher. Using proxys such as Charles, ieWatch or Fiddler is interesting, but they work at a lower network level and are way too technical. The other alternative is to open your wallet and work with Maxamine to do a complete and thorough web analytics, security, web compliance audit.

Because WASP blends itself into your browsing session, you will be able to go into any area of your site and make sure the tags are correctly implemented, even checking if specific parameters are being set correctly: custom variables, events, segmentation, etc.

Simply put, I'm from the school who think quality assurance of transactions can hardly be automated. You have to define test scenarios and diligently go through them not only to make sure the transaction work as expected and provides the appropriate results, but also to make sure you are measuring them correctly.

Coming up in WASP

The next release of WASP will include a couple of long awaited features:
  1. Site crawl*: from any page, launch a recursive crawl of all pages on that same site.
  2. List of links to parse*: already have a list of URL you would like to scan? Simply open the file and WASP will visit all of them and report back the results.
This is perfect to check the non-transactional pages of your site. For transactions, you will still be able to use the passive page checking already offered.

You will also get two ways of viewing the information:
  1. Web analytics implement view: what's currently shown by WASP
  2. Web analyst view*: showing simplified and plain English information about the tags found on that page.
Another request that was on queue: results are going to be available as a CSV file with domain, page, web analytics solution found as well as the exact data sent.

* Those features will be part of an advanced version of WASP available on a subscription base/purchase only.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Another web analytics vendor market share study

As is often the case with startups, the initial idea leads to another better one. One of the amazing side effect of WASP, other than being the only tool able to detect over 70 vendor tags and working passively as you surf, is its ability to be used for competitive and market research analysis of web analytics vendors.

Couple weeks ago Brian Chappel reported about the top retailers, also did a study using WASP, and just a few minutes ago, VKI Studios posted a study of the top 500 retailers called "Is Google Analytics taking over the world?". Among other things, they reveal 37% of the top 500 retailers use Google Analytics and 32% use Omniture.

Meantime, WASP is maturing, bugs are being fixed and new features are being added toward the official v1.0. The long awaited site crawl is underway, as well as a more "human friendly" view of the information and some other little surprises.

Is Web Analytics too marketing centric?

Last night I was sharing some sushi with fellow web analyst and freelance contractor Jacques Warren, chit chatting about web analytics and other things in life... well, mostly web analytics. Jacques is a strong believer of integrating web data with enterprise systems (see "The Big Integration"), and I'm a strong believer of business process optimization through proper use of Internet, and more specifically, web technologies. That being said, I'm no marketing expert, I'm just a tech guy who got out of his shoes to be more business oriented, applying 20 years of experience in listening to requirements, analyzing possible solutions, and making recommendations.

This got us talking...
In my opinion, web analytics is being somehow "hijacked" by marketing.
Read on...

I don't think it's a good idea to imply "web analytics" is “marketing optimization” (as in the eMetrics conference title); I think we should not talk about web analytics, we should talk about “business analytics”. Just like the web itself, web analytics grew from IT roots simply because it was "too technical" (1994-97), then marketing got hold of the web as a marketing channel (1996-2002), but sooner than later corporations realized marketing was "one" function of the business, so they created ebusiness strategies encompassing several business functions , including sales, customer support, creating extranets and intranets and so on (2002-). Soon we won’t even talk about ebusiness, because in the end the “web” will be blended in all aspects of the corporate functions and culture.

Then, this morning I read the excellent post from Paul Legutko, at Semphonic, "The Future of Web Analytics Consulting" and a few minutes ago, the follow up from Marshall Sponder. What a coincidence!

I think the same type of transition from IT to Marketing to Business-wide will happen, probably sooner than we think. What we call “web analytics” today, which has somehow become the stronghold of marketing, will continue to evolve. In reality, what we want to do is “analytics” using all scientifically valid methods and tools to optimize the business, and that includes not only web analytics for marketing optimization as we know today, but make extensive use of "multiplicity" to optimize all functions of the business. It's certainly no coincidence that Thomas Davenport, a thought-leader in analytics and business strategy, will be a keynote at the San-Francisco eMetrics.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

One good news after another: Bryan Eisenberg in Montreal May 14th

First it was Jim Sterne, then, yesterday I announced Avinash Kaushik at InfoPresse day on April 16th.

Today, I can share with you that Bryan Eisenberg himself will be in Montréal for the next WebCom event, on May 14th.

What's going on in Montréal?

More to come...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Avinash Kaushik in Montréal for InfoPresse Day, April 16th

In February Jim Sterne was in Montréal for the eMetrics Breakfast series, in April we will have the honor of receiving Avinash Kaushik for a half-day event called "Journée InfoPresse" dedicated to web analytics.

Avinash in Montreal

Avinash will share his perspective on the future of the web analytics industry and his opinion about the failure of traditional web metrics. He will speak about the next generation of tools geared toward Web 2.0 measurement and how to use multiplicity to gain better insight and take better business decisions.

Also presenting

Before Avinash, my good friend Jacques Warren will give an overview of what is (and is not!) web analytics, then I will present key elements of a successful web analytics program and a business case will be presented by VDL2 André Bélanger.

Book review: Advanced web metrics with Google Analytics

I have the privilege of being a reviewer of Brian J. Clifton's upcoming book "Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics". Most books either address the broad concepts of web analytics or provide a long list of tips & tricks for a specific product. This is not the case with Brian's book. It's the first one I see that brings the concepts and apply them to a specific tool, namely Google Analytics.

Written in non-technical terms, the 300 pages book also provides plenty of detailed information about the practices and techniques to set up and configure Google Analytics. For those who want to go deeper, it also include a chapter on Google Analytics hacks.

The four parts of the book are:
  1. Measuring Success
  2. Using Google Analytics Reports
  3. Implementing Google Analytics
  4. Using Visitor Data to Drive Website Improvement
Each section begins with the fundamentals that need to be considered, then gradually bring details and provide real-world examples to demonstrate the concepts.

I see three scenarios where this book is a must:
  • You are using GA: even if you think you know it all, you would be surprised!
  • You wonder if GA is for you: the book gives you enough details to see it in action, understand it's power and see if it's the right tool for you.
  • You want to learn the concepts of web analytics and apply them: I already said in a previous post that the best way to learn is to mix concepts and hands on.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What can the web learn from videogames?

Montreal Tech Watch is one of my favorite blogs (and I have 154 subscriptions in my Google Reader!), and its author, Heri, does really great posts, such as this one. I first met him at a Web Analytics Wednesday last year, he was just arriving in Montreal and came to me to inquire about startups and the technological market in Montreal. A year later, his blog covers technology, innovation and startups in Montreal and has become a must read!

Tonight, I read his coverage of D.I.C.E. 2008 where Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat presentation challenged the concept of "best, fastest, best-looking engine and technology in favor of innovation and emotion."
Technology’ main role is to serve creative talent. Quite frankly, code does not translate into emotion.
It also reminded me of my times at Softimage where its founder, Daniel Langlois, had to build the animation software to achieve his dream of creating better tools for artists.

Despite my roots in IT, I can relate to his call. Web sites are (still too) often the results of technological bells and whistles put together at the cost of finding innovative ways to engage, persuade and convert.

Do you know ballet?

It's always exciting to launch a new site, even if I didn't do much to contribute as of yet! I have been enrolled as a web analytics consultant to work on the National Ballet of Canada a few weeks ago.

Analysis process

The initial steps went something like this:
  1. Listen to the business mission, goals and objectives (regardless of the web site)
  2. Determine their web analytics maturity: the who's, what and how
  3. Identified current pain points and challenges
  4. Identify key goals on the web that can translate into KPIs
  5. Established an historical baseline and at the same time, tried to identify quick wins. The tool used was VisiStat.
  6. Provided instructions for Google Analytics tagging as well as CrazyEgg for the home page
  7. Now into the post implementation quality assurance and will asses the current site vs. baseline in the upcoming days/weeks.

Site characteristics

Other than content about performances and performers, the site includes a B2C component for online ticket sales, so the conversion process is obviously a key element in measuring the success of the site. There are numerous events, dates, different seatings categories, various discounts etc. so the event and seating selection needs to be as intuitive as possible. There's even a "view from your seat" feature. The website also needs to reflect the unique mood and experience that is ballet. Unique site design, some high-res pictures and short movies bring a touch of class to the whole online experience.

Shame on me, I never went to a ballet event other than The Nutcracker... nevertheless I can appreciate the qualities of this form of Art and I will plan on attending one of the upcoming performance.

[WASP] minor bug fixes - v0.32

I decided to do another quick release of WASP to fix minor issues.

Getting it or upgrading

Three easy ways to upgrade or get WASP:
  1. Visit and click on the large "Download" button
  2. If you already have WASP, the easiest way to upgrade is simply to do "Tools/Add-ons" from the Firefox menu, then click on the "Find Updates" button.
  3. Alternatively, if you already have WASP installed, Firefox will eventually trigger an automatic update and prompt you to confirm.

New & improved

Here's whats new and enhanced in v0.32:
  • Improved: There's one major change in this release: WASP now looks at the HTTP GET rather than the RESPONSE. A bit technical, but what this means is a slightly better detection. I was also able to further optimize then detection algorithm.
  • Improved: WASP was already handling Google Analytics (GA code) and Google Analytics (Urchin code) and now offer better handling of Google Website Optimizer.
  • Improved: For Omniture SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics, there's now a quick-help that shows when you click on one item from the tree.
  • New: Now detects 77 solutions including WysiStat, TNS Metrix, ProspectXtractor, m-pathy.

What's next?

Following my call for "angel advisers" and a "user group" I got amazing feedback. On the advisers side, I'm very thankful to great minds of the web analytics industry who took some of their precious time on the phone or through email. People like Bryan Eisenberg, Avinash Kaushik, Joseph Carrabis, John Hossack from VKI Studios and Brian Clifton. I was in "listening" mode, gathering recommendations and advices to better orient WASP from a business perspective. The next step will be to reach out to the user base and set the list of features and prioritize them for a v1.0 of WASP.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Six Pixels of Separation: interview with Jim Sterne

Last week, on the evening before our WAA/eMetrics Breakfast in Montreal , I had the chance to have dinner with Jim Sterne, Mitch Joel, Andrea Hadley and Jeff Conatser at Cafe Melies.

Just before dinner, Mitch recorded one of his famous podcasts and interviewed Jim Sterne. So head to Six Pixels of Separation to download the podcast. And if you listen to the podcast, you'll hear Jim's impressions about the complexity or simplicity of web analytics.

And on the same topic, you can view what I presented last Wednesday on the WASSUP approach to a successful web analytics program.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Web analytics is not hard, it's exciting!

The Kaushik vs Peterson, hard vs easy saga continues...

Following my post about Firing pixels: web analytics is hard or easy? I exchanged a couple of emails with Peterson. The latest I got was
"I’m adding you to my “web analytics is easy” list … which is kind of sad. Next big audience you’re in front of ask them whether WA is easy or hard. Then ask them why they find it so."
My point is this: ask anyone if their job is easy, regardless of the field. You are very likely to get a clear "no, it's hard" in return. Probably something to do with human nature!

"Hard" is not exclusive to web analytics, and I think it's not any harder than many of the jobs out there. We are in mostly new, uncharted territory, where we have to learn, experiment, make mistakes and explain again and again what is, or is not, web analytics.

I don't call that "hard", I call that "exciting"!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

WASSUP? Four elements of a succesful web analytics program

When we ask "WASSUP?" we're seeking a fair and honest answer, but what we often get is the default "yeah, fine". When it comes to web analytics, we also ask how it's going, and we want the right answer!

Here's the presentation I gave yesterday morning during our WAA/eMetrics Breakfast.

If you have trouble viewing the presentation, use this link instead. I'm experimenting with VoiceThread, an amazing way to communicate and get involved into a conversation, so I'm looking for your feedback! Click on the "record" or "type" to add your comments directly into the presentation!


  • Web
  • Analytics
  • Strategy: Trinity, the classic from Avinash Kaushik about Behavior, Outcomes and Experience
  • Strategy: Multiplicity: also from Avinash; using multiple tools and sources of information to come up with better insights
  • Ultimate Team: multidisciplinary and empowered teamwork from the Business/Marketing, IT and Analysis sides
  • Process: Systematic, with SMART objectives, Continuous and considering an ever changing environment
  • ! Obvious? Easy! We're just having trouble putting it into action.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Firing pixels: web analytics is hard or easy?

In the old days we had an expression for emails that were very emotional, passionate, the virtual equivalent of an hostile conversation where the tone raise as each proponent get entrenched in their opinion. We called those "flame mails" or simply "flaming".

What we are witnessing between two great minds of the web analytics field, namely Avinash Kaushik and Peterson, is much more subtle than flaming. It's more like "firing pixels" at each other. Always polite, always very professional, but at the same time, we can feel a growing level of sarcasm. Using the power of pixels to express their opinions...

Now what? Is web analytics hard, difficult, painful, easy, whatever?
Let me ask this: when have you met someone who said his/her job was a walk in the park, everything was under control, no sweat, watching the game, having a Bud...

Web analytics is hard/difficult/complex

When we look at the whole picture, web analytics is hard and difficult. Hey! If someone can travel the world and get acclaimed for stating such an evidence, it must be true isn't it? Building a house is also hard, difficult and complex if you don't have a blueprint, if you don't have the right set of skills, if you don't have the right material and always change your goals. If it was easy, more companies would succeed, no?

Web analytics is easy

Look at the definition of "business process" on Wikipedia. We keep earing web analytics is a process, not a tool. You will find out that a process has a couple of characteristics:
  1. Definability: It must have clearly defined boundaries, input and output.
  2. Order: It must consist of activities that are ordered according to their position in time and space.
  3. Customer: There must be a recipient of the process' outcome, a customer.
  4. Value-adding: The transformation taking place within the process must add value to the recipient, either upstream or downstream.
  5. Embeddedness: A process can not exist in itself, it must be embedded in an organizational structure.
  6. Cross-functionality: A process regularly can, but not necessarily must, span several functions.
Any process can become overly complex if not broken down into smaller chunks of specific and achievable tasks. This morning, at the Montreal eMetrics Breakfast I presented the WASSUP approach (more on that in an upcoming post), so obvious, so simple, so easy. Most people will say there's nothing new, and they are right! We already know the theory and the concepts.

So tonight I'm taking position: web analytics is easy, we just have a hard time putting it into action.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

eMetrics breakfast: prologue

This weekend I moved some furniture and hurt my back. I even had to cancel a round trip to Toronto today. Standing up is ok, being seated is fine, it's the long way between those two position that makes me feel like I'm 100 years old...

Nevertheless, I drove 4 hours in "yet another snow storm" from Quebec city to Montreal, what usually takes between two and half and three hours. I wouldn't have missed the wonderful dinner at Cafe Melies with Jim Sterne, Mitch Joel, Andrea Hadley and Jeff Conatser. Tomorrow morning is our eMetrics Breakfast in Montreal where we're expecting to have a turnout of about 60 people.

As you can imagine, the discussion turned around marketing, analytics and social media pretty much all the time. Joel did a wonderful interview of Jim, look for the podcast on Six Pixels of Separation (not available yet, I will post the link when it's available).

I felt like the newbie avidly listening to the conversation about the art of speaking; both Jim & Joel are amazing speakers!

Stay posted, I will put up a summary of tomorrow's presentations. I will also post my presentation and comment it for those who miss it.

Hey! Thanks Joseph!

Sometimes we say "thank you" as a form of social best practice, a bit automated and cold. Sometimes we say "thank you" from our heart, a real and sincere "thank you" for making us feel the warmth of being listened to, for the pleasure of sharing and spending time that makes us better persons in our professional and personal lives.

Thank you Joseph!

Honestly, that's what I felt this week end when my friend Joseph Carrabis and his CEO wife Susan came visit us in Quebec city. How in the world can people from different countries, different background and (sorry Joseph!) different ages get along so well? I don't know, but it just happen to be. My wife is a bit shy, but at first glance, she knew Joseph and Susan would be friendly and "compatible". It's a strange feeling, why do we meet people and we instantly know "it doesn't fit", and others we know we'll have great time with? Of course we talked about web analytics and the upcoming eMetrics conference where we will be on a panel to discuss about cultural behavior, and he gave me great advices for WASP. But we also discussed hunting, religion, history, politics, career, etc.

According to Wikipedia, a handshake is "a short ritual in which two people grasp each other's right or left hands". The formality stops there. If you give the right hand and put your left hand on the arm or shoulder, it demonstrate respect & friendship. If two nearly 6' tall men hug each other and their wifes say "HOooo!"... priceless :)