Category Archives: Visualization

Visualizing bounce rates using brownie charts

Today on Jason Fall’s Social Media Explorer, I discuss my new favorite data visualization technique — one that I’m starting to move into production with web analytics reports I create for clients. Its official name is the Tree Map, but as I mention in that post, I prefer to call it The Brownie Chart.

That post has an example of how I use brownie charts to show a promising new web metric, the content interest index (CII). My example on the site uses a made-up business, Everything Brownies, with a web address of EB.com.

Note: Yes, I know. That web address resolves to a real encyclopedia site. The reason I didn’t just make up a domain name is you never know when one will go live with a site. I didn’t want to have someone inform me, two months from now, that my blog is now pointing to a porn or gambling site! Unless Encyclopedia Britannica takes a surprisingly sleazy turn, I think I’m safe.

Here is another example of how the tree map / brownie chart can make web analytics reporting easier to understand:

Charting Bounce Rates: “I came, I saw, I puked.”

I agree with Avinash Kaushik that bounce rates are a helpful way to measure how well you’re connecting with site visitors. Actually, he’s a little more enthusiastic than I am, with blog post titles such as this model of understatement: Bounce Rate: The Sexiest Metric Ever? Three years ago, on his own blog, Avinash described bounce rates this way:

So what is this mysterious metric? In a nutshell bounce rate measures the percentage of people who come to your website and leave “instantly.”

They’re the one-page visitors. Yes, they might be finding what they were looking for — but more often than not, these people just didn’t dig the neighborhood.

Avinash has refined his description over time. In his recent, truly outstanding book on measuring web traffic, Web Analytics 2.0, he characterizes bounce rates this way: “I came, I saw, I puked.”

Bounces can be reviewed for all traffic to a site, or only for certain important segments — traffic from search engines is a good example. Reporting of bounce rates can also be broken down by page.

The brownie chart becomes particularly handy for this per-page bounce rate reporting. It helps those responsible assess the severity of a site’s problem pages.

You see, you can’t easily be sure that a page with a high bounce rate really is a problem page. Think of it: If nearly everyone ups and leaves when they arrive at a particular page, but that page gets relatively little traffic, there’s no huge emergency. Content management resources are usually scarce, so it’s better to keep looking, for other pages that attract more page views that happen to have comparatively high bounce rates. It’s those more popular pages that require immediate first aid!

To illustrate, take a look at Everything Brownies’ bounce rates on this brownie chart. The graphic shows all major pages of this fictitious site, and shows the pages as more red if they have the highest bounce rates relative to the others. You should know that size represents the relative numbers of page views. The bigger the “brownie piece,” the more views that page gets.

What does this chart tell us? Quite a bit.

The Holiday Brownie Baking Kit, which I placed my mouse over in this screen capture, has an excellent (i.e., low) bounce rate. It also has a ton of page views.

That means this page is doing quite well in keeping visitors from leaving immediately. Well done! On the other hand, Deluxe Baking Pan is not nearly as successful. Its relative bounce rate is quite high, and because it has the most page views of the entire site, it’s clear this page is majorly dropping the ball!

There are plenty more insights, but you get the picture.

As I mentioned on Jason’s blog, what I like about this charting format is non-math types (such as myself!) can understand these statistics immediately, and know exactly what needs to be investigated further — and in what order of priority. As my friend Bob likes to say, “That’s good stuff!”

I hope you find the potential of this charting technique as exciting at I do.

A Round of Applause for BeGraphic and Sparklines for Excel

This example of a fake report for EB.com, as well as the one on Social Media Explorer, was produced using an “Add-on” for Excel called BeGraphic. The Add-on consists of a whole suite of graphic tools — all based on Excel data and rendered within that application. The particular functions I used were part of Sparklines for Excel within the BeGraphic suite. I urge you to support the folks behind these amazing visualization tools.

Overcoming the treachery of analytics

What do these three quotes have in common?

  • “Worship no false idols” — The First Commandment in the Old Testament
  • “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” — Zen adage
  • “Become a ruthless killing machine when it comes to metrics/data” — Avinash Kaushik in a recent blog post.

If you guessed that they all warn (with increasing violence!) against mistaking the symbol of something for the real thing, congratulations! You won a pipe. Surrealist painter René Magritte painted this particular pipe as a way to get us thinking about the paradox of symbols. Under it he painted a caption, “This is not a pipe.”

To drive his point home, Magritte named the painting, The Treachery of Images.

So how can we know when it’s time to wage war against our own treacherous web analytics? And once the body count has been tallied, what takes their place? What do we use to answer key questions and spur appropriate actions?

Results Simply Summarized

The answer: Show your audience only what they really want to know — not mere numbers and measurements, but the other RSS: results simply summarized. Here’s Avinash’s post for the full story.

And here it is in a nutshell:

He describes a favorite application he downloaded for his Nexus One phone. It’s a cardio trainer. The app starts out just like another popular body monitoring system. I’m thinking of the Nike Plus application for the iPhone. Both give the standard run-down of miles run and progress achieved, compared with past sessions.

The cardio trainer app then makes an elegant attempt at RSS. Avinash, for one, feels that it succeeds. I agree. It refocuses attention past the numbers to the actual workout goal.

At the end of each run, to reflect his level of exertion, Avinash is presented with an award of sorts. The screen shows two pieces of fruit — two pairs. They represent the number of calories burned. The pairs are his to enjoy guilt-free. (Or he can imagine a calorie-laden equivalent, in a mental swap of one food for another. Perhaps the next version of the app will allow users to actually do this; To replace the outline of two pears with a rendering of a candy bar, or a couple of bottles of beer!)

You might think these graphics are the same as Magritte’s pipe — mere symbols; not the real thing. You’d be overlooking a major distinction.

All Magritte was doing was showing the pipe. Avinash’s workout app was presenting the pears — awarding them. It was the summarization of the data behind it, proving to Avinash that this was his hard-won snack. It says, “Here you go. You earned it.”

Connecting On Two Levels

The representation of the pears became something he could connect with — both rationally and emotionally. Unlike Magritte’s pipe, the pears are results, supported by evidence. Consequently, for the recipient, they become so real that person could almost taste them!

Sadly, if most analytics pros were asked to cut out their own distracting and unpersuasive metrics, little would be left. Most metrics talk and talk but never get to the point.

This is precisely what senior management does not want. They want quick and truthful take-aways. Will they be dining on one delicious pear this month, or two? Or will there be none at all?

Of course business leaders wouldn’t want to see pears in their analytics. That would be absurd. So what do they care about? They want to see money of course. Or at least, clear proxies for money. Showing images of people is always good, since selling things to people is the surest path to making money. With that in mind, consider using generic silhouettes of them, shown judiciously, and with data that supports their numbers on the page.

Be bold. Show senior management that their site generated more sales leads this month — as represented by silhouettes of cookie-cutter executives (presumably eager to know more about the product). Count them. How many more are there this month compared to last? Line them up for comparison, month-to-month or year-to-date.

Or, as another example, show how the website is lowering operational costs. Illustrate the success of answering more consumer questions online versus having these people call your pricey phone center. In this case, the graphic could be a string of telephone headset icons. Compared to last month, are there fewer of them shown, or more?

Go on your own metrics killing spree, but first, know what you’re pursuing.

Kill any metric that produces more smoke than light. Allow the remaining metrics to build upon each other and add richness to your story. Then, as a satisfying grace note, find that single graphic which best sums up the current situation. Use symbolic language that is meaningful to your audience, to transcend facts and figures.

Do this, and far from being Magritte’s pipe, this graphic will be your own “Avinash’s pears.”

MindJet adds Gantt charting to its mind mapping software

I’ve been an advocate of mind mapping for years, and have recently talked about my preference for using MindJet.com’s mind mapping product, MindManager. I even demonstrated its power, while leading a discussion about rich digital media, at an UnGeeked Conference in May. I find the system a huge time-saver. Now MindJet has upgraded their software to include a valuable way to share project roles, deadlines and milestones: Gantt charting.

Since the 1990s I’ve appreciated the ability of Gantt charts to bring teams to agreement on project roles and deadlines. It’s an equally valuable way to show clients how any delay in supplying crucial content or sign-offs can push web launch dates out. Below is an example:

The detail is intentionally too small to make out, because I’ve used live client details. From left to right, this chart shows the task name, and start date, end date, and duration in days. After that is the chart itself. Milestones are the green bars. Every task within that milestone must be completed before the milestone is reached and the next milestone and task set begins.

My web development team would “own” some of the tasks, and the client would own others. At a glance, everyone knew what they needed to do and when. They also knew the effects on the project as a whole if they missed their deadline. Great stuff.

Now, the just-released MindManager 9 includes this feature. Below shows a simple Gantt chart, from MindJet’s introductory video:

Needless to say I’m eager to give the Gantt charting a test spin. What’s especially exciting is it takes the collaborative strengths of building a mind map as a team and fairly quickly converts that shared map into a full-blown project plan.

Dashboard liberation: Excellent Analytics moves Google application to Excel

Although it’s easy to bash Microsoft, over the years a handful to tricks have made me an avid fan of Excel. Pivot tables and relational look-ups (all hail VLOOKUP!) are two arrows in my web analytics quiver. I’ve just added another. If you work in Google Analytics a lot, you should too.

Excellent Analytics is a free Excel add-in that truly lives up to its name. It allows you to run queries to Google Analytics’ API right from Excel, and publish its results there.

Say goodbye to many of the “Save to Excel” hassles that used to come with wishing to share and chart Google Analytics results beyond its powerful-yet-limited dashboard.

Go to Excellent Analytics now and give it a try. You’ll need Windows Vista or greater, Microsoft Office 7, and Windows .NET Framework 4. Give yourself a couple of hours to install and learn the system. Then start publishing, charting and sharing. You’ll fall in love the way I did!

World Cup win was also a triumph for Edward Tufte

The U.S. just won a pivotal game in the World Cup, and it was a squeaker. I “watched” it while working, using an amazing new data visualization app on the New York Times website. One tab in particular reminded me of the teachings of data visualization guru Edward Tufte. It showed an easy-to-read display of key game statistics, updated every 15 seconds:

The right column had a pull-down that allows users to see vital statistics about each player. The number of touches in the game, by player, is shown above. Others include fouls, cards, and of course goals (a list of exactly zero players at this point in the game!)

No, I’m not such a data wonk that I could feel like I’ve experienced the action by watching this view. But the other tabs at least gave me a hint at the action I was missing away from the television screen. Check these out, keeping in mind that you can see the latest action, and review the action that took place earlier, in a type of choppy animation, using the timeline player at the bottom of the app:

And here’s another:

Notice, at the very bottom of the graphic, the audio toggle. I chose to keep the app in the background, with the audio turned on. Throughout the game, the app was silent (thank goodness it didn’t pipe the vuvuzela noise through my computer speakers!) That is, the app was silent until that U.S. goal in added time. That’s when I heard a three-second burst of cheers. It was a cue for me to check the app and receive the thrilling news.

Edward Tufte believes the future vitality of business — and perhaps even of our species — hinges on how well we can communicate complex information quickly and intuitively. The Times has adopted many of his favorite techniques, particularly in the Finance and Sports sections. For example, those little sparklines you can find there were first made popular by Tufte.

This latest real time tracking of the complex game of world football (a.k.a. soccer) is a demonstration of how far we’ve come with data visualization, and an exciting taste of the future. Gooooaaaaallllll!

Voice: The original rich media

I had a fun time talking to the group this morning at UnGeeked Elite. I spoke about the power of voice asset management. If you’d like to know more, here’s a post recently on our VoiceScreener blog, by our CEO, Kelly Fitzsimmons, describing Voice as an Asset (VaaA).

I promised to post a mind map of the post-presentation discussion. Here it is (click to expand):

Also, if you want to check out that TEC video, here’s my original post about it, Jeff Han’s demonstration of multi-touch screens. I was wrong in that it’s more slanted than vertical, as I had said in the presentation. I had seen another video of him demonstrating the screen somewhere else, and that one was more vertical, and shot more at a distance.

Finally, Jonathan Brewer, (@houseofbrew) of FirstEdge Solutions had dared me to show him that super-comfortable office chair I work on. Here’s the photo I just posted of it on TweetPhoto (click to expand):

Tuesday’s Milwaukee Pecha Kucha Night will blow you away

Twenty slides, twenty seconds, 120 minutes of anarchy.

That’s the promise behind the upcoming Pecha Kucha event, to be held at the Sugar Maple, on the corner of Lincoln and Kinnickinnic in Milwaukee. Judging from the names I recognized among the list of presenters, this PK Night should be the best yet.

No Cover

Yep. It’s free to get in this time. And because it’s held at the Sugar Maple, there will be a huge assortment of microbrew and imported beers.

Pow? Free? Wow

That’s right. The first 20 people through the door receives a copy of Andy Nulman’s Pow!

Milwaukeans Watching a Pecha Kucha Presentation

As Always, Diverse Topics

Watch presentations that last no longer than seven minutes, on the following:

  • Green Homes
  • Coffee’s Global Impact
  • “I Don’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me”
  • Brewing Beer
  • “Novembeards”
  • The Three Brains of Humans

… And much, much more!

Presenters include James Carlson, Jim Chambers, Fred Gillich, Steve Hawthorne, Ryan Matteson, David Ravel, Winston Smith, Mike Brenner, Betty Blexrud-Strigens, and Jim Warchol.

It all starts at 8 PM this Tuesday, February 23, 2010. I’ll be there. Will you?

Pecha Kucha Milwaukee
at The Sugar Maple
441 E. Lincoln Ave.
Milwaukee, WI

As always, check in at the official Pecha Kucha Milwaukee site for updates!

Related posts:

“A good sketch is better than a long speech”

According to this Harvard Business blog, posted by John Sviokla, the headline is a quote often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte. Below is a sample of a “sketch” that illustrates his premise that there are three strong reasons to pay attention to data visualization when tackling business problems.

The graphic shows a big section of Iowa and a little of the surrounding states, depicting potential demand in the market by darker colors. We gathered this information from external sources and matched it down to localities by state. This "layer" depicts the market potential. The next layer adds the performance of the agencies, shown with different-colored markers
Skiovla writes that the graphic above "shows a big section of Iowa and a little of the surrounding states, depicting potential demand in the market by darker colors. We gathered this information from external sources and matched it down to localities by state. This 'layer' depicts the market potential. The next layer adds the performance of the agencies, shown with different-colored markers."

I came across this through Holy Kaw! from Alltop. Sviokla’s three reasons to provide data visualization are actually questions to ask yourself when you face a problem, or process improvement challenge:

  1. Is there a simple map or maps of information that could make my life easier?
  2. Do we have the ability to take the myriad data and synthesize it into these new forms?
  3. How much time does the organization waste arguing about the facts instead of deepening understanding or crafting solutions?

The take-away: It doesn’t always work, but there are times where you can best solve a problem — and win consensus for that solution — by giving the data over to your graphing software. (My personal favorite way to show data online is Google’s free charts API).

Pecha Kucha Milwaukee wants YOU to make it brief!

The Milwaukee chapter of the internationally-acclaimed Pecha Kucha Night has been on a bit of a haitus. That will all change, come February. Organizer Jon Mueller of 800 CEO Read posted on the central PKN site that he and his team are already looking for speakers:

If you’ve attended an event, you can’t deny that you haven’t thought about what you could present, right? Now’s the time.

We’re planning the next event for February 2010, and want to have you involved. We’re going to make this one the biggest and best yet. So, email me your idea, some sample images you’d use in your presentation, and a brief bio, and I’ll get back to you asap with more info: jon [at sign] 800ceoread [dot] com.

Looking forward to hearing from you, and of course to the next PKN!

Thanks,
Jon | PKN MKE

PKN MKE

I’ll back Jon up on this. The 20-slide / 20-seconds-per-slide format is a blast to watch, and it’s even more fun to present. Check out links below, and contact Jon. You won’t regret it.

Related posts:

Time is the only solution to privacy objections to behavioral targeting

Everyone involved in technology and marketing has had this conversation: They’re in a social setting, and the subject comes up about how technology is crafting messages to match consumer behavior. Someone pipes in, “Oh, like in Minority Report? That’s so wrong!” Although Gmail’s ads are customized based on the content of email messages, I’ve noticed that few object to that practice. Instead, they’ll complain about the ads appearing in Facebook — ads that clearly are using information users have given the network about themselves.

Big Brother Is WatchingIt’s a Catch 22 for online marketers. In order to boost response rates, we need to know more about the people viewing our ads. This work of behavioral targeting sounds like a win/win: “We’ll only provide you with the ads that you will likely care about.” But in practice, consumers get spooked.I’m reminded of direct response research done years ago. It was a survey to find out how people like to be hit up for contributions to non-profit causes.

Here’s how consumers responded:

  1. Least favorite: Personal asks
  2. 2nd Least: Telemarketing calls
  3. 3rd Least: Direct mail

What researchers at the time found telling was the direct correlation that existed between disliking a method of asking for donations and its effectiveness in getting them. In other words, personal asks — your sister-in-law selling Girl Scout cookies for her daughter — are most effective in terms of closing rates. The closing rates of telemarketing (back when this was a more viable medium for fund raising) were nearly as good. And a distant third in terms of effectiveness was direct mail.

So what’s really going on here? The accepted theory is this: We all have limited money to contribute to causes, and we would prefer to put off making decisions about where that money should go. Therefore, the most effective ways of forcing a decision are the least preferred.

Similarly, we love DVRs, because they allow us to zoom past commercials. They give us a way to avoid participating in commerce. They can’t touch us because we’re averting our eyes.

Behavioral targeting, if done properly, presents ads that also touch us. Thus, we look for reasons to hate the practice. Privacy is as good a reason as any and better than most!

So what’s the solution?

I do think that attitudes are slowly changing, and this change will eliminate privacy concerns as a reason to hate behavioral targeting.

Here’s an example. Consumers using social media are getting more comfortable with the various personas that they present on networks. They’ll show their “all-business” persona on LinkedIn, and their more casual facade on Facebook. Both are true depictions of the user, but they’re single facets of a full personality. Context determines how consumers behave on these sites. They are becoming accustomed to being watched by friends and business associates.

Reading Online Body Language

These same consumers are seeing how they can watch their friends right back. They are learning to “read” a friend’s feelings and preferences, based on online behavior. Consumers are getting accustomed to the online equivalent of body language. Or maybe that’s too strong a word. We’re all quite conscious of what we’re conveying, and body language implies unconscious action. Maybe what we’re doing on social media is more akin to a Kabuki dance.

Reading these dances is what marketers behind behavioral targeting are learning at a mass level, and turning into surprisingly accurate algorithms. But when it’s done by machines, in the service of a sale, many consumers still insist it’s “so wrong.”

Perhaps not forever.

To predict how people will react in the future — especially in areas such as privacy — I try to look at real world analogies. It’s not hard to imagine a web site as similar to a retail store. A while ago I wrote about how stores are analyzing shoppers using arrays of cameras. One system, called PRISM, is finding some unexpected insights into shopper preferences and behaviors. Shoppers aren’t getting freaked out. The prime reason: Most are oblivious to the surveillance.

But what if the people behind the cameras sprung up from their chairs and raced into the aisles, to say things like, “I saw you were looking at those lawn rakes. Can we interest you in some yard waste trash bags as well?” There would probably be lost sales, at the very least!

In the online world there are intercepts like this, but they are automated. This automated “intercept” is something people will become more accustomed to over time, as a generation weaned on social media, and used to their online movements being watched, comes into the majority. They will be able to understand that their behavior is being measured by machines as well as their online friends. They’ll realize there is no man behind the online ad “curtain” … just a predictive model.

Blurring The Lens To Reduce The Creep Factor

Another trend that will help the acceptance of behavioral targeting is a move toward more explicit boundaries. For instance, I expect an eventual backlash to camera surveillance such as PRISM. But before this reaction can take hold, the boundaries of store monitoring will likely improve. This improvement in technology will, for once, be toward discreetly blurring the “analytical lens” — instead of making it sharper.

Radio tomographic imaging is a new way to study store traffic. It uses arrays of extremely inexpensive radio transmitters and receivers, placed around buildings, to display people moving within. Below is a demonstration of the technology.

The benefits of this technology over cameras, at least to marketers, is cost — both in equipment and the labor of monitoring. Because people become moving “blobs” of color, it’s easier for computers to analyze traffic patterns and behaviors. Less can sometimes be more. Combine this information with RFID signals and you have a way to track a shopping basket all the way to check-out.

Imagine how this could be used:

Before he leaves that store, a consumer might someday pass an “intelligent end cap.” This smart store display knows — based on radio tomographic imagery, enhanced by RFID data sent to it — when to light up. The end cap would know the consumer has a yard rake, and offers him the trash bags he forgot to add to his list.

This hypothetical consumer will probably be grateful, since he really did need the bags for his yard project. And after all, he was just a blob of color moving through the store.

Ironically, this is the level of detail being used for most online behavioral targeting. This is the “privacy invasion” that is causing such a fuss on Facebook and elsewhere.

Over time, consumers will become more comfortable with behavioral targeting’s perceived betrayal of privacy.

That will leave only one valid objection the technique: They just don’t want to buy more stuff.

Multi-touch table magic, courtesy of MS Surface

Robert Scoble just posted this YouTube video of a demonstration of Microsoft’s Surface multi-touch tabletop monitor. Shot at last week’s Gnomedex, this video serves as a sneak preview of what this technology can do in a social setting.

Last month I posted about the new Bokode barcode. One application I described to friends was its use on trade show floors. The barcodes would be worn on presenter name tags, and reveal much about the wearers to any conference attendee wielding a smart-phone camera (the link to the Bokode post is below).

The MS Surface offers a different solution to the same challenge. It’s one of making the most of a networking opportunity. The tabletop displays the conference’s social graph, which can be manipulated and organized by anyone who steps forward and plops down their name tag.

Making the most of conferences

National conferences demand efficiency from its attendees. The cost in time and money is considerable, so many of us look at them as a competition to beat our personal best: How many relevant contacts can we make? How many friendships and business ties can we deepen? It’s all an effort to be efficient, and not fly home feeling we’ve overspent on a rare chance to make valuable face-to-face contacts.

This strong networking benefit is what’s convinced me that Microsoft is on to something. I suspect the main challenge with their tables will be the over-crowding that takes place around them. Conferences providing this technology will be hard-pressed to have enough tables to go around.

Related links: