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.
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.
One of the first adding machines was created in the mid-1600s. It took another two centuries before they were common in the workplace. Did adding up figures suddenly become more difficult or error-prone after two centuries? What exactly about numbers changed in the late 1800’s to make this new technology so suddenly appealing?
Of course the answer is that it was us who changed, not the fundamentals of math. To say we changed slowly is an understatement — in spite of the major economic improvements and workplace enhancements that came from their adoption.
It’s hard to imaging myself being one of those poor office clerks who added figures in his head all day, back in the so-called Age of Enlightenment. What I can be pretty sure of is this: A machine that does adding for you must have initially seemed far-fetched; even comical. How on earth could a machine do the work of the human brain? There must be some sort of catch.
Of course you know where I’m going with this.
Many writers of obituaries for the soon-to-be-euthanized Google Wave have said it was a slick solution lacking a problem. It therefore died of neglect.
I agree that it lacked a critical mass of users, but I disagree with the “lack of problem” assertion. Google Wave did real work, and it did it in a way that was flawed but thrilling for the vast potential it represented. At least, it thrilled me.
Ever since the mid-1990s, when I read the book of a very young Michael Schrage, No More Teams!: Mastering the Dynamics of Creative Collaboration, I realized that there were many barriers to good workplace collaboration. Chief among them was technology. Especially back then, personal computers were isolating machines. They forced us to relate with a small screen and a single keyword.
One of his observations was that before we could take the next incremental leap in teamwork, we needed a revolution in the technology that supports us. Of course he was right, but his pronouncement overlooked another barrier: We might be handed the technology we need to collaborate in a networked age and its environment so unfamiliar that it is almost universally rejected.
If you and I pulled up a site’s analytics, and I asked you to show me the key performance indicators (KPIs), the chances are good you’d start with Unique Visitors. Google provides that figure near the top of its Google Analytics (GA) dashboard.
Behind that number is a story that can make the best of us wince — or in the case of the esteemed Avinash Kaushik, laugh nervously.
The story behind it is like a cross between a Senate Budget Reconciliation Hearing and an episode of The Sopranos. It includes numbers that never add up, shifting definitions of a word (“unique”), and one powerful yet tragically flawed KPI that is quietly driven out to the woods and eliminated. Although the people at GA don’t call it that. They call it being “deprecated.”
I was reminded of this when a client emailed me asking for clarity. There had been a discussion of Google Analytic’s “Absolute Unique Visitors” and its “Unique Visitors.” She wrote: “So let me see if I have it right regarding the difference between an absolute and regular unique. An absolute is someone who’s only visited once during said timeframe and is counted as one. Unique is someone who’s visited any number of times during said timeframe and is counted as one? Is this correct?”
My reply was longer than I would have liked, but had some things about it that could be helpful for others of my readers. A version of it is below, with all client information changed or eliminated. It began with this: “Your definition of the absolute unique visitor is exactly correct. Your definition of the (merely) unique visitor is also exactly as I’d described it — although in your description you used a “metric” (which is a type of visitor) to define a “dimension” (which is a number, as in a visit count).”
Metric versus Dimension, you say?
Understanding what a unique visitor is requires knowing a bit about how the system measures things.
Google Analytics allows for flexible reporting by creating categories of things, Dimensions, and then counting them using Metrics.
Think of how you describe a newborn’s vitals stats:
Weight = 6 pounds 5 ounces
Length = 18 inches
(By guessing at that last number I may have inadvertently revealed that I’ve never had a child or been around a delivery, and haven’t a clue what a typical newborn’s length is).
The point is the first part of the sentence is the dimension and the second part, which is the counting part, is the metric. Thrown in at the end is the unit of measure — ounces and inches.
Google Analytics blows people’s minds by having both a dimension and a metric to describe one thing: visitor frequency.
This is sloppy, and it’s a measure of how Google improves its products in gradual increments. GA is an analytics system that is excellent but experiencing growing pains.
It is here — with GA’s parallel accounting of visitors — that the whole unique visitor thing starts breaking down.
In October of last year Google started phasing out its predecessor, “ga:countOfVisits,” from which the “Absolute Unique Visitors” had always been generated.
Now when you look that old dimension, the data dictionary describes it this way: “… (deprecated) … See ga:visitCount.” If you look for ga:countOfVisits in the GA API data dictionary, you’ll even see it’s been grayed out.
The description goes on to say this now-mostly-vanquished dimension is the “Number of visits to your website,” and is, “calculated by determining the number of visitor sessions.”
So it’s “ga:countOfVisits = 1″ that gave us Absolute Unique Visitor.
For my clients, when I look for that old workhorse of a KPI in the GA Dashboard navigation, I see it’s gone totally missing. Does yours still have it? The answer depends, I’ve been led to believe, on where you are in the phase-out yet. Eventually the Absolute Unique Visitor will be completely wiped out, in favor of “ga:visitCount = 1″ — Unique Visitor.
There is also a metric (as opposed to those two dimensions I was telling you about), called “ga:newVisits.” This is extremely useful. But it is a metric, so it can only be expressed when paired with a dimension (is 18 inches meaningful at all if it wasn’t associated with a newborn?).
The data dictionary describes this metric as “The number of visitors whose visit to your website was marked as a first-time visit.”
The Man With Two Watches
This is a lot of ways to find the same thing — How many visitors, without repeating any, have come to your site? I’m reminded of the Chinese adage, “The man with one watch always knows what time it is. The man with two is never sure.”
The only reassuring news is this:
It is only analytics reporting that goes much deeper than a superficial number that actually provides actionable insights. Visitors — unique or otherwise — only become truly important to a business in terms of what they have done and what they’re doing now!
If you want to share a laugh about this topic, I present this YouTube video of Avinash fielding questions from viewers. He laughs nervously, but then provides the news that the phase-out is gradually progressing:
An inflection point is a term from calculus. It’s a place where a charted curve changes direction. Inflection points make interesting charts. They can also be harrowing for passengers zooming along the curve, hanging on for dear life. Just ask today’s struggling newspapers, publishing houses and record labels. Many would tell you that passing an inflection point is as fun as passing a kidney stone, only it takes longer. But the worst of a harrowing ride may be close to over.
At least for two industries, we may finally be rounding the midway point between mostly analog and mostly digital.
True, the delivery of DVDs to customers’ mailboxes is already partly digital. The first “D” in DVD is “Digital.” But reliance on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver those digital packages is fraught with expense and inefficiency; Expensive, because — to quote Jeff Jarvis — atoms are a drag. And inefficient, because you need a physical warehouse of disks. Only a finite number of people can watch the same film on the same day.
Then, earlier this week, I read that Amazon is now selling more e-books than hardcovers. The speed of this shift to reading on Kindles, iPads and other e-readers is a surprise even to those who should know better. Amazon says they now sell 180 e-books for every 100 hardcover books. A few months ago it was only 143 for every 100!
This is even more astonishing when you take into account that, according this New York Times article, “Amazon has 630,000 Kindle books, a small fraction of the millions of books sold on the site.”
Change is painful. But the worst pain is cyclical.
Sometimes it feels like the world is racing to a terrible future — similar to the ancient world maps where waters on the outer fringes had sober warnings of sea monsters. But at least from a cultural / technological perspective, call me an optimist. (I don’t speak here of the world’s geopolitical or ecological fate, and don’t get me started!)
I believe the voyage around this and similar inflection points is taking us to a pretty cool place. We just need to hold on tight and be prepared when we hit land. The other side of this curve will be as brimming with opportunity as it is different from the world we know now.
If you’re redesigning your site, or working on a redesign for others, isn’t it time to stop and think about how you’ll be measuring success? Follow these six guidelines to ensure that the output of what you produce won’t be left to guesswork. These recommendations will help you design your new site in a way that works well with Google Analytics.
1.) Add Google Analytics scripting to all pages
Every page that you’d like to measure needs to have the GA scripting appearing somewhere in the code. It’s often omitted from pages that load in “real” pages using iFrames, or other pages such as obscure forms. This isn’t a problem until you need to measure these page loads as steps to a GA “Goal” (what Google calls a conversion). Sometimes this page even becomes the Goal itself.
2.) Try not to convert on another site
In other words, if possible avoid having a call-to-action point people to an extranet, or some other site configured exclusively for processing transactions. Instead, always strive to have those actions take place on the same site, with pages that are fully coded for GA monitoring. Otherwise, you bring visitors to the point of converting and Poof! They’ve left you. Then you’ll have trouble measuring those conversions in the Google Analytics reporting.
3.) Choose AJAX over Flash when possible
What’s more, with HTML5, Flash is becoming even less crucial when you need to deliver a high-end presentation experience. Of course, somethings there is not option.
4.) Ensure each of your page titles is unique — and yes, give each page a title!
Does this look familiar from the search engine optimization advice you’re read? It happens to be one of the most important things you can do to help search engines. You’ll recall that search engine optimization (SEO) experts also recommend you load these <title> tags with keywords that matter from an SEO perspective. But that’s not why I recommend it here.
Name your pages uniquely and it will be easier to generate user-friendly reports of page views and pathways in GA. In many places on the dashboard, Google Analytics’s reporting allows for real names of pages to be listed, instead of web addresses.
This wonderful feature is sorely underused because so many sites have duplicate page titles — or too many pages with no titles at all!
5.) Ensure one URL per page
Some sites include two or sometimes more web addresses for many of its pages!
Here’s a hypothetical situation. If a webmaster of a site wanted to give a blog contributor a more user-friendly (and search-friendly) profile page, they might use a redirect. For instance www.mybusiness.com/display.asp?ID=463 might become www.mybusiness.com/writers/bill-smith/ That’s awesome, but I’ve personally encountered businesses that accomplished these friendly web addresses through sometimes hundreds of redirects that aren’t at the DOM level. It takes a 301 or 302 to do that DOM level change, which is the only way that GA can log page views correctly. By using other types of redirects to create these new page URLs, the webmasters create a mess in GA!
Imagine: How do you measure page views and much else, when GA reports one number of views for the first URL, and a second number of views for the second, both for the very same page? The answer is you either have to add them up, or hope webmasters followed #4 and used truly unique page titles. Otherwise the consequences is a ton more work extracting good data and a limited scope of what you can report!
Google Analytics reports best when pages are organizing by folders — either real or generated (using those 301/302’s and a smart set of rules). That example above could have pages along this organization:
You get the idea.
The consideration of folder names and levels is extremely important, not just to help humans and search engines, but to make your reports in Google Analytics a little easier to understand. They sometimes make the reporting more accurate.
Note: These folding level are NOT necessarily reflective of the navigation within the site. It is not necessary that they coincide perfectly. This foldering protocol would be purely the URLs displayed in the browser address bar, and nothing else. You could have differences in, say, the breadcrumb navigation displayed on each page.
Are there others I missed?
Those are the six more obvious rules for designing sites to work best with GA. Your comments on other ways are always welcome.
Yesterday Naomi Harm give a keynote address at the Lake Geneva Schools Technology Academy, an educational event for elementary, middle school and high school teachers. Although I wasn’t at the event, word reached me about a social media-inspired educational platform called Twiducate. Similar to Yammer (“Twitter for intra-business communication”), Twiducate does not use the already overtaxed Twitter platform, but instead uses many of the principles that make Twitter so useful.
I took a test-drive of Twiducate last night, and two things struck me. The first revelation I had became the title for this post; The developers of Twiducate will be hard-pressed to stop work groups other than classrooms from using the tool. The other revelation is about education reform. Yes, reform won’t happen on its own. But certain facets of it will happen naturally, “seeping in” from the emerging social media zeitgeist. Avoiding new teaching environments like Twiducate will be like holding back a rising tide.
Here’s a video:
So: Will the subversion of this tool be harmful?
I think asking the question is moot. This type of thing will happen regardless. I’m thinking of at least two other examples of where a social network is forced to morph because of the unintended uses those pesky members decide to put it to.
Fotolog.com started as a primarily photo-sharing site, similar to Flickr.com. But its meteoric growth in the last decade — especially in Chile, Argentina and Brazil — was due to users hopping on to connect and generally socialize. Sharing favorite pics became secondary.
If the above sounds like dumb luck — like simply being in the right place with the right product (read: social toolset) — you’re right. And you’re also probably thinking of my second example. Although Mark Zuckerburg might posit that Facebook’s growth was all part of some master plan, we shouldn’t forget that he built it in his dorm, six years ago, as merely a “Harvard-thing” — primarily an easy way for him and others to organize study groups.
Check out Twitucate. Do you agree that it’s more than education’s new “Moodle-killer?” Does it have “legs” beyond academia, and is that a good thing?
As you’ll read if you take the test, one achieved a better email open rate and click-through-rate, while the other was more effective at inducing purchase.
Can you guess which is which, and why?
I guessed correctly. One would hope, given my background. You can read my rationale in the comments section, which becomes available once you vote. Don’t be disappointed; at least when I took the test, a clear majority guessed incorrectly.
Full disclosure: Sony Creative Software — and Kevin St. Angel, their director of ecommerce extraordinaire — was a client of mine in a “past life.” My policy of never talking about client work in this blog doesn’t come into play here.
It’s not that they are no longer a client. That wouldn’t matter. But since Sony has made this test public I feel free to discuss it and encourage further discussion on Anne’s site.
As co-host of Milwaukee Likemind (search for #MKElikemind on Twitter), I never fail to enjoy the presentations. True, I help to choose the content … but take my word for it. I’m also constantly surprised by the fascinating twists and unexpected tangents these conversational events take.
Jim Raffel, CEO of ColorMetrix Technologies and blogger at JimRaffel.com, has some big ideas on how to improve your blog. At least, he has formulated and put into practice many ways to improve his own blog, and he has offered to share with you some of the best. Jim will be speaking at the July 16, 2010 Milwaukee Likemind, starting at 7:00 AM. …
Even if you do not currently have a blog, or manage a blog for your business, Jim’s message is one you should hear. That includes:
If you don’t have a blog now, considering getting one
Consider your blog a way to advance your personal brand
The blog as an “ongoing job interview”
“Twitter is great, but it’s microblogging. It gives you a chance to say what you’re thinking. But it doesn’t represent rich ideas or insights” Jim said. “Your blog is where you can drive people to find out more about you.”
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!
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!
Guerrilla marketing, a concept coined by Jay Conrad Levinson and made popular during a simpler pre-Internet age, was never as easy as it sounded. The Internet’s arrival as a marketing tool didn’t make guerrilla marketing less relevant. It did heap on potentially detrimental distractions.
I was reminded of this when Jon Mueller announced the topic of his presentation, set for this Friday morning at Milwaukee’s June Likemind meet-up. The title is DIY: The Fine Line Between Building and Killing an Idea. Jon acknowledges that modern technology grants us unprecedented power to launch an idea or market a business. In some ways it’s a Utopia to the Jay Conrad Levinson of that long series of guerrilla marketing books. Each explored a different facet using guerrilla warfare tactics to out-compete bigger and better financed competitors.
Jon’s talk will describe how technology has not made do-it-yourself (DIY) marketing necessarily more surefire. He’ll explore how digital marketing provides “distraction, an assumption of promise (if I use this, the result will be this), and a diminished true interaction between people.” In other words, the very technology that can be a DIY heaven can also be a marketer’s undoing.
Since Jon is general manager of the business book giant 800ceoread.com, I’m expecting him to be citing business books like the Guerrilla Marketing series — but also more recent books on the perils of the Internet age.
Finally, I’d like to brag about a one-degree-of-separation moment I had a few days ago. I met a co-author of two of the Guerrilla Marketing books. Al Lautenslager (a.k.a., @GMarketingGuy) is based in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was interesting to chat with someone who is keeping Levinson’s ideas current, as is evidenced by a smartly done and decidedly DIY marketing website. I hope we keep in touch, Al!
Marketing Technology Musings and Tips by Jeff Larche