Over the course of the last year or so, “analytics” has been billed in the digital media press as the strategic frontier for the digital space. I am taking a course on web analytics this month—guess I’m on the bandwagon! It’s 8 long hours in a classroom for 3 Saturdays in a row(!). At least it’s February, and I don’t have to feel like I’m letting the good weather pass me by. It’s been a good course so far—I’ve just one Saturday to go—and I’ve learned some interesting things, many of which I’ll share with you. This post will also be helpful to explain the somewhat more technical terms that get thrown about when the digerati (the press and talking heads of the digital world) talk about Google.
“Analytics” is basically the art and science of aggregating, organizing and rationalizing the mountains of data your average website kicks up. It’s a big part CRM (customer relationship management) within the digital space. Everything from how site visitors find you, every single action (especially purchases) they take on your site, past behavior of individual visitors, etc. This data gets analyzed at the single user level, in aggregate and, most powerfully, in segments (i.e., shared trait/behavior groupings). Website publishers make this data work very hard to ensure that the products, services and content to which visitors are most likely to respond remains front and center on their sites. Behavior profile-based probability statistics, for example, are key to recommendations that e-retailers like Amazon and content sites like Netflix serve up. Indeed, the best kind of data for recommending content and products is past behavior. But first you’ve got to get people on your site, either by a direct appeal or showing up when and where prospective customers are looking. Let’s turn to that next
A company wishing to market itself can purchase data from information vendors in order to prospect potential customers who match the company’s value proposition. This is approach is largely associated with email marketing campaigns. There are these email list vendors/brokers out there who buy from websites that solicit registrations from visitors as part of their standard course of online interaction with those visitors. In turn, those websites in turn sell to bundles of emails to marketers, often via list brokers. Marketers define the criteria for the target recipient pool and work out the scope and structure of their email marketing campaign. In most cases, the marketer never sees the email addresses that will get used in their campaign. It’s the list vendor who sends the emails. It’s only when a recipient takes some self-identifying action in response to the email that the marketer is able to ID anyone. Nifty, no? (Well, actually, don’t be too impressed. It’s just the 21st century version of what direct marketers have done for years by post.)
So that’s one way to get people onto your site. The other important angle is to be present when prospective customers are looking for sources like you—i.e., in searches. You may have heard the acronyms SEO and SEM. They stand for search engine optimization and search engine marketing. Because Google commands 65% of the searches people do online, SEO and SEM focus heavily on techniques that work well in Google searches. (An aside: These two concepts are great examples of how entire industries and professions are being built on Google’s dominance—it’s like a Wal-Mart effect.) Yahoo and Bing are the #2 and #3 players in search with about 15% share each. I’m thinking Google will keep the lead for a long while yet because there are so many services and platforms that directly (e.g., Google AdWords) or indirectly reinforce its dominance.
SEO covers the set of techniques one uses to ensure that page shows up first in the results set that a search on Google, Yahoo or Bing returns (“organic search”). A site/page’s rank is mostly a function of topical-relevance to the search term—each of the search engines have programs (“bots”) that comb the internet indexing websites for specific identifiers (e.g., page title, tags, identifying descriptors). Then, the search engine uses that indexed information to serve up search results. The quality of a website’s information also figures into its ranking. The search results algorithm assesses information quality by the number of sites that link to you. The more other websites point to pages on a website, the more reputable the information on that site will be deemed.
Now, anyone who has used Google and Yahoo More than a few times has noticed a set of results in a “Sponsored Results” section. It’s frequently the deep-pocketed marketers show up at the top of that section. Dollars spent per click (‘cost per click’, measured in thousands and referred to as “CPM”) drives the ranking. But for Google, website quality and content relevance also plays a significant part. Cool that their ad ranking algorithm is designed to also value quality, no?
So that’s a taste of what I’ve been learning. Good stuff, all. In reflecting on the class, I can see why businesses are so anxious to make sense of the data, yet so frustrated by the volume of it. There aren’t universal standards for how internet data gets structured. And I haven’t even gotten into how social media, app usage and off-line data all intersects with it (yikes!). Furthermore, there aren’t that many people out there who do internet data analytics well. Because of these efficiency and knowledge gaps, lots of money will surely continue to go to those who can integrate the data and derive actionable strategic insight from it.