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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

SES London, Near-Live Blogging (I)

I just got out of one of the main panels of the day - the "All-Star Analytics Team" Orion Panel (get it, they're stars), which included Bryan Eisenberg and Jim Sterne and several other distinguished voices in the field of "Measuring Success."

Chatting with our multiloquous co-chair Kevin Ryan (and moderator of the session) afterwards I sensed that he is concerned about the entertainment value of SES sessions, especially the big ones held in the Auditorium here at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Analytics... entertainment... tall order. Still, he gave it a mighty shot with an initial reference to deal: he'll go back to America and convince Britney to stop speaking in a fake British accent when in shops, if London folks will stop the terrible fixation with 80's fashion on today's runways. Kevin, might I add, you might want to add a sweetener: talk that PBS-tote-bag carrying "Britophile" from the midwest out of crazy conversations with owners of local laundromats (viz. June 2007, Keswick) -- "Do you still serve teeeaaa? Isn't that graaand!!!" (Imagine this in a Chicago accent, at the top of her lungs.)

Anyway, off topic, as they say on the Internet.

The analytics all-star squad made a number of interesting points.

On accuracy: (In the sense of getting your ad network stats to match your analytics reports exactly, etc.) The consensus around the table (at least, in the easy chairs) was that "total accuracy can't happen." A range of user issues, including increasing privacy concerns (users deleting cookies, for example), drives difficulty in measurement. Beyond this, panelists (particularly Eisenberg) added later that the problem is a "lack of standards about what constitutes a session," or a click, or a visit.

On action: After all these years, corporations are stuck in the "collecting a lot of data, but not acting on it" mode. This theme came out repeatedly. Eisenberg made the point that if he were made to choose only one tool - Google Website Optimizer or Google Analytics - he'd choose Optimizer, because it means you're actively doing something to improve the user experience on the site. I share Bryan's enthusiasm for Optimizer.

On the whole: I have to say it doesn't look too good for third-party analytics providers. All panelists made polite noises that there is still a role for more costly analytics tools, but doing the obvious math, most weren't shying away from the conclusion -- derived from the triple whammy of Google & Microsoft offering a free product, typical users not coming close to using the full feature sets of advanced products, and anecdotal comments about the lack of support from third-party vendors -- that your "dollars" are best spent with a free product.

On social media measurement: This was a highly prosaic conversation, repeatedly returning to the nitty gritty of how to measure the traffic and sales impact of mentions in social media. In the midst of a discussion of tools that can measure the influence of key bloggers, even to the extent of their highly-trafficked discussions creating more discussions, a panelist interjected "What's the dollar value of a discussion?" Perhaps reinforcing the point, probably agreeing with the question, the panel went silent on this point.

However, another argument was made that companies need to start doing a better job of tracking their online reputations - figuring out whether what's being said about them online is positive or negative. Eisenberg wisely argued: "This is not about measurement but about organizations and their capacity to manage this changing realm of reputation. They find it hard to do this because they're stuck in an old-world broadcast model."

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