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Monday, December 22, 2008

Search and Best Results Analytics

Prefetching content is a clever way to speed up your browsing experience. Simply put, given certain conditions, your browser can prefetch web pages, so when you do visit those pages, they are already in your cache, thus speeding the time to display them in your browser.

Google started prefetching content for Firefox users in March of '05. Note that this doesn't work in IE (although StumbleUpon does), nor even in Chrome (although Chrome does prefetch/pre-resolve DNS information). They don't prefetch for all searches...only those where there's one result that has a high likelyhood of being selected...the "best result".

Here's how Google's search prefetching works. You perform a search, say for "apple". You get back something like these results.

Behind the scenes, google has also added an extra tag to one of the links instructing the browser to prefetch the Apple site (again, only Firefox does it) of http://www.apple.com/

For those who want more details, the tag which generates the prefetch includes: link rel="prefetch"

And to tell you maybe even a little more than you want to know (but highlights an important fact), when the browser does prefetch this information, it doesn't fetch any additional objects referenced on the page. Only the HTML content of the link. (yep...if you're using a javascript tagging solution for your analytics, you are not capturing that prefetch visit...)

Now, how does Google determine what link to prefetch? What if I really wanted info on the actual fruit? Google doesn't divulge how they actually determine when to insert a link, I think it's an interesting metric that is worth investigating. I think of it this way. Google is basically saying, "I have a pretty good idea what you're going to do next, so I'm going to make that next site you're going to visit a little faster for you".

We all pay pretty good money to GYM (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft) and others to send search traffic to us. We also spend money on tools to help us better understand what search terms folks use to get to us even when we're not paying GYM and others. And of course, we all track this important information by paying WebTrends and others for excellent tools to make sense of all of our efforts.

However, unless you've made plans to intercept this prefetch information, you are not collecting this important data. Why is it important? Only Google knows how many times your site is returned in search results. You only know:
  1. How many times it was returned in paid results
  2. How many times a visitor clicked through to your site in search results (paid or organic)
What's missing is how many times your site was returned in organic searching (does anyone know how to get absolute search info from GYM?). And what would also be excellent to know is how many times Google thought that the visitor was going to select your site - based on the best result. Again, here's what I'm thinking:

Google thinks a visitor is interested in your site. This tells you:
  1. The visitor searched for something that likely would have led them to you.
  2. Google thought it was relevant enough to even prefetch the content for the visitor.
  3. The visitor may or may not actually make it to your site (why or why not?).
  4. Which search terms were actually deemed relevant enough to make Google think your site was the right destination?
Ok, so how can you capture this information? If you're using web logs, you need to make sure you're capturing request headers so you can pull out a special header that is sent with each request and put it in your logs. The header is: X-Moz: prefetch

If you're using tagging, here's an approach that I put together a couple of years ago so we could watch this traffic over time: intercept the request and generate a request to your Web Analytics vendor data collection environment. I'd be happy to show you how to do this if you're interested.

Now you can track this traffic over time, and per visitor (depending on your WA solution you're using). What are these "best results" that these visitors are searching for? Did they actually select your site? Assuming you want them to visit your site, how might you change things so they do reach you? If they do make it to your site, which paths did they follow? Which scenarios did they fall into?

Questions? Thoughts? Comments?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Google Analytics Event Tracking

Google continues to do a good job of adding additional functionality within their Google Analytics framework. Their Event Tracking is well done (with the usual capacity/scale issues). I do like how well they've laid out the tracking code, and even threw in a couple of extras in there (time tracking and mouseover tracking).

Of course, WebTrends and others have had this functionality for years now, and have much deeper customization options...but I am biased.

A couple of notes on GA's event tracking:
  1. Bounce rates will change. They are treating events as additional "requests", so if you have a single-page visit with an event triggered (automatically or through interaction), it's no longer considered a single-page visit.
  2. There are limits to how many events they will count. This is a free service afterall, but they note that in addition to the other report limits within GA, there is a limit to the number of requests per visit they will include in the reports. Watch how you implement events!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Back at WebTrends...

This past week was my first week back at WebTrends. First, let me say thanks to Alex, Bruce, James, Mike S, Shane, John D, John R, Leo and Barry who all made time for me to bounce ideas around and find the right fit for me. Everyone has made me feel very welcome back.

So, why jump back inside analytics? And why back to WebTrends?

#1: The WebTrends Team
You can't underestimate the power of a strong, smart executive team. I had the privilege of working with an incredibly bright, innovative, forward-thinking management team at Jive, and I can tell you it makes all the difference to have a quality team with whom you can trust, engage, and collaborate.

Alex is building something special here at WebTrends. I had heard it from others, and I can already see it. The team rallies around him, and the exec team isn't wasting any time to make real change within the company.

#2: The Analytics Industry
I like this industry. The technology is dynamic, our customers are creative, and there's a large number of smart people out there solving interesting problems. I see too that the WA blogging world continues to grow, and there's plenty of twittering from a plethora of sources as well. This level of sharing and collaboration is very healthy for us all.

Many thanks to the many voices out there who are keeping us all enlightened, challenged, converted, and otherwise demystified. I'm looking forward to getting ramped back up and connected with you all again.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Focus and Innovate

A colleague turned me on to the quote below from this article...smart stuff from O'Reilly.

We don't know yet how problems in the overall economy will affect our business. But what we can do now are the things we ought to be doing anyway:

  • Work on stuff that matters: Assuming that the world does go to hell in a handbasket, what would we still want to be working on? What will people need to know? (Chances are good that they need to know these things in a world where we all continue to muddle along as well.)
  • Exert visionary leadership in our markets. In tough times, people look for inspiration and vision. The big ideas we care about will still matter, perhaps even more when people are looking for a way forward. (Remember how Web 2.0 gave hope and a story line to an industry struggling its way out of the dotcom bust.)
  • Be prudent in what we spend money on. Get rid of the "nice to do" things, and focus on the "must do" things to accelerate them.

    These are all things we should be doing every day anyway. Sometimes, though, a crisis can provide an unexpected gift, a reminder that nobody promised us tomorrow, so we need to make what we do today count.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Forbes Article on Jive

How awesome is this. A great article in Forbes magazine on Jive

Upstart Jive Software aims to change the way people work by bringing social networking to the office. It's up against some firm called Microsoft.

Jive Software chief executive David Hersh has a lofty goal: a world where office work is so fulfilling, inspiring and free of trivialities that parodies like Dilbert and The Office cease to exist.

There are loftier goals--ending genocide, famine, cancer--but Hersh's is a good fight, and you can make a lot of money helping companies get themselves out of those endless e-mail chains and pointless meetings of office work. Jive's software uses the Web to do that.

"People live in e-mail and documents no one else can see. We're changing the way companies work," says Hersh.

Jive's newest product, called Clearspace, uses Web collaboration and communication tools such as forums, wikis and blogs to allow people in different offices to work on a short-term project using a single Web calendar, to-do list and discussion rooms. A manager can scroll over names of subalterns and see what they're working on and whether they're in the office, traveling or at home.

Very cool indeed.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tracking Search Terms in Jive's Clearspace

Jive's Clearspace application is a very powerful tool for building active, engaged communities. Whether you are using it for collaboration, blogging/publishing content, for discussions, or documentation, you'll want to know what your visitors are searching for on the site so you can make sure the right content is available at the right time.

There are a couple of ways to get a handle on the on-site search traffic. For one, you can simply query the database (if you're running Clearspace on-premise) for search terms used by your visitors (among other things, the search table also includes which userID made the request, along with how many results were returned).

Even easier though is to make sure your analytics tool is setup to correctly interpret a Clearspace search query. A Clearspace query makes a request like this:

Example: http://www.jivesoftware.com/community/search.jspa?

Parameters include:
  • q = the search term
  • resultTypes = the types of items inside Clearspace to search
  • peopleEnabled = true/false - whether to include searches on profiles
  • dateRange = searching for something in a specific time period
  • communityID = searching in a specific community
  • rankBy = sort criteria
Generally speaking, setting up on-site search tracking for most of the web analytics packages is pretty straight forward. For example, to setup Clearspace on-site search tracking for Google Analytics, you'll perform the following steps:
  1. Login to your Google Analytics account and navigate to the "Analytics Settings" for your account.
  2. Edit your profile settings for the profile analyzing Clearspace
  3. Select "Edit" next to your "Main Website Profile Information"
  4. Scroll down to the Site Search section and enter the following information. You can only add 5 categories, and Clearspace has 6 different parameters (above), so you'll have to choose 5 of them (I don't include the CommunityID as most searches are not targeted at a specific community on the sites I've seen)

Save your changes, and that's it. Now just wait for those fabulous search reports to start coming your way so you can continually optimize the site for your visitors.


webtrends reinvigorate analytics