Thursday, December 20, 2007

Should I be worried?

Google knows a lot about me. Let’s start with the copious daily searches for everything from analytics research to stocking stuffers. I use Googlemaps for driving directions to every new location that I visit. My personal blogs are created and maintained on Blogger. They’re tagged with Google Analytics. My iGoogle tab opens each time I launch a new browser with content specific to my interests. My inbox buzzes hourly with Google Alerts on companies that I track. I’ve watched dozens of videos on YouTube. Several years worth of personal emails were sent and received via Gmail to friends, family, colleagues, and every word is archived for easy retrieval.

Now that the FTC approved Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick, will my digital world become a bullseye for targeted advertising?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

WAW Boston

Last evening the Boston Web Analytics Wednesday chapter held its monthly meeting. Eric Peterson was due to fly into town and dazzle the crowd, but was waylaid due to the storm on Sunday. I was invited to speak in his stead, (Eric’s stunt double as I like to call it). I presented the findings from a report that Jupiter will publish on the use of technology to improve website usability.

The key takeaway was that too few organizations are utilizing the technologies they already possess to improve the usability of their web properties. The challenge of improving usability repeatedly emerges as a top three objective for website decision makers, yet little definitive action is taken to affect change. Web analytics is the technology used most frequently as a quantitative measure for usability and it also proved to be most effective. I encouraged the web analysts in the room to take it upon themselves to think about their web analytics data from a strategic perspective and identify ways that the data can impact all facets of their sites, including usability. I also believe that the role of the web analyst is changing from tactical to strategic and those who create a data-driven organization with demonstrable results, will emerge as leaders.

Props go out to Judah Phillips for his undying enthusiasm towards web analytics and his efforts to pioneer the Boston WAW chapter. I am always impressed at the caliber of people that attend these events. From the BU college students who are way ahead of the curve in analytics knowledge, to the seasoned professionals, the conversation is always stimulating. If you are in the business of web analytics, be sure to attend a WAW event near you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Extinction of the Hippo

Perhaps you’ve seen a Hippo wandering the halls of your organization? If you’re a web marketer with lofty aspirations, you may be thinking that its days are numbered. If not, you’re probably wondering what the heck I’m talking about. HiPPO is an acronym being bandied about in marketing circles that stands for the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. However, the tools in the website operators’ toolbox are threatening the HiPPO’s reign and foreshadow its possible extinction.

Measurement technologies have changed the game for marketers operating in the digital world. Web analytics empower us to follow the steps of web site visitors and determine exactly what they do, when they do it, and whether or not their actions result in our desired outcomes. We can measure these interactions and are even getting crafty about placing value on the level of interaction visitors have with our websites to target the desirable ones and segment out the less profitable. Add to this the ability to apply predictive analysis, based on user profiles and affinity tactics, to know what customers are likely to do – even before they do. Finally, we can validate our predictions and hypotheses using testing tools to allow visitors to define the web in a method that works best for them. These actions are possible in a data-driven organization that makes decisions based on information rather than intuition.

Yet, beware the HiPPO. In the absence of data, the HiPPO thrives and will govern web pages with intuition and instinct. Your task is delicate, without angering the HiPPO, you must illustrate that the data-driven approach will enable the entire organization to prosper. Start slowly by introducing data to support the cause. Eagerly accept the opinions of the HiPPO, yet contrast them with alternatives that can be tested with tools. Use the outcome of testing as a win-win scenario. If the HiPPO was right – they are the smartest beast in the jungle; if wrong – demonstrate that the alternative got them closer to the website goals. By using data to validate your findings, you may notice that the HiPPO, (while maybe not destined for extinction) is certainly more open to ideas.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

WCM and the promise of Web 2.0

This week was Web Content Management (WCM) week in Boston, with a kick-off on Monday at the CM Pros conference, followed by two days of the Gilbane Conference & technology showcase. The general tenor of the event made for great networking and included interesting keynotes, lively vendor discussion and industry expert sessions. All of which included a healthy dose of forward-looking statements.

The widespread impact of Web 2.0, from both an end-user and user-contributor perspective, was a recurring theme throughout the conference. I took it upon myself to dig beyond the 2.0 buzz to determine the practical influence that new technologies will have on the user’s experience and the way content is delivered. Here is what I came up with…

  • Alerting – certainly a familiar technology today, which will increasingly be used in new and innovative ways. Take for example Facebook’s Beacon. A failed attempt, but nonetheless a feature that uses events as triggers to automate notification. Retailers are adopting alerts as merchandising tactics and we can only expect to see more as consumers are looking for a push of relevant information.

  • Community – the dependence on social networks is strengthening daily as users spend more time using the tools and features within their social arenas. Communities are important as social networks, but will also begin to permeate the workforce as collaboration tools. With a distributed workforce becoming the norm and growing familiarity with social networking tools, it’s not long before employees are asking for Facebook-style tools for internal collaboration. Organizations will be forced to embrace these technologies and build solutions around them – or risk losing their talent to those who do.

  • Open APIs – Google maps is certainly the most utilized API, since geography helps us to attach relevance to everything we do. Services like Zillow have brought the mash-up to new levels of usability and “coolness”, with a high functionality after bite. With mash-ups as a hot topic in many discussions at the conference, we can expect to see more of them. Yet, “openness” is a concept that 2.0 functionality is built upon and will maintain a key role in the ongoing development of cutting edge technology.

  • Relevance – don’t give me everything, just give me what I need – and hurry up. I don’t know about you, but my world is full of too much unwanted information. I’m willing to provide some details about my personal preferences in order to place filters on the information that comes my way. Web Content Management systems are doing their part by enabling dynamic content powered by behavioral targeting, analytics and community influences. While governance remains a critical component to my privacy (thanks Amazon for not giving up our purchase histories), predictive analysis and relevance will severely impact the way that we interact with the web.