Archives for April 2007

Behavioral Targeting Moves by Yahoo and Google

A recent article by Brandweek, talks about how Yahoo is betting big on Behavioral Targeting.
Yahoo has been testing its BT like targeting since 2003 or so. I am from India but has been living in US for years, I signed up for my yahoo account in US. Sometime around 2003 when I logged out of my yahoo email, yahoo served me an ad related to an Indian company. I don’t remember explicitly telling yahoo that I was from India. I asked my co-worker (sitting next to me and who was not of Indian origin) to browse to the same location but she did not get the same ad. My thinking at that time was that that they were somehow reading the content of my emails (just like gmail), since I didn’t remember using yahoo search engine to find that content related to India, but I am not 100% sure though) and serving ads based on it.

According to this Brandweek article, critics say behavioral targeting is an invasion of privacy. Jeffrey Chester, CDD founder and executive director said he has no problem with behavioral targeting if advertisers disclose to consumers that they are tracking information. “They need to fully disclose and get permission, but they’re afraid to do it,” Chester said. I am not a critic of BT but I agree with Chester as I wrote in my posting on Google and Doubleclick privacy concerns.
Yahoo! rep Dina Freeman said the company protects its users’ privacy. “It’s anonymous. It’s never tied to your name,” she said. “Consumers in general are coming around to the fact that they like the relevancy.”

I agree with the above statement but let’s disclose this to consumers so that everybody can feel comfortable.

Google on the other hand has been saying that it won’t consider behavioral targeting. Even though Google is resisting Behavioral Targeting so far but a lot of people (including me) are predicting that Google will soon get into Behavioral Targeting. According to Brandweek article, however, now Google is saying they won’t consider behavioral targeting without getting consumers’ approval. So they are thinking about it too if they get consumer approval. Richard Holden, director of product management at Google says “We’re not opposed to it in principle, if it means showing fewer ads but ones that are more relevant.” Yes, Behavioral Targeting is about showing relevant ads, so when can we expect first BT Targeted ads on Google network?

Google Web History – My Experience

As I wrote two days ago, I took Google Web History for a test drive. Here is what I found

1. Even though I signed for Google Web History on April 23rd, my history went back to April 25 2006. Not sure how that happened, I think it has sometime to do the google personalized search. It had all the searches and the sites I clicked in history dating back to April 25 2006.
2. Google Web History as a spy tool? – I signed on a computer which my wife and I both use. I forgot to signoff from my Google account and my wife started using it. I went back to my personal laptop, signed into my Google account again and started looking at web history. Guess what? I could see what my wife was searching on and the sites she was visiting. Pretty freaky…uh. Maybe you can use google web history to check on what kids are doing online.

Will update if I find anything more interesting.

The Great comScore Debate

comScore came out with a study saying cookie based system could be reporting 2.5 time more visitors.

I wrote a post with my view on the topic last week. My take was that we should not worry about this study for two main reasons
1. We don’t know the comScore methodology of this study
2. We know that two web analytics systems don’t report the same numbers so we were dealing with estimated numbers anyway. This is the reality of Web Analytics. We should make decision based on trends more than raw numbers.

Gary Angel from SEMphoice wrote a blog post where he disagrees with me and says he is worried about the accuracy of the data after this study.

Side note: Gary took my view and made them appear them as ZAAZ’s (my employer)view. One thing I want to make clear is that these views are mine only and do not represent the views of ZAAZ or any other employee of ZAAZ.

Back to the issue: Well, even before this study we all knew cookies were being deleted but we accepted this fact till comScore study came. We should have been worried all along but we were not. Why? I guess we had to work with whatever we had.

The point I was trying to make is that you have to take everything in context. Going to Gary’s example of a conference, let’s say conference A tell you they attract 5,000 visitors and the other conference B says they get 4,000 visitors. Next day a third party comes out and says that all the conferences numbers reported by any conference are inflated and actual number is 75% of what they state then what’s the net result? Well Conference A is still better than conference B. Only thing is that they each now have 3750 and 3000 visitors respectively. Every conference in the world will have the same issue, their rank is still the same. I don’t think based on this information conferences will start charging less for the booth. However the rate per visitor has gone up for you but you can’t do much, that’s the market rate. Same argument goes for sites that sell advertising based on how many users they reach.

I recently moved a customer from one web analytics tool to another, guess what? The unique visitors count was different (so was repeat visitor and visit count). They were using old system for 3 years, all their decisions were based on those numbers. We could have spent days to figure out which one was correct old or new. Was it worth it? No, I don’t think that would have made any difference to their business. We could have waited to get the perfect data but that was not going to happen no matter what. So what did we do? We verified the new system to make sure it is accurately configured. We have tagged all the pages, proper excludes and includes are there, Cookie is first party etc. and the accepted it, developed our baseline and started working from there.

I strongly believe in accuracy of data but accuracy is also within context. The system you are using has to be perfectly configured, has to be accurately measuring but accuracy is defined based on how that system works.

I am pretty sure that if you take logs from your server and process them with an old version of any tool of you choice and then with the latest versions you will get different numbers (DisclosureI used to work for a tool vendor). Which one is correct? Old or new? If new is correct than all your old decisions based on wrong numbers were wrong. How do I know for sure that new is good? All I know my trends were similar in both new and old system.

Now lets say based on cookies counting, one site reaches 2 times visitors than their competitors (assume both use same 3rd party cookie). Will this site be more or less valuable if both the sites were told they were over counting their visitors? They would still be the same. How they will compete is how much more visitors (or visits) they get. Panels have a potential to be faultier than cookies if panels are not true representation of the site’s visitors. Panel based counting is just like log file sampling, sampling at least is a true representation of your visitors but we all know that those numbers are not accurate.

I understand Gary’s issue about repeat users and new users. But again, if you use two different systems they will report different numbers so which one is correct?
As Jacques Warren pointed out as a response to Gary’s post, the right solution (at this time) is to provide a reason for users to not delete their cookie (or give a reason to login). If Gary care’s about repeat users then I am sure he has strategies to get them engaged and give them a reason to login (or not delete cookies). Give users a reason to be loyal and they will be. Then you won’t have to worry about cookie deletion and hence your numbers will be accurate. Till you get to that level any number is a close estimate weather it is panel based or cookie based; and is not worth loosing sleep over.

I am not going to be worried till I have concrete proof that 1st party cookie system is completely flawed. Right now I don’t have any basis to be worried. IAB has asked comScore and NNR to show their measurement process, let’s see what comes out of that

Google Web History: Google and Behavioral Targeting – The Beginning

Google launched a new service called
Google Web History
This service will allow users to keep an archive of their web browsing history. The service will also allow integrated web and search history to personalize results based on previous search and viewing patterns.
This service requires a Google account and the Google Toolbar, and users will be able to access their histories from any computer with the service enabled.
As I have been talking about Google and Behavioral Targeting, this is one of the steps towards that goal. Google will track everything you do (of course with your consent) and then in near future will show you targeting ads based on this information.
Side Note: The most interesting thing to watch will be the effect on organic search listings. This is the free source of traffic (sort of free) that a lot of sites have become dependent on but with all the personalization they are bound to get hit.
To ease the privacy, this service is not enabled by default. It also requires PageRank feature in Google Toolbar to be manually enabled. Also, there is an easy way to remove items from you history, however not sure if Google will still keep those in their logs to understand a users behavior.
Giving user an option to opt-in instead of opt-out is the right approach to Personalization and Behavioral Targeting. I believe if you show the users the value and benefits for targeting and let them make the choice then you will create loyal customers and won’t have to deal with privacy backlash.
Stay tuned for more data integration news from Google, this is just the beginning.
I just enabled this services so am going to take it for test drive.

Seattle Web Analytics Wednesday (WAW) May 9th 2007

Web Analytics Wednesday (WAW) is the world’s only distributed networking event for web analytics professionals. Open to everyone, practitioners and vendors alike, Web Analytics Wednesday is a free event allowing you to meet folks with similar work interests.

ZAAZ will be hosting the WAW on May 9th. I won’t be there as I will be attending eMetics, however Michal Watts and other members of my team will be there.

To read more about WAW, please visit http://www.webanalyticsdemystified.com/wednesday/waw_faq.asp

Snack and drinks will be provided at ZBar (ZAAZ Bar), sponsored by ZAAZ.

Location:
ZAAZ Headquarters
414 Olive Way
Suite 500
Seattle, WA 98101

Driving Direction:

ZAAZ is located on Olive Way between 4th Ave and 5th Ave

FROM SEA-TAC AIRPORT
Get on I-5 North
Follow SIGNS to SEATTLE
Take SENECA Exit on the LEFT
Turn right at 4th Ave
Turn right at Olive Way

FROM NORTH I-5 TO SEATTLE
Get on I-5 SOUTH
Take the Stewart St. Exit
Stay straight on Stewart until 5th Ave

RSVP at http://www.webanalyticsdemystified.com/wednesday/?event_id=1677 or write a comment (with your name, email and company name) on this blog post.

Google Doubleclick deal concerns Privacy Advocates

The Electronics Privacy Information Center (EPIC), The Center for Digital Dempcarcy (CDD), The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) has filed a complaint with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that Google’s acquisition of Double will compromise privacy of internet users. Read the complete detail of this complaint at http://www.democraticmedia.org/PDFs/google_complaint.pdf

I have been talking about Google and Behavioral Targeting even before the acquisition of Double click was announced. As I wrote in my first post on Google and Behavioral Targeting Google has been putting it’s footprint all of the internet even before Doubleclick acquisition. Acquisition of Doubleclick bought them way closer to building the biggest behavioral targeting network.

This is what these Privacy advocates are worried about.

According to CNET:

Privacy advocates are particularly worried that Google will merge the data from users’ search queries with DoubleClick’s records of people’s general Web-surfing habits in order to build a centralized database of consumer profiles.

Google executives have said that for now, the company does not plan to merge personally identifiable information such as names and e-mail addresses, with search histories and Web-surfing habits. Rather, it hopes to combine both companies’ (Google and Doublelclick) non-personally identifiable data, such as search histories and Web-surfing habits linked to a computer’s IP address, so that it could better target advertisements.
But EPIC’s argument is that an IP address can, with a little work, be linked to an individual, even if a name or address isn’t associated with the IP number.
“Identity can be inferred,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director for EPIC and author of the complaint, said in an interview with CNET News.com. “We believe that this complaint provides an opportunity for (the) FTC to look closely at whether the online-advertising industry provides adequate privacy protection for Internet users and (to) consider the privacy impact of non-personally identifiable information collected through search histories.”
Source: CNET

We will have to wait and see how Google responds to this complain and the next steps by FTC. I will keep you posted as I get more information.

So what is the solution to all these privacy concerns?

I believe that if consumers are provided proper education (I will write about consumer benefits in one of my future posts) than they can infect benefit from Behavioral Targeting. It will be a win-win situation for all the parties involved. Proper education and disclosures by advertisers, publishers and networks will ease the concerns regarding Behavioral Targeting. Consumers have the right to opt out of Behavioral Targeting but what is lacking is proper education on how to do so. The networks currently opt-in users by default; however, in my opinion the proper process should be opt-out by default and opt-in if user chooses to opt-in, just like we do for emails and newsletters. This process will move the burden from users to the advertisers, publishers and networks.

In short run this could result in a lower reach for BT providers. But if the benefits to consumers are properly stated then most of the consumers will be willing to participate. If you (network or advertiser) tell a consumer that he/she does not need to go looking for deals or offers of products/services that he/she is in the market for, these deals/offers will be provided to him/her based on her online behavior no matter where in the network she is in, I think consumer will love it. If a consumer knows the process and she knows that she is willingly participating in the BT, the click-through rate on the ads will be higher too. Why force users into Behavioral Targeting and raise privacy concerns when you can offer them what they want (when they want) and make them your raving fans.

Cookie versus Panel Based User Counting

comScore released the results of a study they did which claimed that cookie based measurement overstate Unique Users by as much as 150%.

I was not surprised by the results, not because I knew that cookies was over estimating because this is what I would have expected based on who was sponsoring the study. Since the study was conducted by comScore I wouldn’t have expected them to come up saying panel data is worse than cookies based counting. If this study were done by Omniture or WebTrends we would have probably heard a different story. For example, if we were to compare wine and coffee and see which one is bad for health, wine company’s research will say wine is good for health while coffee is not. Coffee company will come with their research which will say coffee is good and wine is bad.

It is very likely that the users who participated in the study knew that they were being tracked (and they participated to get freebies) so they developed a tendency to clear cookies and hence skewed the results. There could be several reasons why comScore survey might be correct or not but comScore did not publish those so we can’t say for sure if panel based is really better than cookie based count.

It is likely that comScore is trying to solidify its position as a standard in audience calculation by releasing this study. In my article on Google and Behavioral Targeting I mentioned that Google is putting it’s cookie everywhere and could potentially get in the business that comScore is in currently (measuring audience size). This possibly could be a preemptive move by comScore. Don’t know for sure since I don’t have the details on how this study was done.

The crux of the matter is that no matter what system you use you will never get an accurate count of UU’s. Even pages views are reported differently by different systems. Two panel based systems don’t report the same numbers and two web analytics tool do not report the same number. To assume one system is not accurate or is better than other system is jumping to conclusions without basis. Both systems have their own advantages and disadvantages.

For individual site owners you need to pick one system, cookie based or panel based, and stick with it and accept the numbers. How does it matter if I told you that you actually get 3,000 users (or visits) and not 5000? What will change? What will you do differently? Have you ever moved from one web analytics system to another? You know they don’t report same numbers. Say, your new system reports lower number than your old system than what are you going to do? Which one is correct, old or new? It is about trending and growth. You will probably use same growth and retention strategies no matter what the number is. If you goal is to increase the visitors by X% no matter what visitor count you use you will try to do X% of your current system weather that is cookie based or panel based.

If you are trying to compare sites then do the same thing, choose one system for comparison and stick with it. The same goes with advertising, if you are buying or selling ad inventory based on Unique Visitor count both buyer and seller will have to settle for one system and stick to stick to it.

However, one thing that surprised me in this study was a quote from Tacoda. Their whole business (Behavioral Targeting) is dependent on cookies and now they will validate with panel data because….(…they don’t believe the size of their segment? Does that mean they will adjust the reach they claim they have?) Can someone from Tacoda please help me understand it?

Top 10 Web Analytics Blog

Aviansh released his list of Top 10 Web Analytics Blogs yesterday. I was pleasantly surprised to make the list fo Top Web Analytics Blogs. Though I had this blog for quite a while I only started serious blogging about 3 months ago. To make this list is great however, now it puts a pressure on me to continue to blog so that I can maintain my position in this list(one of these days I will have top come up top 10 reasons why I blog).

Here is Avinash’s list

1. Occam’s Razorby Avinash Kaushik
2. Web Metrics Guru by Marshall Sponder
3. Google Analytics Blog by Jeff Gills
4. Web Analytics World by Manoj Jasra
5. Eric T. Peterson’s Analytics Weblog by Eric Peterson
6. Increasing your website’s conversion rate by Robbin Steif
7. Unofficial Google Analytics Blog by Michael Harrison
8. Lies, Damned Lies…by Ian Thomas
9. WebAnalytics.be Blog by Aurélie Pols
10. Web Analysis, Behavioral Targeting and Advertising by Anil Batra

Since Avinash published his rankings the ranking of my blog has increased to 44,005 from 48,459.

Web Analyst Interview: Jaisri Chety

Continuing my series of Interview with Analysts, here is my interview with Jaisri Chety.

What is your current position and the name of the company you work for?

I am working at present in Tesco.com as Asst. Manager (Insight)

How long have you been working in Web Analytics?

I have been working in the dotcom industry right from 2000. I started my career in CricInfo.com, where I had a fantastic initiation into the dotcom industry. I was handling corporate communications here, which included advertising and public relations. This is where I implemented advanced online advertising techniques and was initiated into a very crude form of web analytics. After the dotcom bust, I gained some experience in conventional advertising. However returned back to online advertising in 2004. I joined BharatMatrimony.com as campaign manager. BharatMatrimony was one of the leading advertisers in the online medium in India. Here I handled the complete advertising budget and was given the task of optimizing effectively for every buck spent on the Internet. Subsequently, I had a very brief stint in an online advertising firm called Regalix, before I moved to present job in Tesco.

Tell me about your work, education prior to making a switch

Before entering into the online industry, I was in a completely different profession. I completed my education in commerce from a reputed college in Chennai – Stella Maris College and had also done a course in advertising, from the Madras Advertising Club.

I started my career as a professional cricketeer with the Southern Railways. I had taken to the sport right from my school days, I had played at the state and zonal level at both junior and senior level. I had been a wicketkeeper – batswoman and played at the highest-level national championships representing Tamil Nadu and South Zone. I realized that my scope was limited at getting selected to play for India, as I was a wicket keeper and the Indian team already had an established wicketkeeper. And my only chance existed if this player performed poorly. Instead of waiting for someone to fail, I thought I should choose the other passion of mine, which was online advertising.

Wow that was a big change from Cricket to Online Advertising. Tell me about your move to Web Analytics, how did that transition happen?

My role in BharatMatrimony was to optimize and justify the online advertising spend. This not only meant that I had to negotiate and clinch the best deals, also how we used these ad units and got the maximum returns from them.

Here I realized once we got the audience from the various sites, it was equally important to sell the proposition on the site and keep them engaged for succeeding. Hence I started different CRM programs, which included various email campaigns and on-the-site experience tasks.

To gauge the effectiveness of this combined effort of online advertising, CRM and site improvements, I needed a tool; that is when I started researching the various web analytic service vendors. At that time WebTrends was one vendor who had a sales force in India and the support system. Hence I persuaded the top management on the need for a web analytics solution and they realized the potential and invested in the systems and software.

From 2005, I have been using different web analytical solutions.

How did you find your current job? How long did it take?

One my colleagues from an earlier firm who was working in Tesco, referred my profile to the employer, as they were looking for a senior person to manage their analytics team. The interview process took nearly 2 and half months as there were various rounds, the HR, operations manager, Sr. manager in UK and the business head.

What are you responsibilities in your current job?

I handle a team of analysts, in the Insight team. We are responsible for having a sense check on the performance of the business on daily and weekly basis by running various reports. This includes running, querying and retrieving data from the data warehouse, formatting the same, draw inference and present it to the various users of these reports. The scope includes reporting on category-based performance, performance of the various marketing channels like email, online advertising and CRM. It also includes site intelligence, which is web analytics software. Apart from the regular reporting we do various adhoc reporting and analysis on customer behavior changes, uplift of sales due to activities, targeting specific audience, etc.

What are the skills that you think are important for a web analyst?

In my opinion a web analyst needs to understand the data and site dynamics of their particular website. Should have decent technical knowledge, good customer focus and attention to details. Should intuitively pick insight from an otherwise burgeoning deluge of data.

What, if any, education or work experience helped you in making this transition.

My experience in online advertising and decent technical knowledge helped me in making this transition.

What education is lacking, education or experience that would have helped in Web Analytics?

If I had more structured technical education, it would have made my transition smoother.

What web analytics/online-marketing books have you read and/or own?

I have read and own “Web Analytics Demystified” and “Website Measurement Hack” by Eric Peterson

Which book(s) have you helped in your new job or finding new job?

The “Website Measurement Hack” acts as my reference, as I keep going back to this book if I run into any technical issues.

What were the major challenges you are facing in this industry?

The challenges in this industry is that it is rapidly emerging and growing, hence one needs to constantly learn, unlearn and relearn

How do you make sure you are learning and growing in this field?

I am regular on the yahoo web analytics forum and read up the various blogs of Eric Peterson, Avinash Kaushik and also try to organize a “Web analytics Wednesday” meetings here in Bangalore

Do you have blog? If yes, what kind of article do you write?

I do have a blog its called http://web-scapes.blogspot.com. I try to write on my understanding of web analytics, though I must confess I am not a regular.

One unrelated question, What do you think of Indian teams disaster in World Cup 2007? What is your advice to selectors or the team members?

In my opinion the Indian team is lacking in team spirit and coming together for a higher cause like winning for you country. They tend to place more importance on getting their individual scores, breaking records or proving a point to themselves or to someone else about their position in the team. Rather than spending time and effort in such detrimental attitude, if they can come together as just cricketers (shedding their star status) and played with passion, drive and above all character, we would form a better team.

My advice to selectors would be to pick a cricketer with not only by assessing them on the potential but also on their (right) attitude.

Thank you for your time.

Google and Behavioral Targeting Part III – Google Buys Doubleclick

Google buys Doubleclick for record 3.1 Billion.

Remember 1999 – 2000 when Doubleclick tried Behavioral Targeting but had to shut down efforts due to privacy concerns. Since then things have changed. Many Behavioral Targeting networks have sprung up. Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda provided several reasons why BT will work now.

Will Google revive BT capabilities of Doubleclick? As I wrote earlier in my blog posts Google is preparing for the largest BT network (see my previous articles) and this is one of the biggest step deep into that direction and further confirms what I wrote in my article.
See my old posts at
Google and Behavioral Targeting
Google and Behavioral Targeting Part II

Here are quotes from Sergey Bin, Google’s Co-Founder & President, Technology and Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google on Doubleclicks’s acquistion. Source: Yahoo
“It has been our vision to make Internet advertising better – less intrusive, more effective, and more useful. Together with DoubleClick, Google will make the Internet more efficient for end users, advertisers, and publishers,” said Sergey Brin.
“DoubleClick’s technology is widely adopted by leading advertisers, publishers and agencies, and the combination of the two companies will accelerate the adoption of Google’s innovative advances in display advertising,” said Eric Schmidt.
So far Google analytics, Adsense, Google checkout codes were only available on small – medium size websites. With this deal the big brand sites will have Google code on their sites as well (DoubleClick Publishers and Advertisers). Obviously by having a code on virtually every site on the internet Google will have such a wealth of information about individuals (see my previous article) that it will be foolish for them to not use that information to target individuals with ads that match their interest shown by online (soon they will tie in offline with something like GoogleTV, Google Times, Google Radio and so on) behavior.

Another effect of the widespread code of Google could be the death of companies like Alexa, Compete comscore etc. Google can provide the internet usage data that won’t be based on a sample of those who participate (voluntarily or by installing some kind of application such as a toolbar) but on the Google cookies which will be on almost every single computer connected to the internet. However, this business might not be so lucrative for them. Why would they want to let others know how people use internet when they can use it to make it Googlenet (formerly known as internet) or GWW – Google Wide Web (formerly know as World Wide Web).

You are about to enter the world of Targeting.