Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Times Paywall - Not such a bad idea?

The Times of London (owner Mr R. Murdoch) recently announced it would be introducing a paywall to its two sites, due to go live at the start of June, and has been receiving a lot of coverage about it. Previous experiments with paywalls have yielded poor results, and there has been a lot of discussion, especially on social networking sites about how setting up a walled garden and attemping to work against the principle of an open internet will ultimately hurt Mr Murdoch. Furthermore, keeping content behind a paywall would not only limit the availability of the site's news, but also its reporters. Users of Twitter would no longer be able to link to their work, and see it be shared across the internet - their brand as well as their paper's would be curtailed.

Looking at it in purely monetary terms, this is clearly a beneficial move. Mr Murdoch needs to ensure that

VaCaR + PVa > VbCbR

where a denotes after and b before the paywall is introduced, V is the number of visitors, C the display ad clickthrough rate, R the revenue per click, and P the subscription price.

Making some assumptions about the share of visits to visitors before and after the paywall change, taking the visitor values for The Times with the forecast 95% fall in traffic afterwards, and assuming that the clickthrough rate will improve following the introduction of a paywall suggests that unless revenue per click is more than approximately £26, this will generate more revenue for News Corp. This demonstrates that this move will clearly benefit them (unless anyone knows of an ad that regularly yields that sort of revenue per click!). Of course the cost to the brand in terms of damaged reputation, reduced visability and possible loss of staff is not so easy to calculate.

In terms of analytics, though, things get more interesting. Reducing the amount of traffic to the site in this way should tighten the audience profile - effectively removing the drifters, and bringing the online profile of visitors closer to the offline one. This then should enable more effective advertising, appealing to the more shared interests of the new profile. Also, the new traffic should be more engaged with the site, generating more page views per visit,  and thus more opportunity for clicking on the ads, as well as helping any behavioural advertising the company may be using. And of course in terms of the site itself rather than the advertising, the more engaged traffic should improve the conversion funnels the site has, such as engaging with their live chat facility.

I'll be interested to hear what News Corp has to say about the effects of its paywall from this perspective in a month or so!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Education in web analytics: Teaching kids how to measure the internet proper

Following my previous post on education for those in the web analytics industry, I thought I'd have a look at the opportunites for those still in full-time education to develop the skills to enter the industry.

Recent events have encouraged me to take a more active interest in the education system, and although I'd never encourage my children to follow my career just for the sake of it, I've been thinking about which courses I would recommend to a student to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to be a success in the digital measurement industry. In my opinion, there are two sides to this. The first is a generic internet education, which I would hope would be included in the "standard" ICT courses (for those in the UK) up-to and including GCSE level.

Delving into the internet section of an ICT course, children would need to be made aware of general internet skills. Being taught about the privacy and safety implications of using the internet should be as important as the Green Cross Code. I would also consider a basic understanding of how websites are built, covering coding and infrastructure to be an important part of any ICT course. Then, more specifically related to the web analytics area, a discussion of the way sites are tracked; rather than looking at it from the standard "all tracking is evil and intrusive" perspective, considering why businesses do it, and how it could be beneficial to the customer when executed correctly. One would also hope this would also be covered in any Business Studies course available today. Finally, it would be desirable if they covered internet terminology so that once and for all people could distinguish between visits and hits! Obviously these topics would likely constitute a module or part of one in a larger ICT course, but imagine how much better the world would be if all youngsters were taught this...

The second of the two key areas that a student would need schooling in relates to analytical nature of the role. Assuming that the student had covered the more generic knowledge just discussed, they would then need to build on that with both further education and development. Of course, as before, there's no way that a course specifically tailored to web analytics would exist at this level, but rather the student would need a combination of broader courses to provide the more detailed knowledge required. These courses might include statistics (for obvious reasons), with a course in econometrics helping to teach them about models and statistical tests, and a course in marketing to give them the background of the problems they'll be looking to solve in the future. However, being a web analyst requires more than a knowledge of data manipulation and sales; a critical and curious mind which questions assumptions and asks the right questions is paramount. No one course can create this, but something which encourages detailed analysis and looking at an argument from multiple angles would help; perhaps philosophy or history?

Once they've got this far they'd have a good idea of the theory behind the internet, and the necessary skills set to analyse and ask questions of the data. All they'd need then is some hands-on experience of the role itself - some pre-on-the-job training. And this is where the innovative Analysis Exchange comes in, linking students, mentors and donors (non-profit and NGO websites). The mentors provide the tuition to the student, who provides a piece of analysis to a grateful charitable website. Not only does this give students a fantastic opportunity to both learn and shine, but due to the close-knit nature of the web analytics community, it gives them a great way to advertise their skills on completion of the project.

So there you go kids - that's how to get into the #measure industry. For those of you already in the industry, what would you recommend to an aspiring student?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Education in web analytics: Experience vs qualifications

This is the first of a couple of posts that loosely fit under the category of education in the web analytics field. This one looks at some of the courses and qualifications out there for web analysts, and the benefits of them versus everyday experience.

There are a number of courses that are available to web analysts looking to improve their knowledge. One of the most well-known is the UBC Award of Achievement in Web Analytics. Whilst being a comprehensive course, it's geared towards people with little prior knowledge of the topic, with the first module named an "Introduction to Web Analytics". There is also an extension course, the Web Intelligence Certificate from the UBC and UC Irvine Extension, which as a prerequisite requires the UBC Award of Achievement to have been completed, and focuses on coursework.

The WAA Base Camp consists of two days of training which allows the student to get a "solid foundation of online marketing analytics knowledge and authoritative course material in a workshop environment". Unfortunately, as with a lot of WAA content, it seems to be very US-centric, with no courses available outside of North America this year, and no previous workshops outside of there since September 2008.

One complaint about why people don't join the WAA is that there's no proof of the member's quality. This has been answered by the WAA with new certification. There's been some discussion about its validity, its availability to non-WAA members and concern around pricing and how to take it - see here for an example. The WAA have responded to these in attempt to make the issue clear. There's general agreement that it's tough, with two to three years of experience required; its aim is to test your analysis skills rather than your knowledge of a particular analytics package, and it has a quasi-MBA slant to it. In a recent post St├ęphane Hamel discusses the benefits of taking the test.

The Google Analytics IQ test is proving to be quite popular. So much so that they've recently had to make it tougher, raising the pass rate to 80%. Obviously this is tied to one package, and has an 18 month shelf life.

There seems to be agreement that certification is better for those earlier on in their careers. Those who've been in the industry longer have less need to demonstrate and prove their skills. However, those with experience can easily be siloed - all too often I've seen adverts for web analyst positions which talk more about the need for experience with a particular analytics package, rather than concentrating on the skills required to do the job properly. Having a qualification like the WAA certification would demonstrate your ability to bring the necessary mindset and skills to the role to successfully carry it out. The individal could show their knowledge of the technical, marketing and statistical skill sets required for this job, rather than have to spell it out on a CV. The technical knowledge one would have acquired through gaining the qualification would go a long way to helping out with any package-specific issues that may be faced in a new role.

The downside is that many of these qualifications are expensive (especially if you have to travel to take them as Steve Jackson notes in his afore-referenced blogpost). But labour economics dictates that as long as prospective employers can be assured of the quality of the test, this should only go to highlight the candidate's quality (and self-belief) - that they were willing and confident enough to invest in themselves to set themselves apart from the market. That the qualification has to be re-taken regularly for such a changing market would also demonstrate the candidate's quality.

Finally, the obligatory UK naval-gazing section. Whilst in the US where there is more knowledge about web analytics industry, here in Blighty fewer companies and managers are familiar with it. They may well be aware of what a web analyst does and how they can help provide insight and drive action etc (although possibly not to the extent a similar position in the States would), but I suspect they wouldn't be so familiar with the role of the WAA, or have any knowledge of the varying types of qualifications out there. This then, for now, lessens the impact of obtaining one of these qualifications on this side of the pond, although hopefully this will change soon.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The UK election - a measured perspective: Part 2

In my last post I looked at how the three parties websites were tracked, and how their Twitter social media campaigns were running.

To recap, there was little evidence of anything other than implementing the vanilla tags for Google Analytics, with no custom tracking of any sort to be seen. The three parties all had Twitter accounts, and the numbers depicted quite different levels of advancement. The Tories had the largest number of followers and also the most engaged followers according to Twitalyzer, with 100% clout and the highest influence and impact ratings of the three. The Lib Dems whilst (only just) having the smallest number of followers, had a more engaged following than Labour, with higher clout, impact and influence metrics than the governing party. Furthermore, these metrics were all still rising, indicating an campaign that is being optimised. The Labour campaign was flat-lining for impact and influence, and whilst rising for clout, was still way behind the other two parties.

The last post looked at the 30 days of data in Twitalyzer up to April 16th, effectively looking at the first half of the official campaign. This time around we look at the data in the run up to the election. This should show us how the campaigns have faired since then, and possibly give an idea of who has run the best online campaign, and how offline events have affected the online campaigns. Who knows, I may even inspire you to bet on the actual outcome should you fancy a flutter.

This time around, we look at the 30 days of data in Twitalyzer up to May 2nd, 4 days before the election. Twitalyzer uses a 30 day moving average, with the score for an account changing every 7 days. Rather than look at the levels for each week, I shall look solely at the moving average for this time period versus the last. Note also that the diagrams below use change indicators that refer to the 7 day time period just mentioned rather than that the being used for this analysis.

Before we look at the Twitalyzer numbers in detail, we'll take a quick peek at the number of followers each of the accounts has to give a very rough indication of how the parties are faring. Both the Conservative and Labour parties have seen steady growth in their follower counts, with the Conservatives growing by 11% to just shy of 30k, and Labour by 10% to 16k. The Lib Dems saw a large 38% jump in followers, taking them to almost 19k followers, and easily taking second place off Labour. This reflects the surge in popularity that Nick Clegg, the leader of the Lib Dems, has seen following his successful appearances on the Leaders Debates. Another sketchy indicator of the quality of the campaigns of each of the parties is the ratio of followers to following. Last time around both Labour and the Conservatives had fewer followers than those they followed - unrequited love? This time around things were different, with only Labour having fewer followers than those they followed. On this measure the Conservatives were the most successful, now having 7% more followers than those they followed, with the Lib Dems slipping from 5% to 1%.

To recap, in terms of Twitter followers the Conservatives remain firmly in the lead, with the massive surge in popularity for Nick Clegg not really affecting them. It has, however, propelled the Lib Dems into second place.

Turning now to the Twitalyzer numbers it can be seen that whilst there has been some change to the performance of the campaigns based on the five metrics, as with the follower data the Conservatives remain in control.

Their impact has fallen to 38.6% from the previous analysis's 40.3%, which given their increase in followers since that time period suggests this is caused by factors that have caused the influence metric to fall down to 54.1% from 58%. As you may recall, influence takes references and retweets into account, whereas clout only looks at references - given that the Tories clout score has remained at 100%, this indicates a fall in the number of retweets the Conservatives account has been receiving - whilst people are happy to mention the account, they're not so keen on spreading what the Tories have to say. However, the generosity metric for the Tories has also risen dramatically since the last analysis, to stand at 34.7%, up from 3.7%! This suggests that as well as having engaged followers (although not possibly as engaged as they were a fortnight ago) the Conservative Twitter account is now engaging better with them too, with a nearly ten times increase in the share of its tweets that reference other accounts. Inspection of the actual account reveals that this is actually retweets of accounts affiliated with the Tory campaign, so is less engagement with followers, and more spreading the message.

The Labour party have been having a poor campaign offline, and this appears to be the case online as well. With the exception of generosity, all their metrics fell between the two time periods. Given that this presumably takes into account the 10% growth in followers, this indicates a marked fall in follower engagement, and suggests that the message that the Labour account is delivering isn't inspiring people enough to spread it. As with the previous period, all the follower engagement metrics for the Labour account are lower than both the Tory and Lib Dem accounts, and are now becoming more so. It is hard to determine the effect of Gordon Brown's gaffe late last week where he accused a member of the public of being "bigoted" on the Twitter account performance, given the seven day time periods used by Twitalyzer and the dates used here for the Twitter follower count, but it is improbable that this is the main cause of the downturn in their performance as this began before the gaffe. Although it can't be proved, it does appear that this specific event has not had the large negative effect on Labour's Twitter campaign that Nick Clegg's positive performance had on his party's campaign. This one-way relationship (if it exists) could give us some limited insight into the type of follower the social media campaigns have - being more positively affected by the campaign it suggests that party account followers are more affiliated with their party than the typical member of the public (as one would expect).

The Lib Dem Twitter account has seen a slight increase in impact, rising to 32.6% from 30.5% a fortnight ago. This reflects the large increase in followers, and will have been held back by the smaller increase in its follower engagement, represented here by the influence metric which only rose from 45.9% to 47.1%. The clout metric actually fell between the two periods, from 97.7% to 92.5%. This indicates an increase in the number of retweets, but a fall in references, suggesting that the new followers that the account has received (probably off the back of Nick Clegg's TV performances) are happy to retweet its message, but less likely to engage directly with the account.

It would appear then that the Labour account has deteriorated since the last analysis, when it wasn't performing well anyway, and is clearly behind the other two parties. The Lib Dems, whilst seeing a large increase in followers, and improvements in its influence, engagement and impact metrics, has seen a fall in its generosity and clout metrics, indicating an increase in the number of retweets as well as other accounts that it references, but fall in references by others. Whilst the Tory campaign has deteriorated since the last analysis, with both the impact and influence metrics falling, indicating a fall in their tweets being retweeted, they are still spreading their message more effectively than the other parties. Traditionally the Tories have had a stronger online presence than the other main parties, primarily in the blogosphere, and this goes some way to explaining the strength of their social media campaign.

Of course, this has only a slight correlation with the outcome of the election on Thursday, but it does show that the Conservative party have managed to generate a solid social media campaign (for Twitter) in the run up to the election, engaging better with their (larger number of) followers. Obviously, the numbers involved here are small relative to the size of the electorate, and to a certain extent their campaigns are preaching to the converted. This election will be won by convincing swing voters to vote for a party in key constituencies, and it will take more than Twitter or Facebook campaigns to do this.

Oh, and my prediction for the result? The Tories to take the largest share of the votes with a hung parliament overall. And the whole thing to begin again in under a year.
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