Avinash Kaushik Shares Insights about Real-Time Web Analytics, Actionable Metrics and Powerful Blogging

Web analytics are cool. If you agree with that statement, there's a good change you've spent some time reading Occam's Razor, the fascinating blog about web analytics by Avinash Kaushik (author of Web Analytics 2.0 and Web Analytics: An Hour A Day).

If you don't know who Avinash is then just Google "Web Analytics" and you'll surely find out who he is. I've personally  learnt much from his thought-provoking and action-oriented writings, and I'm sure you will too. Below is an interview about some of the hot topics in web analytics today.

1. Tools like Woopra have introduced us to real-time analytics. Is real-time the future of analytics? Why are we not there yet?

There is more and more real-time data available. Google Analytics is updated, officially, every hour. Then there are cool tools like Chartbeat, etc. My personal perspective on real time analytics is.... if you can't take real-time action then why do you want real time data?

In 99% of the cases real-time data is not actionable (it is not statistically significant and people jump the gun on the wrong signals), and companies (big or small) can't actually take any action even if there is an actionable signal (change campaigns, landing pages, stop emails from going out or whatever). Then why do you want the data?

Real-time data becomes an excuse to stare at computer screens or do data puking. It keeps people from doing thoughtful analysis and looking at non-tactical things (and adding value to their employer).

If your organization meets these two rules: a) You have enough traffic / responses on your site to get statistically significant data AND b) You have a capacity to change things (take action), you should seek out real time data and you should make use of it. If you don't meet the two rules take a long hard look at if you are engaging in any activity that is adding to your company's bottom-line when you tap into real time data.

2. In 2007, you wrote a post  about "engagement" often being an "excuse," not a metric. Now that we can measure things like comments, Facebook likes, ReTweets, check-ins, etc., what are your thoughts about the importance of measuring engagement?

My point of view on engagement is simple: What the heck does it actually mean? The answer is? Everything to everyone. Hence my minor displeasure at that metric. I believe in clarity of communication and a razor sharp focus on solving specific problems. Hence precise measurements, and naming metrics for clarity.

Engagement means nothing, hence does not drive action.

My recommendation was that if you are measuring time spent on the site as "engagement" then call it Time on Site. If you are measuring the number of visits by one person as "engagement" call it Visitor Loyalty. Then people know what you are measuring and what to do with the data.

With regards to your point about Twitter and Facebook.... it is very very cool that we can measure new things. The metrics I like (or have formulated) are....

# of Retweets per 1000 followers. I call it Message Amplification.
# of Replies sent & received per day. I call it Conversation Rate.

Both measure "engagement", but they are called what they actually measure. That's what I recommend. More here: Social Media Analytics: Twitter: Quantitative & Qualitative Metrics.

In each new medium (like social now) we'll get even more opportunities to measure if we are doing this right. Unique metrics for unique "engagement" processes.

3. Today's tools and vendors seem to still be fragmented so we find separate tools for web analytics, monitoring, and specific insights. Do you see the industry consolidating to provide clients with a super tool that does it all?

Yes, and no.

Yes in the sense that as things get settled you'll see tools evolving to incorporate that reporting. AdWords reporting used to be all by itself (it was too young, too new and no one new where it was going). It is now standard reporting included in Google Analytics and Omniture and other tools.

In the last couple of years AdSense, TV, Email, Display are all incorporated into Google Analytics, as an example. Or sometimes different vendors merge things together, as it the case with the 4Q voice of customer survey which merges with Google Analytics.

So as digital strategies reach some level of maturity expect tools by Google and Yahoo! and WebTrends and more to incorporate them together.

No in the sense that we live in such an ever evolving space (I think of web analytics today as a toddler, a lot of growth/change is to come and we actually have no idea what it is going to become). So new things will keep coming and they'll be outside and we'll have to become comfortable with what I call Multiplicity, the idea that to do your job effectively on the web you'll have to:

a) Use the right tool to answer the right question, and b) Be very comfortable with managing / learning / using multiple tools at one time

And I'll tell that that to me that is just so exciting that the world changes and evolves and you can have so much fun. Every day!

4. Bloggers often pay attention to comments and Social Media sharing as a way to measure success. What should bloggers be paying more attention to?

This should not come as a surprise... I have a blog post on Blog Metrics! : ) Here it is: Blog Metrics: Six Recommendations For Measuring Your Success.

It is important to focus on the impact of social media on your blogging success (retweets, likes, replies to you on twitter and facebook to posts about your blog etc etc). But blogging is about more than social media links / clicks. The essence of my blog post about is that you should measure holistic success of your blog. The metrics I recommend are:

1. Raw Author Contribution
2. Audience Growth
3. Conversation Rate
4. Citations / Ripple Index (social media falls here)
5. Cost
6. Benefit ($$)

Taking that view allows you to have a robust understanding of if you are adding value and if you should keep doing what you are doing (or change!). I encourage people to do that beyond simply checking retweets or likes.

5. Your 10/90 rule is great because it focuses on people, not tools or technologies. With that rule in mind, what advice would you give to young people getting started in marketing research and analytics?

Learn to try new things and play in the real world. There is no better medium in the world for you to try anything you want, all by yourself without the need to rely on your employer to empower you. Tools are free or cheap. Platforms are free or cheap. All you need is a pinch of effort and a dash of desire to learn in the real world. If you do that no one will refuse to hire you because you'll actually know what the heck you are talking about. If you don't do that... well.... life will be tougher.

Here is a blog post that outlines how to do that, at least for Web Analytics: Web Analytics Career Advice: Play In The Real World.

6. Your books "Web Analytics 2.0" and "Web Analytics: An Hour a Day" have not only helped many people, but also created excitement around web analytics. Did you ever think you would one day be the closest thing to an Analytics Rock Star?

There is no such thing as a Rock Star. From dust to dust. :)

But I did want to share that I feel incredibly blessed that blogging and engaging in social media allows me (and anyone else!) to simply do what I am passionate about (writing and analytics), and have something come of it. My blog is responsible for Wiley contacting me and requesting me to write a book and things kept evolving like that. All I did is focus on writing things people would find to be "incredible" and "of value" (my two mantras for blogging).

As you know, all my proceeds from both my books are donated to charity (Doctors Without Borders, The Smile Train and Ekal Vidyalaya), and in around two years that amount is over $100k. I am astounded at that outcome.  More than anything it shows how "powerful" each and every one of us can be when we leverage the beautiful internet and focus on adding value through our passion.

Viva la web!

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