Who’s Tracking Your Site? Free Services to Help You Get Found

Posted: October 4th, 2010   |   Category: Blog | Case Studies | Planning | Strategy | Tools

This is one of our longer articles, so grab a coffee/tea/water and be prepared to join the conversation at the end.

In the world of analytics, there are a number of platforms available for tracking information related to your web site.  Today, we’re going to cover just a few of those options and why they should be a part of your basic web strategy.

While most of this information will be of extreme importance for publishers – anyone that runs their own blog or generates content for a broader audience – all readers should take note of these tools, particularly if you’re in the digital planning and/or buying business.  Since all of these tools track publishers, they provide a mirror-like opportunity for planners and researchers to extract valuable information about those sites.

Prelude:  The Basic Metrics

All media planners will typically ask for a single page of data showing the following basic information and metrics:

  1. Average monthly page views – these are the number of times a single page of your site loads.  Advertising opportunities (‘available impressions’) become a multiple of page views.  If you have 3 ads on any page, and you have an average 10,000 monthly page views, you have an ‘inventory’ of 30,000 ‘available impressions’.
  2. Average monthly unique visitors – these are the number of people that visit your site on a monthly basis.  They are ‘unique’ because it’s the first time the tracking system has identified them as NEW visitors to your web site.  A decent third-party system will also tell you how many repeat visitors you have, giving you a chance to also measure loyalty (the number of times someone visits your site in a month).
  3. Average Page Views Per Unique Visitor – the bigger the number, the more ‘sticky’ your site.  This is good for sites that offer contextual information and content, like lots of articles about politics or music videos.
  4. Average Time on Site – maybe they go through a lot of pages, but maybe users only spend a few moments on your site.  A stock quote site is a great example.
  5. Demographic data – basic information about the users that visit your site.  Services like Quantcast offer up data like gender split, nationality of origin, income, education, etc. and how they index against the norm.  This is very important when pulling together a media plan that addresses specific audiences.

We recommend that all sales people have this information as a one-pager, in powerpoint format (not PDF because us media planners can’t consolidate this to a larger deck) with as little formatting as possible.  Update the information monthly.  It’s a basic piece of information that any media planner will ask for if they are considering adding you to their client’s online marketing plan.

Why Have a Third-Party Tracking System?

Advertisers and other people that rely on site traffic for revenue should always have at least ONE third-party tracking system counting basic metrics (which I’ll describe below) in order to validate the opportunity of marketing on their web site(s).

There are three very basic reasons for having a well-known third-party service track your site data:

  1. Accountability or marketability; and
  2. ‘Findability’
  3. Predictability

Author’s Note:  I’m humble enough to know that this list isn’t comprehensive.  I’d like to hear what you have to say about why you should (and maybe why you shouldn’t) use third-party systems to track your site data.  Please add your thoughts in the comments below.

Accountability

When you have a third-party track your site for you, you create instant accountability for those who want to buy ads on your site or understand the demographics of your users a little better.

If you don’t have a third-party tracking tool for your site, get one. Any digital media planner/buyer will ask you for the basic metrics for your site (see above) and if you don’t have them, you’ll be quickly looked over and thought of as being amateur.  I’m not trying to be a snob, but accountability goes down the line:  if we can’t offer rationale in the form of basic metrics to our clients, they won’t be interested (even if I love your site).

We also suggest that you use more than one service to track your site.  Placing a pixel for any or all of the services below will give you a chance to cross-reference numbers and make sure that all of them are tracking ‘apples vs apples’.  What we mean:  sometimes, data collection services may not even track you because they rely on survey results as opposed to real-time traffic.  Other services have ‘flexible’ definitions that might relate to your basic metrics, many of which are not reliable when presenting them to clients.

Surveys are not as reliable for you – the publisher – as a third-party tracking system because there’s a possibility that they may not carry any information about your site.  The data that they report is based on what a sample audience does when they’re online.  This is great for Facebook and Sympatico, but not so great for small independent publishers that might have an extremely loyal audience.

‘Findability’

The comment about surveys offers a great segue to the notion of ‘findability’.

When media planners use survey-based products, they may not be finding the right audience for their clients because they’ll always come up with the norm and rarely find ‘the hidden gems’ related to specific contextual opportunities.

When you use popular third-party tracking services to capture how many people are using your web site, you make it substantially easier to ‘get found’ by media planners and smaller advertisers.

More and more planners and clients are using free services like those listed below.  If your site doesn’t show up and isn’t directly measured by said service, the ‘findability’ quotient for your site drops precipitously.

Predictability

Predictability – the ability to estimate your available impressions – relies on a steady stream of data that is based on several years of information.  So, like planting a tree, the best time to start with a third-party service is a long time ago.  The second best time to start is now.

Why is predictability important?  Media planners want to know what your ‘avails’ are.  The avails are an estimate of how many impressions or page views should be available in the coming months, based on past experience.

With the exception of a few platforms (eg. Facebook), most sites have a consistent level of traffic and predictability.  Having a third-party service show that data is valuable in assessing how much inventory you have available for sale.

Of course, predictability also helps you estimate your revenue potential.  If you have 1,000,000 impressions available per month and you sell your inventory at $20 CPM (Cost Per Mille, or thousand), you’ll make $20,000 per month if you sell 100% of your inventory.

Of course, it would be unwise to over-sell your inventory.  Failure to deliver the volume that you’ve contracted will ruin expectations, created unwanted paperwork and make-goods and shatter a buyer’s faith in your site and ability to be honest about your inventory.

Six Free Services to Help You Get Found

Before looking at what’s available, please note that there are basically two kinds of tracking systems:

  1. Basic server-side / hosted solutions
  2. Enterprise-class solutions
  3. Software as a solution (SaaS) / ‘cloud’ solutions

I am partial to server-side solutions.  They ensure that data collected about your site remain with you and your hosting company.

That said, SaaS solutions are much more approachable by small and medium-sized companies.  Almost all of them are free as well.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a Software As A Solution (SAAS) platform that you access to find out about what’s happening with your site.

Setting up an account is easy and once you’ve completed the registration, all you have to do is go to the link titled ‘Create New Website Profile’ and enter the URL that you want to track and click ‘Finish’.  Once you do that, Google will generate a JavaScript code that you have to copy and paste to your home page (or home page template) just before the HTML </body> tag.

As soon as you do this, Google Analytics will start tracking all of the activity on your site.

The mirror for Google Analytics is Google’s AdPlanner product.  We use AdPlanner all the time to develop basic planning details.

Piwik

Piwik is a lot like Google Analytics (GA), but a lot different than GA as well.

What’s cool about Piwik is that the platform is installed on your server.

What this means is that the data is generated, reports are created and tracking is made available, but all of this information remains confidential to you and your hosting company.  Google doesn’t have a chance to see how your site is doing – although I shouldn’t even joke about confidentiality as far as Google is concerned.  If they were to use your site data for something beyond what their licensing agreement says, they’d find themselves in a lot of hot water.

For those who aren’t that tech savvy, Piwik is not a great option because there is the standard ‘unpacking’ (ie. unzipping and organization of important files) process that requires something a little more complex than my ‘Vic 20’ programming knowledge.

Piwik Screen Grab

Piwik: Server-Side Tracking

WebTrends

WebTrends is one of several enterprise-class and server-side analytics and tracking packages that you may want to use to track all of your site’s activities, but it will do much more than that for you.

WebTrends can be used to integrate almost all of your communications into a single platform.

The problem?  Cost.  WebTrends is really only worth considering if you’re a large organization that has tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of visitors per month.

That said, anyone that asks for data related to your visitors and site activity will be very pleased with what you can give them to validate your site!

Omniture

Omniture – now owned by Adobe – is another enterprise-class platform that lets you track, manage and report on pretty much everything related to your site and, in many cases, your organization as well.

Again, because of the intensity and robust nature of Omniture, it’s really only something that larger entities can afford to leverage for their digital activities.

Quantcast

Quantcast is one of many online services that help you extend your reach and your visibility to broader audiences.

Media planners and other marketers use sites like Quantcast to search out sites that relate to the demographics they want to target, specific audience profiles or contextual opportunities for themselves or their clients.

Most of these services offer a ‘free-mium’ version of reporting for planners.

Here’s a great example of a company that wants to ‘get found’:

A good example of a publisher that doesn’t want to get found:

Unfortunately, the Globe and Mail – Canada’s national newspaper – has not leveraged the opportunity to gain visibility with a simple planning tool like Quantcast, leaving it off the map for planners when they search for specific opportunities in the Canadian (or even international) digital space.  Getting ‘Quantified’ would change this and ensure that they are able to show comparable figures with sites like Bloomberg or Forbes.com.

Compete.com
Compete.com – like Quantcast and Alexa.com (below) – picks up several demographic and geographic elements as well as basic site metrics.

What I like about Compete.com is the ability to do quick comparisons with up to 3 sites for the free data:

Once again, we see how two sites (Bloomberg and Forbes) have made their data available by dropping a Compete.com tracking tag on their site.  The Globe, however, doesn’t seem to have done that and their data gets lost in translation.  As planners begin to use more of these to compare opportunities, those who aren’t here will never be found.  Sales will ultimately suffer as a result.

Alexa.com

Alexa – owned by AOL – is the last of the main services that track your site activity.  While similar in most respects to Compete.com and Quantcast.com, Alexa.com offers a little bit more immediate knowledge with respect to site rank and audience profiles by geography.

Alexa also has a toolbar that can be downloaded, so that as planners browse specific sites, they’ll be able to see relevant and up-to-date information about the sites that they’re considering for their online marketing plan.

If you’re a publisher and a planner or potential client is using this feature and nothing shows up when they do a search, you’re toast and you’ll never get found.

Once again, sales opportunities will drift past you and you’ll be wondering why.

Google’s Doubleclick AdPlanner

As always, Google takes everything up a notch with their Doubleclick Ad Planner platform.

If you’re a publisher, it’s highly recommended that you have your site verified by Doubleclick Ad Planner.  There are two ways to do this:

  1. Use Google Webmaster Tools
  2. Update Doubleclick’s MediaVisor Tool

Doubleclick’s Ad Planner gives us the ability to screen sites and develop a media plan that may even include a number of placements with Google’s Placement Network.  If that’s the case, we can jump directly to buying and implementing the buy using our AdWords account.

At a certain point, this will be the only tool we’ll be using when it comes to planning, negotiating and implementing a media buy.

The only problem is that Google hasn’t caught up to us yet.

Right now, you can create a plan and, as mentioned, you can implement some components if publishers join Google’s Placement Network.  However, in most cases, you can’t go to contract with the publishers that don’t join the network.  This prevents from adding your site to our client’s plans.

Many would suggest that this is OK, as we’re not really sure how much to surrender to Google when it comes to planning.

TRAFFIQ

TRAFFIQ is likely the first of many online services that we’ll see materialize over the coming months and years as the world tries to streamline the digital planning and buying process.

TRAFFIQ allows users to create plans, book them and then track a lot of the reporting via their admin panel.

This is a quantum leap from when I started in the business more than a decade ago, but for many it’s still a quantum leap compared to what a lot of people do today.

The only challenge with a model like TRAFFIQ:  the publisher list isn’t as robust as we’d like it to be.

Admittedly, I’m coming at this from a unique angle.  Most of the usual suspects are there, including various exchanges, networks and individual sites, but most of the players in the Canadian space are surprisingly absent.  We’re speculating it’s because of the tight network of sites, reps and agencies that exist in this country.  Surrendering a percent of sales (I think it starts in the 20% range) to an American platform doesn’t make sense when you’re booked months in advance as a result of a few well-placed phone calls every 3-6 months.

So, despite the absence of the ‘biggies’ in Canada, the advice for smaller Canadian publishers is that the sooner you get involved with services like TRAFFIQ and accept that you’ll get 80% of something as opposed to 100% of nothing, the sooner folks like us will be able to use this platform and maximize our value to clients.

Summary

Remember that the basic goal here is to get found online.

Also, remember the old adage that ‘nature abhors a vacuum’.

Therefore, the priority for all publishers should be to focus on leveraging Software as a Solution (SaaS) platforms like Compete.com or Quantcast.com and/or leveraging buying platforms like Google AdPlanner and TraffiIQ.

Not being there equates to not getting found online and this will bring about an untimely demise of your site and the message you want to convey because you simply aren’t selling your ad inventory.

Thanks for reading!

Bill Wittur
Managing Director
Bottree Digital Services

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