Keeping Up With The Technology Measurement Bullet Train
Tuesday's article about third-party auditors and standards triggered some healthy discussion in the industry this week about the responsibilities of standard-setting bodies and transparency. Much of the discussion was around the validity of metrics and third party accreditation when there is no agreed upon standard. ABCi posted about how its Digital Technology Accreditation Program works in the comments to Tuesday's article. I would encourage you to read their response as well as a follow-up article that ran in OnlineMediaDaily.
So, as I sat down to write this week's article, the thought of standards and measurement tools was obviously top of mind. Web analysts have a lot on their plate when it comes to answering business questions within their organization. How many UVs, sessions, page views on the site? How is email performing? Are our widgets getting grabbed and viewed on Facebook? How many comments on the message boards today? How do we stack up against our competitors? There is a lot to measure, and it is important to note that not all of that can be captured by an ad server or traditional Web analytics tools.
In my experience with Web analytics, we constantly run into the issue of trying to understand when to use which analysis tool to answer the most common business questions. Ad server data, audience Mmeasurement data and Web analytics data must be used like tools in a tool box. Are there comprehensive standards that bridge across all of these data sources? No, not yet. The business question will dictate which data source to use.
Then we come back to standard -- there's that boring word again. Yes, standards. They are critical for the marketplace to conduct transactions and innovate. They are also important for setting consistency across the practice of Web analytics. The word "practice" is important to note here, because it truly is a practice. Gathering data, interpreting it and discerning if you can make a business decision or recommendation from it, is probably the hardest job of the Web analyst. Standards help guide the Web analyst in understanding how to interpret data from each of the sources that I mentioned above.
So what do you do if there is no standard for what you are reporting on? You definitely don't choose to just do nothing. The approach that I have always championed is transparency. This means defining how you are going to measure something, applying the best practices and standards that have been published by the IAB and WAA, and ensuring that the process is consistent and as transparent as possible. I mentioned in an article a few months ago that social media vendors need to "open the kimono" with respect to the metrics that they are publishing and the methodologies that they use. I still feel that way (and yes, they need to be listening, too). After all, customers and partners want to know that the data they base business decisions on is valid. Embracing transparency and opening up methodologies helps to build trust and confidence in a company, with or without published standards.
The bottom line is that the technology train is moving faster than anyone can keep up with, but that doesn't mean that online measurement stops.