Importance of Context in Analyzing data

Recently, I was analyzing some user generated data in a mobile app. The app was sending content on specific categories to a niche audience, and at the end of each content piece, there was a simple 5 star rating feedback for users to rate the piece.

The assumption that the design team who thought of this was that the feedback data was an objective metric.

Objective metric for Subjective behavior

Unfortunately, the behavior of users and how they understood the content piece is a very subjective topic. By subjective, I mean to say that for two different users, the value they would associate to the usefulness of the same piece varies.

We could always say ceterus paribus, but I would say – “Let’s not fool ourselves here”.

In the world of subjectivity, ceterus paribus doesn’t exist

There could be so many factors that are associated to my giving a 5/5 to a piece v/s 4/5 to the same piece, that in the end, I’d be forced to say it depends, and then list out of a whole new set of variables.

Slicing the Data with new variables

This is a problem. Since, my existing data set does not have these new variable. So, from analyzing – now I am back to collecting data. To be frank, there’s no end to this cycle … collect data, realize that you might want more data and rinse, repeat.

Where do we divine the new rules and new variables? We start from the context.

Ergo, the simple and freeing approach of the answer to the questions we were looking for in the data, sometimes lies partially in the data points, and partially in the context.

Let me illustrate this

Let’s take a fairly popular metric – Bounce rate.

Now, if I were to say that my website’s bounce rate is 100%, what would you say?

Sucks, right??

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Now, if I were to tell you that my website is a single page website where I want my users to watch a product launch video. That bounce rate suddenly pales and aren’t you itching to ask me about the number of users who played the video upto a certain point?

If you have been working with Google Analytics, then some of you might even suggest that adding a non-interaction event in GA when the play button is hit.

One more example

Let’s take one more metric. Pages/Session to measure how much content the user is consuming on a site.

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Let’s see this in a different spiel. A user is on your site, searching for content and is not able to find what he wants, and keeps visiting different pages. After going through 8-9 pages, he finally gives up and leaves the site. That 8.5 as pages/session now doesn’t seem that sexy now does it?

 

Understand the context

Therefore staring at a pure data puke may not help. Understanding the context under which that data was collected is as important as going through excel sheets or powerpoint presentations.

TL;DR – Data without context is open to too many interpretations and is a waste of time.

Shifting to _utmz to _ga

Some years back I had written about the __utmz cookie that Google Analytics uses to identify source attribution for visitors. If you are interested in reading that post, click here on Understanding the __utmz cookie.

Google evolves beyond Urchin

Google Analytics is based on the Urchin tracking management system and has been improving on that system over a period of time. As I have seen this product evolve, and many more features that were not there in Urchin … one of the major changes has been in the usage of cookies.

That makes my earlier post defunct.

The utmz Cookie

The utmz cookie used to contain the information about where the user has come from, which campaign, source and medium did the user react to arrive at the site. This information could be read and stored in a separate system (such as a CRM whenever a lead is captured). This could help in attribution of paying customers, and bring in all the crunchy goodness that you wanted.

Unfortunately, the utmz cookie no longer exists. The cookies have changed, if you are interested in know which cookies Google Analytics uses now, you can read this support article.

Where does that leave us?

So how do we go about finding more information about the user. This information is now not readable. However, what information we have on hand is a unique identifier of the cookie. That much still hasn’t changed.

So let’s take a look under the hood shall we,

The _ga cookie contains a value. This is the client id of the user. If you see the cookies collection, there are multiple _ga cookies, however, when you match it with the domain column, for every user – domain combination, there is a single _ga cookie.

This cookie is accessible by your server side script as well as your client side JavaScript. Therefore, we can get access to the _ga cookie value and store the client id within.

What is a client id?

To understand this, let’s go to Google Analytics. In GA, under the Audience section, we have a User Explorer report. Here’s a screenshot from my GA –

Check the value – 129754452.1496423206

This is available in the _ga cookie as well as in the user explorer. I can now identify specific users and leads in my CRM based on their client ids.

Therefore, I can even start checking their user behavior on the site, like so –

This is how the user has been visiting the site over a period of time. Notice the source is changing for different visits.

In a world where I would have been storing just the final source in the CRM, now I have a much more detailed view of how the user keeps coming to my site. This allows me to explore other attribution models and share the credit of the user’s conversion across channels.

This brings me one step closer to the World of And.

The World of And

In case if you haven’t already watched this, you need to watch this –

 

Taking a look at Jetpack Stats

Let me state upfront that I love Google Analytics. I use it at work in 13 Llama Interactive to measure the effectiveness of the campaigns that my team runs.

That being said, I will try and not be too biased about comparing Jetpack Stats to Google Analytics. As a marketer, the way I look at an analytics package is from an ability to extract a fair amount of data.

However, Jetpack Stats is on top of WordPress and available to all WordPress based sites which are connected to the WordPress.com site. This makes Jetpack Stats primary user base as bloggers.

Let’s see what Jetpack Stats has to offer.

The wp-admin Dashboard Integration

Jetpack Stats puts a nice pretty looking graph on the wp-admin Dashboard. This is how it looks like for my site –

Jetpack-Stats-on-wp-admin-Dashboard

Now, this is fairly similar to the Audience Overview you get when you check out Google Analytics.

Google-Analytics-Dashboard

Straight off the bat, I prefer Jetpack Stats overview as opposed to the one given by Google Analytics. Jetpack Stats also provides me with how my posts have performed this day, this report would be available in GA witin the Behavior section, the Site Content report.

The Top Searches that you see in the screenshot would have been helpful had it been accurate. Unfortunately, Google accounts for the majority of organic traffic on my site, and most of that traffic is encrypted. Thus, these keywords that you see (really, I rank for ‘big ass girl dunes’) are not a complete set!

Jetpack Stats does not talk to Google Webmaster Tools, which now is the only source of this keyword data.

Jetpack Stats Posting Activity

One awesome feature about Jetpack Stats is the posting activity screen –

Jetpack-Posting_Activity

This data is shown with a correlation of average traffic per day as well as traffic per month. You could always get this data in Google Analytics (here is a useful post I had written some time back – Google Analytics for Content Marketers).

It’s just this kind of insights that makes me keep Jetpack around for my measurement requirements.

Jetpack Stats vs Google Analytics

Jetpack Stats is a very lightweight tool and it would be useful for a simple blog. However the minute we enter the realm of finding user engagement and performance marketing, Jetpack simply does not have those features yet.

This is where Google Analytics shines through with its Event tracking.

Having said that, Jetpack Stats is an apt solution for a user who is more focused on the publishing process.

Using Data Studio to create beautiful Reports

In the month of November 2016, Data Studio was made available for all users in India. The product was launched quite some time back, however, it was only accessible in the US and for premium Google Analytics 360 users.

However, as of today, anyone can use Google Data Studio to create dazzling reports that can be shared with teams and clients.

So how does one go about creating awesome reports?

That’s where Data Studio shines, it allows users to create one template which can be utilized across multiple data sources. I tried to create a quick report using one of the default templates provided, here’s a step by step guide on using Data Studio to create reports.

An update: As of 2nd Feb 2017, Data Studio has been declared a free product for everyone to use.

Adding a Data Source

First, we need to add our data source (in this case my site’s Google Analytics account) to the Data Studio.

Choose the Data Source menu from the Dashboard
Choose the Data Source menu from the Dashboard

Once you click on the menu, you would be directed to a screen listing all the data sources that you have added to your account.

Note, by default Google keeps some data sources in your account, so that one can practice on the product before moving on to your own data sources.

List of Data Sources
List of Data Sources

As all Google products, you can see the clear use of Material Design in this interface. Use the blue floating action button at the bottom right of your screen to add your own custom data source.

Connecting GA as Data Source
Connecting GA as Data Source

As the screenshot above shows, that most of the Google products can easily be integrated to this product. What’s more you can even use a MySQL database or a Google Spreadsheet (Excel ahoy!).

So, I could do most of my number crunching in existing styles, and use this tool only as a slick presentation layer.

After I press connect, this GA property of my site is now added to Data Studio as a source of data.

The minute you choose the right property, you would see all the dimensions and metrics that Google Analytics has. This is a pretty exhaustive list and you can import most of these into Data Studio.

GA Fields Imported as Dimensions and Metrics
GA Fields Imported as Dimensions and Metrics

Now that the important fields are linked (do check the respective fields you want to pull), we can go on to using a report template.

List of my Data Sources
List of my Data Sources

The screenshot shows the recently added data source. Great! We are all set to creating awesome reports!

Using Report Templates

We would be using the Acme Marketing template that’s there in the account. It broadly shows basic user level data in one simple report.

Keep in mind that Data Studio reports can span across multiple pages, but for this guide we are sticking to a one-pager.

Go back to your dashboard and choose the Acme Report template.

Acme Data Studio Template
Acme Data Studio Template

Click on the Use Template button, and now this is the most important point when it comes to using Data Studio report templates, choose your own data source.

Selecting the right Data Source
Selecting the right Data Source

Something for beginners to keep in mind again, is that if you choose the wrong data source (for e.g. of the default ones provided), then the report would be generated, however the data won’t be yours!

If in case, you have done this, it’s easy to change the data source after you have created the report.

Let’s move on to customizing the report

 

Customizing the Report
Customizing the Report

What I did was choose the Acme logo, and change it to the Big Fat Geek logo! A small change in the header color, and I have a branded look for the template.

This is what the finished report now looks like –

Finished Report
Finished Report

Using Data Studio

The cool part of Data Studio now shines through. What I have is a report which talks to data in real time. So I can change my data range, and my report updates!

This report can now be shared with my team or my reporting manager or clients without worrying about giving access to all the dimensions and metrics.

Data Studio Working Report
Data Studio Working Report

That’s all for today folks! It’s your turn to go and try out this tool and churn out spectacular looking reports.

The referral spam bots are now from Saint Petersburg

I had written in the past about discovering the Samara Oblast bots. For those of you who are unaware, just quickly check in your Google Analytics, in the Audience reports section the Location report.

If you are receiving a bunch of traffic from Russia, then it’s most likely spammy traffic. This traffic will never convert and will always be a small set of users, however with a decently large number of sessions.

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