Social Media Sites Force Analytics Tools to Evolve

Online businesses, accustomed to tracking transactions and click-through rates, are seeking new metrics to measure the impact of social media.

“The social media revolution, and the Web 2.0 ramifications, have led to a different type of tracking,” said Eric Peterson, founder of Web Analytics Demystified Consulting. “Events are subordinate to page views.” He defines events as triggering a video to play, pause, or fast forward. Events also include interaction with applications such as chat, widgets, video, maps or other applications.

And analytic tool vendors, including Google, are looking to step up their offerings in response to demand. For its part, Google has come forward to tout its offerings, pointing ClickZ to two Web sites — Experience Project and Bonobos — that use Google Analytics to track social media interactions.

Executives at both sites concur that visitors interact in different ways on social media sites than traditional sites.

Take the Experience Project, a site where people post accounts of life experiences. The number of users and time spent on the site are considered more valuable metrics than click-through rates.

And, Bonobos.com, a premium men’s clothing manufacturer, tracks how visitors come to the site — whether it’s from Facebook, reddit, Twitter, or elsewhere. Dave Eisenberg, VP of marketing at Bonobos.com, said the company also monitors how much time visitors spend and what they do on the site. Using Google Analytics, for instance, it will indicate if a visitor came to Bonobos.com by way of a Facebook ad. If that’s the case, Bonobos would then track the time and conversions on its site.

Due to its findings, Bonobos runs ads on Facebook — and adjusts the amount spent there and other social media sites — based on where visitors are coming from and what they do when they get to Bonobos. Twitter and reddit are other channels that Bonobos uses to market its brand.

At Experience Project, most of the traffic comes from organic search, rather than ad placements on Facebook or AdWords. Interaction on the site includes postings and conversations between visitors, and measurement is important to the daily operation. One goal: “To make sure when someone lands on the site they are paired up with what they are looking for, they don’t leave the site, and find the content they are looking for,” said Julio Vasconcellos, vice president of business development, at Experience Project.

Experience Project relies heavily on Google Analytics to track its users, engagement, and interactions, but turns to other tools for an assist. “One thing we want to look at is the information and data across a user’s life…We want to look back a week later,” Armen Berjikly, founder and chief experience officer told ClickZ. So, Experience Project built an in-house tool to do that.

And Experience Project signed up for Quantcast, which measures Census-level audience data based on tags placed on the site. By registering for the free service, Quantcast keeps Experience Project’s data private. (For non-participating sites, or those without tags, Quantcast reports rough estimates of audience size and demographics based on a variety of sample data unless those sites restrict access.)

Avinash Kaushik, analytics evangelist at Google, emphasized that Google Analytics lets Web sites set their own definitions on what to measure. “Build the data you want, store it, and report it back to you,” he said

Peterson, of Web Analytics Demystified Consulting, pointed to the strengths and weaknesses of Google Analytics. “They let you track these things for free. Visualization could be better, but one of the things with Google is it will get better, it will get more granular,” he said.

What makes Google’s tool so special if other analytics can track visits over time, or so-called event tracking? “Because everybody makes you pay to track these events,” Peterson said. “Say you pay a penny for a page view, most vendors track these as page views, the costs associated with event tracking can get very high so Google does away with that and lets you do it for free.”

Sites like the Experience Project say the use of the tools — and the tools — are evolving, for the better. “The tools have improved,” said Vasconcellos. “We’ve seen integrated strides in that area. Either we didn’t understand, or tools have become more mature.”

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