The Web is a Fractured Place Making Analytics Harder

Worried about snooping marketers watching your every move online? Fearing total loss of privacy through your online activities and the apps you use? Well, the truth is that you have less to fear than you think and marketers and researchers are not as able to snoop as much as they like. There are several reasons why businesses and governments don’t know as much about you as you might think. Conspiracy theories and fears on this are largely irrational and here’s why.

1. The Internet is Fractured: Although it is easy to think of the Web as a single, unified and harmonious system, its actually not. In fact, it’s far from it. There are sites you cannot access because there are country restrictions (e.g. Hulu in the USA only.) Governments may restrict certain sites (e.g. the China firewall) or forms of content and access to certain apps. Some areas of the Internet, known as the Deep Web, require manual passwords and access, where no search bots or social media analysis tools go. Then there are the increasing number of apps accessed through SmartPhones and tablet devices, while these apps use the Internet as their backbone, they may be self-contained and the data they feed to third parties is limited or in “bulk” so personalization is limited. These new “silos” are growing ever more popular for games or productivity tools.

2. Social Media Analytics and Monitoring ¬†Software is Terrible: Some tools, like Radian6 or Visible Technologies are reasonably good. But they are the first generation of these monitoring tools. They face a number of challenges, not least of which is their limitations on number of social media apps they can follow and then how much “data” they can suck out of those channels (i.e. the Twitter firehose.) They often have limited filters are restricted to keyword searches and sentiment analysis is based on keywords, not contextual understanding of phrases and sentences. They deliver some nice dashboards, but that is just more information, not intelligence. Most have now implement “engagement tools” into their software, downplaying the analytics and focusing on engagement with people. But they are limited.

3. Web Analytics Hasn’t Evolved Much: There are many more Web analytics tools than social media monitoring (or reputation management) apps out there. Best known of course is GoogleAnalytics followed by WebTrends. They are fairly good, but really only tell the story in aggregate. Issues such as ISP’s who use bulk assigned IP addresses don’t tell you much. You’ll never know exactly “who” and “why” someone is on your website. They fail on “intent” and “context”. They help, but not as much as some might hope for or consumers fear. They can add good value to SEO and advertising, but they aren’t a silver bullet. Here’s a good blog post on the WAO/Factor about analytics we tend to agree with.

4. Market Confusion: Then there’s the human factor of a capitalist free market; there are many competitors and conferences, it’s hard to know which really is the best tool. As a result, marketers, analysts, researchers and so on, are left finding a tool/service that generally fits their business. And then there are still many traditional industries and sectors that pay scant attention to the available information online – because there really is no clear route. Competition is great, it drives innovation, but it can also lead to greater confusion.

So then, if the Web is so fractured and analytics tools not so good, what are the options? We’ve found it to be having a realistic approach to what analytics tools can actually accomplish and combining that with humans. It’s why we’ve always employed the hybrid approach and always will. We have our own software, which helps, but the human element is still needed. Humans understand humans far better than machines probably ever will. Right now and likely for a long time yet, we’re adding more digital content than anyone or any software can possibly analyse effectively.