Beantin

James Royal-Lawson

Web management

Google Analytics: what are visits?

It’s all change with Visits and Google Analytics. In August 2011 Google altered when they consider a session to have ended. A small change according to their blog.

Get ready, I’m going to mention some odd sounding cookie names a fair bit!


close up photo of a Google Analytics visitor graph

In the old days

Prior to August 2011, If a user was inactive for 30 minutes or more, any future activity would have been attributed to a new visit. Any users that left your site but returned within 30 minutes were counted as part of the original visit.

Google made use of two cookies in keeping track of a session. One called __utmb and another called __utmc.

__utmc was a pure browser session cookie which expired as soon as the browser was closed. If __utmc didn’t exist, then it was a new visit.

__utmb is a persistent cookie that is set to expire after 30 minutes (by default). This cookie was used to register a new visit if you’ve left the site open in your browser (ie __utmc exists), but you disappeared for more than 30 minutes to do something else – perhaps to eat lunch.

Back to the future

From August 2011, the session cookie __umtc is no longer used to calculating visits and instead Google is using the __utmb cookie in combination with another cookie, __utmz, to determine when a new session begins.

__utmz is the traffic source cookie. I’ve explained the often misunderstood Google Analytics traffic sources in a previous post. This cookie only gets updated when the traffic source for the current visit is different to the traffic source stored in the cookie (excluding direct visits).

What Google Analytics does now is reset the __utmb cookie and increment the session counter in __utma (the 2-year persistent cookie storing your unique ID amongst other things) every time the __utmz cookie is updated – ie, each time the traffic source changes.

It does this whether the __utmc cookie exists or not. So, closing your browser, reopening it and revisiting a site (within 30 minutes of __utmb last being updated) will count as part of the same visit.

So What does this mean?

This means that you can’t compare visit data that crosses the date divide of August 16th 2011. Year-on-year comparisons are out of the window.

You will also see an increase in visits. How much of an increase depends on your traffic patterns – if visitors frequently hopped back and forth to your website from other sites or search engines in a short space of time, you’ll see a much bigger jump than say, a blog with a relatively low publishing frequency.

You will see a slight increase in traffic sources as the splitting of visits up into per-source chunks should reveal sources that were previously buried. Average page views per visit will fall slightly, and bounce rates will rise.

But…

My research has shown that visitors re-entering a site (within 30 minutes) via a referring site (not a search engine, or a visit with campaign tracking) are not causing the __utmz cookie to be updated, and no new visit is recorded. These visits are being considered a continuation of the original visit.

If we ignore the oddity of referring sites not being recorded properly, this change is probably going to make session-based reports easier for the layman to interpret. and a step closer to seeing per-visit traffic sources out of the box.


is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

The complete website redesign: why you should avoid it

Never do a complete redesign & rewrite of your website in one go.

Many companies are still locked in a 3-5 year redesign cycle – a point is reached when the unhappiness with their website reaches such a level that a total redesign is ordered.


The website redesign cycle

While we’re at it

A “while we’re at it” attitude comes into action.

While we’re at it…

  • we’ll redesign the look of the site…
  • we’ll change the interaction design…
  • we’ll rewrite all the content…
  • we’ll change the navigation and structure…
  • …and what the hell, we’ll change CMS while we’re at it too.

Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? Well, not really. There are very few situations where I’d advise an organisation to do a complete and utter redesign, rewrite, and rebuild of their website all at the same time.

Much more complex

Not only do all those changes executed at roughly the same time require quite a sizable heap of cash, they also increase the complexity of the project by several orders of magnitude.

The increased complexity often translates into; the overunning of the project in terms of both time and money, poorly researched decisions, difficulty in making sensible decisions.

Furthermore, we’ve got the poor old user. If your repeat visitors make up a significant segment of your visitor base, consider what a complete re-working of your site will do to their world.

Search Engine impact

Finally, the big one. Something regularly under appreciated is just how symbiotic the relationship between your website and the internet really is. Everything you publish is analysed and indexed by the search engines. Other sites link to your content – perhaps many of them deep link to content beyond your index page.

Digital fingerprint

This presence, your old website, is a digital fingerprint. Google webmaster tools (and similar services) can give you an idea of what that fingerprint looks like.

What Google (and other search engines) think about your site is made up from all the words you use across all the pages on your site, its URLs – as well as; page titles, internal links, incoming links, the anchor text of all those links, and numerous other signals.

If you rewrite all of your content, change all your URLs, and redesign all your pages – all at the same time – how do you think that impacts on your fingerprint?

Minor surgery

So if a complete redesign – a full monty – is out of the question – what should you do?

Minor surgery, rather than heart surgery. Tweak. Constantly evolve. Change a few pieces at a time. Measure and test how well those pieces work. Adjust them, rewrite them, tweak them. Measure again.

Support network

If you for whatever reason can’t avoid the big bang, or you come onboard too late to steer the ship clear of the iceberg – then make sure you’ve got the right support network. The complete website redesign is the biggest challenge web management can throw at you.


is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

12 Articles worth reading… (Spotted: Week 22-27, 2011)

For your reading pleasure this time, a collection of links (with summaries) including articles related to: web management, SEO, intranet, UX.


Web management

The web is critical. The web team is not

‎”According to a McKinsey report, From 2004 to 2009, the Internet’s contribution to GDP in mature countries averaged about 20%.” – just think how much it could be if more organisations made good, well managed use of it!

Greenpeace R2D2 QR Code

I’ve read a fair few good things have been said about aspects of Greenpeace’s “Volkswagen” campaign – but they haven’t done a good job of using QR Codes. Yes, it looks good on R2D2’s side, but (amongst other problems) the code leads to a non-mobile version of the site…

Härmed anmäler jag Riksdagen för brott mot lagen | Emanuels randanmärkningar

The new “cookie law” came into force on July 1st here in Sweden, basically making pre-approval of cookies a requirement for a website (with some fuzzy not clearly defined exceptions). Have you adjusted all your (Swedish) sites? A draft recommendation of what to do to comply is available from IAB Sweden.

The Web Is Not A Farm! It’s Time To Tear Down The Silos

All hail the generalist! Conferences covering every “Silo” seem to be talking about how the Silos that exist in web [well, business…] have to be broken down. Unfortunately a lot of time, it is the Silo topic of the conference that paints itself as “right” and it’s all the other Silos need to be broken down. Thankfully, Kristina Mausser writes some sense. All hail T-shaped people and generalists!

A Comprehensive Website Planning Guide

Some nice parts in this Guide from Smashing Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s missing some really important aspects. What about migration? Most companies aren’t start-ups with no existing digital presence. What about SEO? Keyword research? Taking care of redirects? And then a big miss – usability testing?

Five years from now, there’ll be no such thing as a webpage

Well, no – but kind of. Yes, social (networks, content & search) will continue to make huge changes to how we consume (create and share) content – but the hub of the internet will still be pages.

UX, IA & Testing

“Come as you are” – Part 1: The Reckless years

A series of blog posts sharing stories and experiences from 13 years of working with Information Architecture. Martin is currently the lead IA and UX architect for The Guardian.

Changing the Guardian through guerilla usability testing

Examples of Guerrilla usability testing from the lead UX/IA at The Guardian newspaper in the UK. Although it’s a compliment to “proper” testing, there’s really no excuse for doing no testing at all when it’s so simple, quick (and low cost) to just get out there and collect some data!

SEO

Getting “Pure” Search Results

Some tips about how to get “clean” non-personalised search results. Useful for research. I particularly like Scroogle – allows you to search Google as a “Google virgin”.

Why Google SERP CTR studies are a waste of time

We all know how “ranking number 1 in Google” is a silly phrase these days. This article does a good job of looking at patterns in click through ratios of SERPs and analysing the behaviour. You even get a reminder of some good housekeeping tips for improving your snippet.

Intranet & Collaboration

Does your intranet make a difference for your customers?

Nice reminder from Jane that the intranet should be helping you help your customers. In particular I like the example at the end of the post where she quotes a large bank that broke their workforce down into 3 groups: front line, back office, and analytical. All of which have very different expectations and needs from the intranet – and require different strategies (and tactics)

The multiplier effect

A blog post on the Economist Blog about social collaboration platforms as a talent-centred ecosystem for organisations. They talk of “T-shaped brokers” with deep specialist knowledge (the vertical bar) and a desire to collaborate (the horizontal bar). I’ve dubbed a variation of such people as “super-creators” previously.

QR codes: how not to use them in your campaign

During the summer months, Sveriges Radio, the public service broadcaster here in Sweden, broadcasts a series of programmes featuring talks by guest presenters. Sommar i P1, or “Sommarpratare” (“Summer talkers”).

On my metro train this morning, there was an advert for the radio series. What caught my attention was that it featured a QR code.

SR advert on the Stockholm metro featuring a QR Code

Armed and ready to scan

Naturally, this meant just one thing. I had to take out my phone and try to scan it. Being who I am, I know exactly what one of these funny little square codes is – I also have a barcode scanner installed on my mobile and my tablet. I’m armed and ready to go.

I was sat on the train (which is pretty normal for my journey) and the advert was about 1.5m to my right, on the inside of the window.

On the Metro here in Stockholm, the seats are grouped in clusters of four. This meant I had three other people sat around me. Standing up and getting a closer shot of the code wasn’t going to happen – if I was going to scan this code, I needed to do it from my seat.

So, out came my phone and I pointed it discretely (as discretely as you can on a morning train into the city) at the QR code and waited for the app to focus and get a lock. Nope. Nothing. It was just too small to scan from this distance.

Linking to a non-mobile site?

Not wanting to give up, I entered the URL included on the advert. It was good that they’d included a link (as well as the QR Code) – at least this meant I wasn’t totally dependent on the code – presuming that the code contained the same link!

I entered the link into my mobile’s browser and erk! Everything ground to a halt, my smartphone pretty much locked up. I hadn’t been automatically redirected to the mobile version of the page, instead I ended up at the full standard version of the site – complete with built in radio player – was loading and trying to come to life. Not the mobile experience I was hoping for.

When I got to the office, I brought up the picture of the code (that i’d uploaded to Flickr during my journey) and managed to scan it off the screen. It decoded to the same URL as on the poster.

This isn’t helpful.

Think mobile

You always scan these codes from your mobile. It’s an advert on a train, there’s not really any other option! Any content they contain has to be useful, accessible, and relevant for a mobile user.

The saddest part of this story is that SR do have a mobile version of their website – including a programme page for the summer programme.

Offline meets online

It’s crucial that you consider exactly how people will consume your advertising. If you are going to join the offline and online worlds together – which you should – then QR codes is a good tool, but if you don’t think mobile, you might as well not bother.


James Royal-Lawson+ is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

Facebook page marketing: How not to do it

A familiar shaped postcard appeared in the post the other week. A big Facebook “like” thumbs up. My kids thought it was excellent (as 3 and 5 year olds, they haven’t really been infected by Facebook yet). For me, it just sent my web-sense into overdrive.

ICA Maxi Nacka

The postcard was sent from ICA, the largest supermarket chain in Sweden and Scandinavia, or more specifically, from one of my local ICA stores that I visit pretty regularly.

Postcard in the shape of a Facebook like thumbs up

This mailshot will have been sent to a large number of ICA Maxi Nacka’s customers – thousands at a guess. The Facebook page had 98 fans on the day the mailshot arrived. Today it’s got twenty more. So we can safely say that this is an example of how not how to market your Facebook page.

We’ll start with the post card itself. Where is the next step? what am I supposed to do? The advert isn’t going to magically click on a like button for me. I need some help. Where’s the URL to the facebook page? OK, perhaps a QR code to scan? Nope. A search term to put me in the right direction? Well, perhaps, but you can’t be certain. Maybe the Facebook page name is Maxi ICA Nacka?

Flawed marketing concept

The whole concept of the mailshot is flawed in this situation. I’m expected to do a series of improbably things. I’m expected to look at this and be convinced that liking this particular ICA store is going to give me something sufficient in return. They do explain that on their Facebook page “You will find inspiration, recipes, events, special offers”. Maybe that’s a big enough return for my Like-love…

Hello, what’s your name?

If that has convinced me to “like”, then I have to get myself to a computer, bring up Facebook and think of something to enter into the search box in order to find their incredibly compelling page. Perhaps if I’ve found the advert that compelling I might have taken it with me to the computer to help me (or perhaps I pulled out my tablet there and then in the kitchen, taking a pause from opening the rest of the mail).

You may remember that the postcard had “Maxi ICA Nacka” in the text. This is one of the names the store calls itself. Unfortunately for them, almost all ICA stores are known as ICA [place name], and the larger Maxi stores as ICA Maxi [place name] – and more often that not you don’t need to say the place name, there’s not that many of them nearby.

If you enter ICA Maxi into Facebook, you get a whole load of results containing supermarkets from all over Sweden. You’d have to work hard and long to find the Nacka store amongst them. So, let’s add Nacka to the search phrase giving us ICA Maxi Nacka. Surely that’ll work?

Screenshot from Facebook showing two search results

As you can see. You get two results. Both of which are Facebook Places. Joe Shopper is starting to lose a bit of the overwhelming urge to “like” this ICA store. The lack of profie pictures makes them instantly less “likable” and convincing too. They clearly aren’t the right pages.

Are we there yet?

Let’s put the phrase from the postcard into Facebook’s search. Maxi ICA Nacka. As Facebook provides instant search results, you’re going to naturally pause after typing Maxi ICA (as ICA stores appear at this point). None of them are Nacka. Let’s continue typing. Nope. It’s one of those Facebook places again.

Screenshot from Facebook showing four search results

Maxi Nacka – who needs ICA!

At this point, if anyone is still hunting, they are hunting for the page out of pure frustration and stubbournness. In one last try, we go for Maxi Nacka. Yes! Bingo! Of course! Obviously as an ICA store you are going to make sure that the main brand of your company is totally missing from the page name.

So we’ve made it to the page. Probably. Apparently this business is based in Nackawic, New Brunswick. At this point, i’ve stopped crying and i’m starting to laugh.

Screenshot of ICA Maxi Nacka's Facebook page

Despite being over the 25 fan threshold for choosing a custom name for your page, the page still has the ugly 14-digit ID number in it’s URL – 167901786576697. I understand that they don’t want to use that URL in their marketing material.

Perhaps they did think about claiming a better name, but just forgot to actually claim it. They do, after all, have a (broken) link to http://www.facebook.com/Maxi-Nacka on their Info page.

Over 150 dollars a fan?

The page had 98 fans on the day when the postcard arrived. A few weeks later whilst I’m writing this blog post, they’ve gained a well earned 20. Designing, printing and distributing an advert to a large number of your customers isn’t something that’s free. Even if i’m kind and say that the campaign cost 20000kr (design, print, distribution) they are looking at a cost per fan of 1000kr (approximately 150 dollars).

Given the amateur nature of this entire effort, I’m going to stick my neck out and presume that they didn’t have any specific, measurable, goals for the campaign. Suffice to say, I imagine they expected to earn more than 20 new recruits. I’m starting to feel I should like their page out of sympathy rather than enthusiasm!

Digital marketing is easy to execute – anyone can do it. This is both it’s advantage and it’s disadvantage. Anyone can do it, but not as many can do it well.


is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

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