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Based on the book Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics - by Brian Clifton

All 'Privacy and Accuracy' posts in date order i.e. newest first. Click on the post title to read in full.

Why the Guardian is barking up the wrong tree with Prism

Categories: Privacy and Accuracy Comments 3 »

My thoughts on why the Guardian and the Washington Post are barking up the wrong tree with their constant side-stories. It is disappointing to read the story degrading in this way.

“Analysing this type of meta-data is exactly what companies such as Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook etc. openly do.”

Seriously… what is the problem with collecting and analysing meta-data?

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Online Privacy – The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Categories: Google Analytics specific, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 7 »

Online privacy is a complex subject. Hence I use this slide to neatly sum up the issue by analogy. Essentially, to illustrate the different levels of privacy I use the scenario of an organisation wishing to understand the impact of traffic on their community.

privacy analogy

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The rise and rise of “not provided” keywords

Categories: Privacy and Accuracy, SEO & Analytics Comments 31 »

not-provided.pngSEO is getting harder! If you are active with search engine optimisation (SEO), then you will be aware of the issue of not provided showing in your Google Analytics reports for organic visits. This post updates the situation plotting the growing impact over time and the differentiation of tech-savvy versus tech-savvy web users.

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Privacy, Web Analytics, Google and Ketchup

Categories: Google Analytics specific, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 4 »

Following a recent period of renewed media debate (I use that term loosely!) about the legality of tracking website visitors with Google Analytics, Sara Andersson, founder of Search Integration AB and the blog No Ketchup (hence the reference in my title), interviewed me about my opinions on this last week and what the debate should really be about. As always, I would be interested in your feedback…

The Questions:

  1. Can you give me your thoughts on how Google look at this product and how they handle data internally?
  2. The latest discussions on Google Analytics being illegal and the fact that they propose that people should not use GA on their sites, what is your reaction to this? Are the concerns legitimate at ALL?
  3. The latest EU privacy law is trying to stop people from tracking individual information. What is your thoughts on this in relation to Google Analytics as a product?
  4. Why does Google Analytics get all the focus in the debate about privacy? Are there other services and tools that in your opinion, website owners should be aware of when it comes to tracking sensitive data?
  5. What can website owners do in order to clarify to their visitors how they handle data?
  6. Beyond looking at the concerns of website owners, what should the privacy debate be about?

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Google Analytics illegal to use – according to Norwegian Data Inspectorate

Categories: Privacy and Accuracy Comments 16 »

Not really! The eye catching headline form the following article is actually very misleading (I used Google translate). In fact, this is a classic example of poor/misleading journalism on this subject…

As I wrote in my last article on this subject: Google Analytics and the new EU privacy law #3, if you use Google Analytics to collect personal identifiable information (PII) without the explicit consent of each visitor, then yes you are breaking the privacy laws in each of the 27 EU member countries. That is the same with any tracking tool/methodology. It also breaks the Terms of Service of GA.

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Google Analytics and the EU privacy law #3

Categories: Privacy and Accuracy Comments 20 »

As you may be aware, last May (2011) a new EU privacy directive came into force – officially known as Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), though often referred to as the “EU cookie law” as it implies that setting website cookies without a visitors consent would be illegal in all 27 EU member countries.

Contrary to what has been reported (and even enacted on some sites), you do not need to seek explicit consent to set an anonymous, benign first party cookie. [...]

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A 10-Point Best Practice Privacy Guide for Working With Google Analytics

Categories: Google Analytics specific, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 12 »

Last year, privacy became mainstream news when the new EU privacy law came into effect on 26th May 2011 across all EU member states – see my previous posts on this subject. In short, the EU law states that you need to seek your visitor’s permission before you can track them. Exactly what permission is required (implied or explicit consent), and when this needs to be asked for (only when collecting personal information, or even to track visitors anonymously) is still a hot topic of debate in the industry, that I will return to in my next post. Whatever the impact of the EU Privacy law, the key to any organisation’s privacy strategy is it’s privacy policy document – your communication with your visitors about what you do with their data. I have therefore put down my guidelines for writing a best practice privacy policy that will stand you in Read the full article…

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“not provided” – Organic search terms blocked by Google

Categories: Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 26 »

An odd announcement form the GA product team was made last night that affects all users of web analytics tools: When a signed in user visits your site from an organic Google search, Google Analytics will no longer report the query terms that the user searched on to reach your site. – Full announcement That’s a BIG change! Essentially marketers will no longer be able to view the keywords used by visitors that come from Google organic search in their web analytics reports (the fact they came from a Google organic search is still shown). Instead the keyword will be listed as “not provided” The rational for this, as the announcement explains, is to protect the privacy of users who are logged into their Google account. What’s my view? As you know, I am a big fan of user privacy and putting the end-user experience first, so on the one Read the full article…

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Google Analytics and the new EU privacy law #2

Categories: Privacy and Accuracy Comments 12 »

Lots of interesting discussion sparked by my last post on the new EU privacy law, so I thought it worth while to follow up and clarify a few points that were raised: The new EU law came into affect on 25th May and is applicable to all EU member countries – right now Its up to the individual member states to enforce the law in their countries As a website owner, you need to obey the law in the country/countries you operate from. So if you have an office in the UK and France, you need to comply with both UK and FR law – hopefully these will be very similar. Hosting your website in Barbados does not change this… The law is applicable to all websites – commercial and non-commercial. The reality is that no one (the regulatory bodies for each EU country) is ready yet and so more Read the full article…

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Google Analytics and the new EU privacy law #1

Categories: Privacy and Accuracy Comments 43 »

Following new EU laws aimed at protecting the privacy of online users, there has been much said about the death of web tracking as we know it. At present the wording of the law is stating that visitors to your website must explicitly consent to having cookies stored on their computers. As pretty much all web analytics tools reply on cookies for visitor tracking, there are clearly implications for anyone that uses these on their site…

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The FTC Privacy report “Do Not Track” – a missed opportunity

Categories: Privacy and Accuracy Comments 4 »

As readers of this blog will know, I am a strong advocate of online privacy… That may sound strange coming from a web analytics evangelist. However, if we as an industry do not sort these privacy issues out, there is a real danger that web analytics as we know it today will disappear completely.

So, following the recent excellent post from Phil Kemelor on The FTC Privacy Report, “Do Not Track” Options and Web Analytics, I wanted to also add my take here…

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Five Predictions For Web Analytics in 2011

Categories: Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 4 »

Predicting the future invariably means you will be wrong most of the time. However, it is an interesting process to go through as even getting just one prediction right can have a significant impact – to me personally, my business or my client’s business. So I was honoured when Daniel Waisberg asked me to look into my crystal ball for what may happen in the world of web analytics in 2011. Here’s the summary of my predictions:

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Understanding Web Analytics Accuracy – Whitepaper

Categories: Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy, Pro Lounge Comments 8 »

I first wrote about web analytics accuracy in 2007 while working at Google. At that time numerous clients (big spending Google advertisers my team helped) were contacting their Adwords account managers asking why Google Analytics numbers did not match their AdWords click-through reports, or for that matter, match the other web measurement tools they were using.

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Benchmarking site performance can be misleading

Categories: Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 6 »

As you may know, I occasionally write articles elsewhere (journalism.co.uk, eConsultancy, DaveChaffey.com). In case you miss these, and because I like to keep my thoughts in one place I also reproduce here a little later. The following is from my September post at eConsultancy. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are important to drive improvement for your website. Although it is obviously interesting and insightful to compare how your website is performing against your peers and competitors, it can be a mistake to place too much emphasis on external industry benchmarks. These external benchmarks can be misleading and often end up with you finding the benchmark that fits your story, giving a false impression of success. KPIs vary greatly by business sector, and even within subsectors there is wide variance: think “flights” versus “holidays” or “food retail” versus “clothing retail”. Even comparing against your competitors with identically defined goals is fraught with Read the full article…

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What Google Analytics Can’t Tell You – what rubbish

Categories: Privacy and Accuracy Comments 19 »

I wanted to put this out there to illustrate the type of crap competitors will go to to discredit Google Analytics. The link takes you to an article by clicktale which is a rehash of a previous discredited post by Brandt Dainow last year. Take a minute to read it and the two so called flaws of Google Analytics…

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Your mobile apps are spying on you

Categories: Privacy and Accuracy Comments 7 »

Privacy on the web has always been a contentious issue, as the vast majority of users wish to remain anonymous while browsing. However, little attention has been given to the privacy of mobile phone users. Hence I was interested to read the article on mobile apps from Sarah Perez: www.readwriteweb.com/archives/dear_iphone_users_your_apps_are_spying_on_you.php Compared to computer use, mobile phones have a greater potential to infringe on your privacy for the following reasons: Mobiles are registered to a unique user (legally this is very difficult to avoid) Mobiles are rarely shared (though this is more common in Asia) No such thing as “Internet cafe for mobiles”, user almost always use their own phone Mobiles broadcast their position by triangulating with transmitters typically with an accuracy of 500m radius (though with GPS enabled phones this can be much more precise). Putting the web analytics privacy debate into perspective Since Google, Microsoft and Yahoo entered the Read the full article…

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Should you focus on website visitors as individuals?

Categories: Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 22 »

Leaving aside the issue of privacy, is it valid to track visitors as individuals? From a marketer’s perspective, tracking individuals sounds great in theory – you understand your customers better right? But if you receive 10,000 visitors per day and have weekly marketing performance meetings, that equals 70,000 data points to discuss? Best practice is to consider longer time frames in order to mitigate against calendar anomalies i.e. weekends v weekdays, holidays, the weather, force majeure etc… So for one month that could be 280,000 data points.

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Improving the web with web analytics

Categories: Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 2 »

This post comes in four parts:
1. Summary – there is no accuracy debate!
2. Introduction – why most of the web is junk and what role web analytics plays
3. On-site versus Off-site web analytics tools and how they work
4. Discrepancies – what’s accurate and how can accuracy be improved

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This is a multi-page post
Page: 1 2 3

Why counting uniques is meaningless

Categories: Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 25 »

The term ‘uniques’ is often used in web analytics as an abbreviation for unique web visitors (i.e. how many unique people visited my site). The problem is that counting unique visitors is fraught with problems that are so fundamental, it renders the term ‘uniques’ meaningless. Firstly, cookies get lost, blocked and deleted. Research has shown that after a period of four weeks, nearly one third of tracking cookies are missing, which means the visitor will be incorrectly considered a new unique visitor should they return to the same website (see Accuracy Whitepaper for further reading). The longer the time period, the greater the chance of this happening, which makes comparing year-on-year data invalid for example. In addition, browsers make it very easy these days for cookies to be removed – see the new ‘incognito’ features of the latest Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer browsers. However, the biggest issue for counting uniques Read the full article…

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Google Analytics Accuracy – Comparing Google Analytics, Yahoo Web Analytics and Nielsen SiteCensus

Categories: Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 16 »

          Last year I wrote an whitepaper on web analytics accuracy. The intention of this was to be a reference guide to all the accuracy issues that on-site web measurement tools face, and how you can mitigate the error bars. Apart from updating the article recently, I wanted to illustrate how close (or not) different vendor tools on the same website can be when it comes to counting the basics – visits, pageviews, time on site and visitors. To do this, I have looked at two very different web sites with two tools collecting web visitor data side by side: Site A – This blog, running Google Analytics and Yahoo Web Analytics. According to Google, there are 188 pages in the Google Index and traffic is approximately 10,000 visits/month Site B – A retail site that runs Nielsen SiteCensus and Google Analytics (site to remain anonymous). According to Google, Read the full article…

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Google is Like a Bank

Categories: Google Analytics specific, Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 17 »

I have heard the notion of Google being analogous to a bank for a number of years. Recently, Jim Sterne also referred to this bank analogy while we were discussing online privacy at the Orion Analytics panel of SES London . So I wanted share and expand upon this discussion. Please take a moment to read my disclaimer before continuing – that is, the views express on this site are entirely my own and do not represent those of my employer. Is Google entering into online banking? In this respect no (I am not considering Checkout here). What I mean by being analogous to a bank, is in the way that data itself has become "currency". Information has always been valuable – no one likes to be the last to know, and being the first to know gives you a competitive advantage. So whether online or not, the storage and Read the full article…

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Accuracy Whitepaper for web analytics

Categories: Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 10 »

This accuracy post is an extrapolation of a section in Chapter 2 of the book which has led to a separate PDF accuracy whitepaper available to download for free. [updated April 2010 – see new post] Why is this necessary? Well, the question of accuracy crops up all the time on numerous forums and at conferences. Essentially many practitioners of web analytics worry about accuracy. Some vendors even claim greater accuracy than others (though as I explain in the whitepaper this cannot be true), and there is the inter-industry debate about whether off-site analytics (for example, Hitwise, comScore, Neilsen//Netratings etc.), are better at predicting traffic levels than on-site analytics tools (such as Webtrends, Omniture, IndexTools, Google Analytics etc.). I won’t go into that debate here, except to schematically illustrate the two different web analytics approaches in Figure 1. Figure 1 : On-site v off-site web analytics The truth is, for Read the full article…

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Why is Google Analytics free?

Categories: Google Analytics specific, Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 6 »

The Google Analytics business model is unique for the web analytics industry – a deep dive reporting tool suitable for companies of all sizes (see Who uses Google Analytics? ) given away free of charge. But is there a catch to this uniqueness? Well in my view there is none. Of course, given my background I am slightly bias, but the idea behind giving away Google Analytics makes perfect sense: Provide accountability and transparency to existing Google advertisers Provide confidence and prove the value of online advertising to potential new advertisers Happy customers are good for business For Google, may be as a result of using Google Analytics, customers will remain advertisers for a longer period, become less likely to lapse their accounts (take breaks from advertising), even raise their AdWords budgets to capture a greater share of the search market. For those users that are not advertisers, perhaps Google Read the full article…

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Google Analytics Customers

Categories: Google Analytics specific, Privacy and Accuracy Comments 14 »

Discovering Google Analytics customers is actually quite easy to detect – you simply view the source code and look for the tell-tale page tags. Though there are tools to help you, browsing around quickly show many a Fortune 500 company using GA and below I list of some of the big brands.

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