Quick poll: What should I tackle next?

Each new year, I tend to dive into some new side project (this is how the Beacon Parser and the PocketSDR came about). I have quite a few things I want to tackle right now, and one main thing I’m slowly plugging away at, but in the meantime, I’m wondering what to prioritize. So, a poll:

Any other ideas (or desired improvements to existing tools)? Let me know in the comments.

Omniture Form Analysis Pitfalls – How to Avoid and Optimize

There is an Omniture plugin, Form Analysis, that will automatically flag which form field a user last touched before abandoning a form. Sounds great, right? This post, which does a great job of going over setting up the plugin, even claims the plugin will make you an office hero! The problem is, this plugin is inherently Evil. And not the good kindof evil. We’d like to tell you how to avoid the evil and keep your Form Analysis on the side of Good.

This plugin is notorious for being implemented incorrectly, and the implications go beyond just one report not working. Since the plugin sends a custom link call (s.tl()) each time a user abandons a form, it has the potential to eat up your secondary server calls (which you pay Omniture for). A recent client of mine has accidentally set one extra secondary server call on every single page view since 2008 because of this plugin. Sending two server calls (one with the click of a link and one on the load of the next page) so close together has been known to cause problems- every once in a while, the two calls compete and only one makes it through to Omniture, decreasing data accuracy. Worst case scenario, the plugin can actually break your form.

And what bugs me most- and this is in no way the fault of the plugin- is that folks use this as a safety crutch: they know they should optimize forms, so they put effort into setting up form tracking, then pat themselves on the back for  job well done. But, feeling comfortable that the data is there, they don’t take it to the next step and actually optimize their forms.

In this situation, you’d be better off skipping the plugin and go right to the “optimize your form” step by using your God-given intelligence. Use common sense. Think like a user: keep forms simple and easy to use. Simply running a plugin or tool will do nothing to improve your forms- remember, brains are more important than tools.

Don’t get me wrong, the plugin has much potential to do good. You just have to put some thought into it. Educate yourself on using this plugin and you can get great value out of it. To help you, here are some implementation pitfalls to avoid:


The configuration of the plugin includes two critical variables:


When trackFormList is set to true, it will only track forms specified (using the form’s HTML “name” attribute) in the formList (if formList is blank, then nothing will be tracked). So far so good. When set to false, the plugin will track every form on your site that is NOT specified in the formList. This includes:

  • User login forms (even if they are on every page)
  • Some asp.net “forms” that are not actually user forms
  • Find-a-location-near-you and other single-field forms
  • And, the biggest culprit: Internal Search forms

So if a user hits a page with an internal search form field without hitting the search “submit” button, that’s one server call to Omniture letting you know a “form” was abandoned. If each page has that internal search field, that’s one server call for every page view on your site. Not only is that information useless to you, it has potentially terrifying billing implications, depending on your contract.


My suggestion? ALWAYS have trackFormList equal to “true”. This will require you going through your site and finding the forms that matter most. Focus on one or two key forms on your site. This isn’t just a work-around to get the plugin to work- it’s a great idea for focusing your analysis efforts and avoiding the Data Squirrel pitfall.


If you do not have the “name” attribute in the HTML <form> tag, the plugin won’t work. And if you do have names but they look like “form134″, it probably won’t have much meaning for you in the reports. And if every form on your site has the same name, the report will be useless. Same goes for form field/input names.
On another note, if your form script references the “this” object at all, the plugin may break your form, or vice versa. Oops. The only way around it is to remove the plugin, or remove the references to “this”.


I’m afraid there is no quick javascript fix here: if you want to automate form abandonment tracking using this plugin, you may have to manually change the “name” attribute of the HTML forms. BUT, if you are focusing on only your 1-2 key forms, as mentioned above, the changes to your HTML should be minimal.


The plugin doesn’t tell you which field was the “turn-off”: it tells you the last field touched, which may be counter-intuitive. For example, on the right is what my form looked like when the user abandoned:

Our friend Mal only made it through the 4th field- the one with the name “email”. The plugin would report this as:


Which might make one think the “email” field was to blame for the abandon, when in truth, he filled out that field successfully and was (presumably) “turned off” by the FOLLOWING field, asking for him to confirm his email- he’s much too busy to waste time by entering the same information twice.


One can get around this by 1)educating users of the report on what the data means (which you should be doing anyways) and/or 2) creating a classification report that says the FOLLOWING field for each item. Either way, please be aware that a report can only give hints- it cannot actually tell you what the user was thinking when they left the form or if they had looked ahead further in the form and were “turned off” by a later field.

Which brings us back to the idea that your brain is a critical part of making this plugin valuable. If you have a form on your site, now is a great time to optimize it. We’ve removed the roadblocks; what’s stopping you?

Tracking ~ Why Business Intelligence leads to User Benefits

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a respected consumer watchdog group campaigning for support for two online privacy bills currently being discussed in Congress. Here’s a sample of what it contained:

“Hidden ‘cookies’ in your computer that track your Internet movements and record what you buy online. Smartphones that secretly log the places you go. Even your personal information on Facebook may have been accidentally leaked to advertisers, according to media reports…”

“…The latest bill from Sen. Rockefeller would require companies to honor your decision if you do not want to be tracked online. And it would put the full force of the law behind your decision, so tracking companies would be held accountable if they go against your wishes.”



Things like Facebook data leaks and the recent Sony data security fiasco should be taken very seriously. Users should be able to feel confident that their personal information is secure. But this email, along with some of the legislation it references, mentions online tracking cookies together with major security breaches despite the fact that they are two VERY separate issues. *Ironically, the links in the email take you to a site that uses Google Analytics tracking cookies.*


The first bill, proposed by McCain/Kerry, seems to me to make a lot of sense: if a website is collecting personal information, it has a responsibility to the users to notify them and keep their information secure and private. This falls well in line with how the Web Analytics industry treats data (see the Google Analytics or Omniture Terms of Service, or the Web Analytics Association’s Code of Ethics).

Another piece of legislation, led by Senator Rockefeller, is on the floor right now: a “Do-Not-Track” bill that will legislate a user’s ability to opt-out of having any of their online activity tracked. Along with this bill comes much propaganda like the above-mentioned email, scaring people into thinking technology that they don’t understand must be harming them.

I’m not saying that users should not be able to opt-out of online tracking. Most web analytics vendors already have an opt-out for the data mentioned above and most websites already have a privacy policy detailing what is being tracked. The industry is already self-regulating things like opt-outs- I have yet to hear of a case where a user’s request to opt-out has not been respected. Odds are, you go about your online business every day without ever looking for opt-outs and privacy policies because you don’t feel threatened until politicians bring it up.


The problem with the legislation and the information going out with it is that it lumps all kinds of tracking together, from security leaks of personal data (very bad), data-mining and sharing (potentially bad) to web analytics tracking (good). Web Analytics tracking, when done in accordance with industry standards, leaves practically no room for harm to the user and so much room for benefit for the user, but by legislating it and scaring the public with mixed-up information about it, it may lead internet users to opt-out of services that are actually beneficial to them.

Let’s take a look at just how “evil” these tracking cookies are and what information they store. On my blog currently (unless you have blocked it) I have set an Omniture cookie that may look something like this:


The “value” (what the cookie contains) is just a string of arbitrary letters and numbers that serve no purpose other than to identify the user from page to page. “User afb5ced3bc5c8c3767728316b1db17f2 came in on the Google keyword ‘blue wugs’ and went from the home page to a content page then left the site.” If I had a retail site, I might use this cookie to track what items were purchased and how much revenue I generated, so that I could tie it back and see which marketing efforts are returning value.


Every internet user should WANT this kind of tracking on them. It’s like voting by secret ballot: every time you click (or don’t click) on an item, you are submitting an anonymous vote for how the website could be better.

These are the kinds of messages you are anonymously sending to the website you are on, without even knowing about it, when you are tracked:

  • “It took me 18 clicks to get to the content I was looking for. Not cool. Please streamline your website.”
  • “Your advertising partner’s “interactive media” ad on your homepage is so annoying that I could only handle being on your site for two seconds before I closed my browser. You may make money off of hosting that ad, but you just lost my business.”
  • “Your video got really boring about 2 minutes into it. Best keep it short and sweet.”
  • “That article was fantastic, I clicked your share button to pass it along! Please make more content like that!”
  • “Asking me to verify my email address for a third time on your 16-field form probably wasn’t a great idea. You won’t find me hitting the submit button on your form until you ask for less info.”
  • “I can’t find the Technical Support information I needed online. Instead, I’m going to have to call one of your employees, wasting both my time and your staffing budget.”
  • “I came from a Google advertisement on one of my favorite blogs and ended up finding just what I needed. Thanks!”

When these pieces of feedback are looked at in aggregate- thousands of users all trending one way or another- Web Analysts not only can see what ways to improve their site but also where they should spend marketing dollars.


Much of the current legislative hullabaloo is around targeted marketing efforts. Targeting is when websites use tracking technology (usually something beyond basic web tracking) to automatically present a user with content that is particularly relevant to them based on information that the website has learned about that user. For instance, on Facebook I just saw this ad:

Either highly coincidental, or Facebook has learned (probably from my user profile where I state my profession as a web analytics professional) that I have an email-based job and that I am obsessed with measuring/analyzing data. This is targeted advertising and it comes in many forms. Once you get past feeling mildly creeped out (it helps to remember it’s all anonymous and automated), targeted advertising benefits you in all sorts of ways.

All internet users want online marketers to succeed, whether they are aware of it or not. The existence of (and free access to) the sites we know and love relies on successful marketing. I know no one loves an internet cluttered with ads, but I’m pretty sure we’d hate it even more if it were ad-free with the caveat of having to pay for each site we visited. The more relevant the ads can be to the users, the more successful they are- meaning less ads are needed to keep the internet afloat. Targeting not only helps keeps the internet free it makes the internet more relevant to users.

With web analytics tracking technology as it is right now, you can send an online marketer a message that their ad is annoying or ineffective by simply not clicking on it. Marketers can see if their ads are a waste of your internet space and a waste of their marketing dollars.

These are just a few of the ways that, by volunteering a little bit of anonymous information about their web usage, users contribute to a better internet- not just better for marketers and analysts, but better for internet users everywhere. Regardless of current legislation, the Web Analytics Industry must put effort into educating the public about what is being tracked, why, and how it benefits the average user. Where do you stand?