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Real-time analytics emerge

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Adobe Systems' $1.8 billion purchase of Web analytics vendor Omniture Inc., which received regulatory approval last week, is the latest proof of the mainstreaming of online measurement. While some market-watchers wonder how well the two companies actually fit together, the combination “has the potential to embed measurement technologies into the landscape of interactive media,” Forrester Research analyst John Lovet said. It also could signal more consolidation as well, as other competitors—most notably, Microsoft Corp.—look to acquire or partner with the remaining independent Web analytics firms. Less obviously, the merger could improve the analysis of real-time user interaction with interactive Adobe Flash content, including Flash-based ads and video. (Analysts point out that the ability to embed tracking codes in Flash-style content has been available for some time.) “[Marketers] using Flash to produce rich ads were telling us that they really wanted to understand what the click-through rates of those ads were in real time to be able to take more advantage of it,” Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen said in announcing the Omniture deal. “And so it clearly dawned on us that all of them want us to complete the loop between the offering part, the delivery part and consumption.” The ability to measure not just page views but real-time activities on Web pages and Web services is increasingly important for marketers. But tracking Flash ads and videos is only one example. More broadly, there has been an explosion in what could be called real-time online content. The most obvious example of this is Twitter; the microblogging service comment streams are a rich source of data about brands and products. In fact, the success of Twitter has caused Google, already a dominant force in both search and Web analytics, to respond. Google recently integrated its Hot Trends listings—which track what people are searching for—directly into its search results pages. The idea is that a short search string provides as much insight into users' real-time interests as a 140-character Twitter posting. Google is also testing a new version of its search algorithm, dubbed Caffeine, that will be able to better factor in real-time data. Real time is even having an impact on blog content. Traditionally, blogs have been the most “page-oriented” of all Web content and, as a consequence, some of the Web's best search engine-optimized content. But real-time commenting systems from companies such as Disqus and IntenseDebate blog comments more like instant messaging conversations. On these platforms, new comments show up in real time on the page. Commenting systems, along with other real-time content systems, place the measurement focus less on page views and more on real-time, on-page engagement. Even if the future of such applications remains unclear, “there's no doubt that social media is the driving force to track [user] engagement,” said Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, VP-marketing at Web analytics vendor Webtrends. “While I agree that systems like Disqus might prompt some examination of the metrics companies use, I'm a little skeptical that this type of functionality will actually catch on,” said analyst Eric Peterson, best known for his Web Analytics Demystified site and books. That's not to say Peterson isn't a big believer in the impact real time will have on Web analytics. He's even built his own Twitter tool, dubbed Twittalyzer. The challenge with real-time Web content such as widgets, gadgets and social networks “is that they are doing things that aren't so easily measured,” Peterson said. For b-to-b marketers especially, social media and real-time content analytics—while very important—will likely always take a backseat to the primary requirement of their Web analytics system: qualifying and moving potential customers through the sales funnel, said John Squire, chief strategy officer for analytics vendor CoreMetrics, which last week updated its platform with a specific focus on turning Web visitors into buyers. The new capabilities included automated cross-sell/up-sell recommendations based on site analysis, improved pay-per-click analytics and improved abilities to track customers across online and real-world, offline activities. “For the last number of years, [marketers] have thought about hits, page views and clicks. Now, we're seeing a transition to talking about people and customers, and tying online together with offline business,” Squire said. While real-time content and social media analysis play into such an approach, they are more “anchored in the concept of measuring people and visits,” Squire said, adding: “Page views and engagement don't mean anything in and of themselves. They are a proxy for how many unique customers you have and how they are moving towards the sales funnel.” M
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