My op-ed in the newspaper: Do you agree or disagree?

I had an op-ed published in The News Journal yesterday. The NJ is a Gannett company newspaper, the same company which owns USA Today. The topic was downloading and supporting indies. Please read and comment on it. Now, as I am on good terms with the editor, I did promise to get his page some traffic, so I will post only the first half of the roughly 700 word article here. Read it, and let me know what you think.

Please consider the indie before downloading

The letter Taylor Swift wrote to Apple asking the company to pay artists whose music is streamed during customer’s free trial period shed a light on a continuing battle between digital creators and consumers that don’t want to pay for digital work.

Many musicians applauded Swift. Large companies like Apple, Google and Spotify routinely make money off others’ talent and do as much as possible to compensate as little as possible. You can go online and read horror stories from musicians who had hundreds of thousands of streams for their songs on those services, but whose royalties barely cover one night at Dover Downs. This is especially a problem for so-called “indies,” or people who create music with a small record label or none at all, and rely on their music sales to earn a living.

Part of the challenge, in addition to persuading people to pay for artists they like, is piracy. Someone decides they like a movie, song, e-book, or game and upload it without permission to file sharing sites where artists get nothing for their work. Even worse, these sites make it easier for someone who doesn’t respect intellectual property rights to just take an artist’s work and start selling it illegally without compensation. This is a problem for all creative industries, but unlike multinational corporations, indies are unable to fight piracy at all.

Unfortunately, those who are not creators tend to assume that if one isn’t making money from their work, then their product must not be worth buying. The problem with that belief is, in the age of diffused media, being discovered by enough people to earn a living becomes more difficult without money, endorsements or name recognition. This has resulted in many unknown creators giving away a lot of work for free, in the hopes of being discovered. As the public became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content, and as if the ease of finding stuff for free was just too easy, the incentive to pay any creator disappeared.

Read the rest of the article here 

I’m for Mobile but Google’s Decision not a Timely One

“Mobilegeddon” is here, so sayeth the newspapers. It officially began yesterday .

Look, I believe in mobile when applicable. If i ran a business, I would want my website to be mobile-friendly as well as desktop friendly, since both are two different experiences. For example, an e-commerce site should make buying on mobile the easiest part of your experience, but the desktop version might limit the storefront to an easy-to-find page or banner on the site and then you might have a blogpost which is featured as well. There are many good sites like Dudamobile which optimize pages for mobile. I’ll post on this soon to give you guys my personal picks about mobile sites.

But Google’s decision is unfair I think because it doesn’t give small businesses, especially those run by older people who barely know how to update a web page, time to go mobile. This also hurts small nonprofits like mine who don’t have the staff and/or resources to constantly be on top of things like SEO and new content, because Google rewards web pages which are frequently updated, and if you’re a 1 (wo)man band, you may not be able to update your page with relevant content daily. Even if you do it every week, Google will still reward people who update more frequently than you.

They should have given people at least 30 days to go mobile, 60 preferred. For me right now, a bump down for my blog page won’t hurt as bad (though wordpress is a mobile-friendly site) but I could see this being calamitous for small, local businesses who provide services and don’t have a social media person paying attention to this news daily. Imagine if all of a suddenly you had a week where your heating and air conditioning repair business wasn’t getting calls. ‘Nuff said.

Want to Gain Website or Blog Subscribers? How Data Analytic Inaccuracies Could Affect You

Web Analytics can be a powerful tool to help understand what your page visitors are looking for and what they see on your website. Using these tools properly can make the difference between your website(s) increasing page hits and SEO ranking or getting lost in the sea of websites, of which there are close to 1 billion worldwide as of December 2014 (netcraft.com).

But how to get the most accurate number? Below are the two main ways data is collected for websites and how your analytics statistics might be impacted. I’ll keep the tech minimal to focus on the analysis and marketing/branding benefits:

  • Logfiles- data collected by your web server, logged as a text file, independent of the visitor’s browser. Data collection with logfiles suffers when people use dynamic IP addresses, which means someone might visit your page 4 times a day and count as 4 different people, if they cache your page, meaning it’s saved on their browser so it’s like they never left your page and thus their repeat visits are not measured, and if search engine “robots” are accidentally counted as page activity even though they aren’t real people.
  • Page Tags- collects data via the visitor’s web browser and sends that info to remote data-collection servers, usually captured by JavaScript code. Google Analytics uses this method.

Page tag collection is where “cookies” are used. Attaching a “cookie” to a visitor’s web browser is how most website track and collect information on who is visiting, because this is the easiest and best way to obtain demographic information. How else would you know if your visitors were male or female, old or young, or visiting your page from a mobile device or desktop?

The problem is many people delete cookies routinely or set firewalls for their personal or company web browsers. If you use page tag services like GA, data will be incomplete or missing because if this person then visits your site a month later, they will be treated as a totally new user and if they are blocking cookies important data can’t be collected. Also, you have to add the GA tracking code to every webpage you want tracked, or else you won’t have information for that page. Lastly, “Cookie time-outs”, when an analytics vendor must stop collecting data because a page visitor is no longer active on the site, can affect your statistics, as discussed in the previous post.

So what can you do to compensate for these data collection inaccuracies?

  1. Use visit metrics over unique user visits- According to Brian Clifton, author ofAdvanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, 3rd edition, unique visits can be misleading. His example: You visit a travel booking site to search for plane fares on your personal computer, then make the purchase from your work or office computer, you visits count as two uniques but it’s still one person.
  2. Don’t assume New visitors plus repeat visitors does not equal total visitors- Consider this example: A person makes his first visit to your site then comes back later than that. He counts as both a new and returning visitor but is only one person.
  3. Wait at least 24 hours before checking data-it takes GA 24 hours to sift through the data and paint a more accurate picture of your web visits.
  4. Have a clear privacy policy (or promise not to sell, rent, or voluntarily turn over private information to anyone, except as required by law)-This way people are less likely to delete cookies from your site and mess up your analytics.

In my next post I’ll talk about how to create data spreadsheets with data and I’ll provide some examples. This is an easy and simple way to track your progress.

photo: recarga2.com

Why Understanding Web Traffic is Important to your Website Profile

I want to start off 2015 with a miniseries of articles on data analytics. The reason is because as the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Communications Director I have spent a lot of time going through data analytics for our websites and social media pages (social media analytics will come in a future blogpost). Seeing the data is one thing; knowing how it can benefit your company or personal website is another. All you aspiring authors and personal profile builders out there, you might want to take a few notes. Knowing ways to build your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can mean the difference between being discovered and going “viral” and being stuck in the bog of roughly 644 million websites worldwide.

For this post I’ll focus on Google Analytics (GA) and the book “Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, 3rd edition” by Brian Clifton (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012). Brian is the former head of web analytics for Google Europe, Middle East, and Africa, and I combine his lessons with my own experiences. Most of the newer editors are just slightly updated versions of previous editions, but if you have the chance to pick up a copy I’d recommend it. (author note: I do not benefit in any way from endorsing this book)

The first step in learning to use data analytics is to know why it’s so important for your website profile. Unfortunately many people just see a bunch of numbers and some pie charts and then don’t compare data from past months or try to dig into the data to spot useful trends. GA has over 100 different reports available for downloading and this is a daunting number for the new user.

Not all data points in GA are as useful as others; for example I discovered that, for CRI, measuring the average page visit was not very valuable. Part of this reason is because there is no perfect way to measure exactly how long someone really stays on your page- ever opened a new website in your browser, then gone off to do something else? At some point the website has to cut off your site visit time. Some sites cut it off after 30 minutes of inactivity, some 10.

Some useful data points which can be tracked:

  • Your daily visitor total
  • average conversion rate (if you sell things on your site)
  • top-visited pages
  • where people are searching from (location)
  • where people are searching from (web browser)
  • Your “page stickiness” (how many pages are viewed before a visitor leaves)
  • keywords being used in search engines to find you.

All of this data, and more, help you identify your Key Performance Indicators (KPI). For example, a review of CRI data shows about 1/3 of people who find us via search engine are doing so by looking for us by keywords like “prevailing wage Delaware” or “Delaware government accountability” rather than by our name, which is an indication that there is interest in our policy issues but a lot of those people didn’t know we existed prior to entering those keywords.

Having this information available allows you or your team to figure out what is working and what isn’t working with your pages and make adjustments. So for us, for example, we discovered that we had an increase in total visits in November but a lot of those views were from November 1-20. By being able to break down the month into thirds to view our total page views, we could see that November 21-30 accounted for only 26% of our visits, which we attributed to the Thanksgiving holiday. Knowing the specific cause of the late November drop into early December prevented us from being overly concerned about the drop and then making an irrational decision regarding our online presence.

In the next post I’ll talk about some of the inaccuracies in GA and some ways you can prevent these inaccuracies from adversely affecting your data points. Please feel free to comment below on ways you use data analytics for yourself or your company.

Happy New Year! My Blog’s Resolution

Happy 2015! I want to end the year with one final blogpost to welcome in the New Year and mention what I will be writing about more of in 2015:

  • More social media tips. I’m becoming more of an expert on this from my work and from reading books from industry experts. Check these out if you’re trying to build a personal platform and boost your online presence.
  • Tips on how to use data analytics (Google and otherwise) to better measure results and find out what works and what doesn’t.
  • Better ways to market and advertise.

Whether you follow my blog because you’re an author looking to build an online platform, or a social media/PR professional looking for more tips on branding and using data analytics for work, you should expect more posts from me and more things you can take away.

As always, please subscribe to my page and follow me on Twitter @sammydrf.

Happy New Year!