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October 26, 2009
Flash & Flex Those Web Analytics Muscles!

September 15th Adobe acquires Omniture – On that day I was reading an article on the Forrester blog that described some of the factors involved while this article was mostly centered around the implications for the company, it turns out there are more important implications to the web as a whole. Omniture for those who don’t know is among the most sophisticated software as a service web analytics companies. Adobe of course is mostly focused multimedia software to include rich internet applications.

This one act may be a very interesting signal about the direction that the web is going. Not only the web, but the way people interact with the web, and the way people observe the way people interact with the web, and the piles of money that live behind this.

You see, on the web it is possible to make a lot of decisions based on the data collected by web analytics tools such as Omniture. It’s a lot more likely that your decisions are going to be correct if they are based on web analytics or the broader business intelligence.

Adobe purchasing Omniture describes a direction of greater interactivity on the web and greater ease of monitoring exactly how people interact with rich internet applications. It’s interesting to trace back the evolution of technologies like Flash. There was an era during which having a slow loading elaborate Flash presentation on the home page of your site was the mark of cutting edge sophistication. As time went on the effective use of Flash became more and more subtle, more geared toward the actual needs of the user.

The use of graphical interactive calls to action on a website can be a great way to help your users move toward taking the actions for which your site is designed. The challenge for a long time has been effectively tracking exactly how people interact with those elements. Adobe’s purchase of Omniture is an unwritten promise that advancements can be expected in that area.

Google Analytics & Event Tracking

Google Analytics, the free web analytics solution has even made strides in tracking interactive events. Earlier this year Google Analytics specialists worked with Adobe engineers to develop better tracking for Flash. Beyond the technical implementation of this event tracking technology is ensuring that the development is consistent and understandable to the web analyst. In this entry in Google Code the design philosophy is described as follows:

Determine in advance all elements for which you want to track data.
Even if you initially track only a single object on your website, having an overall sense of the various objects/events you want to track will help you establish a report structure that scales well with an increase in the number and type of Event Tracking.
Work with your report user to plan your Event Tracking reports.
Knowing in advance how the reports should look will direct the structure of your Event Tracking implementation. For example, if the reports only need to show video UI interaction, your category structure will be quite different than if the reports need to track other Flash UIs like menus, embedded gadgets, and load times. In addition, you can inform the report user about the different tracking possibilities available with Event Tracking to get the most out of your implementation. For example, the report user might be interested in tracking user behavior on a Flash video interface, but might also be interested in latency tracking for the load time of the video. In that case, you can plan ahead to have meaningful names in your event calls.
Adopt a consistent and clear naming convention.
In the process of implementing Event Tracking, every name you supply for categories, actions, and labels appears in the reporting interface. In addition, a category/action pair is treated as a unique element in the report statistics, so consider first how you want your metrics to be calculated for all objects belonging to a similar category.

The design philosophy above describes the needs that the report user will have in interpreting the way people engage with interactive elements. It is sometimes necessary to observe whether someone watched a Flash movie, or how much of the movie they watched before leaving. Likewise this type of tracking can demonstrate which elements are actually driving users toward the goals of the website and which are leaving people confused or jaded.

For example, the Atlanta Community Foundation has posed the challenge of tracking whether people are using the interactive map of the regions found on the right hand side of their charitable giving page. Once it is determined whether people are using this element we can dig deeper to find out what they do once the interactive map takes them to the section of the site devoted to their region. As interactive elements using technologies such as Flash, Flex, and Ajax take over the navigation within a site that has traditionally been the realm of in content links, web analytics solutions and the analysts themselves will need to increase their ability to monitor and report on the effectiveness of this navigation.

The future of the web is going to be incredibly user friendly; much of this is driven by the brilliant designers who are able to put together these incredible websites, but a great deal of it is also driven by the web analysts who can help management to determine which design elements are working and which are fluff.

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Eric Werner is an interactive marketing consultant specializing in Web Analytics, Organic Search Engine Optimization, and Pay-Per-Click Management. A results-driven Google Certified Adwords professional, Eric has engaged in Adwords Management for NRDC.org while at Northridge Interactive. He currently manages a Google Grant for Youthaids.org, and leads an ongoing SEO engagement with FAMM.org. Follow him on Twitter or read his Adwords Marketing Blog.
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