Saturday, 6 March 2010

Google’s latest data give-away

Not sure how broad the awareness is of the Google / DoubleClick Adplanner tool … but if I was Experian/Hitwise I would be worried that this data is now being made available for free by Google. It is packaged as a tool for advertisers -- but it is also a pretty powerful Competitive Intelligence tool for online retailers.

Remember before Google Analytics came along and service providers and consultants would (try and) charge you significant sums for analysing your web-logs and providing click overlay analyses? In fact it’s not that long ago that I had a conversation with the MD of a large catalogue retailer who was telling me about the amazing analytics service they were paying (through the nose) for; from what I could see they did little more than repackage the Google Analytics data -- so there may be a bit of that still out there.

I wonder if we will soon be looking back on Hitwise (the excellent but expensive online competitive intelligence service, now owned by Experian) as another victim of Google’s policy of providing intelligence for free?

Let's look at what Adplanner does (and does not) provide by using one of my own sites (so I can compare the data given with Hitwise and own Analytics data)

Adplanner Data for Petplanet.co.uk

The data quality certainly appears solid in terms of overall traffic levels and, as far as I can tell, the socio-demographic data looks good.

Using this tool to compare with our online specialist competitors (I'll leave it to you to work out who they are!) I can see (and more importantly now potential advertisers and suppliers can see) that we achieve more than double the reach of any of these guys.

We (uniquely amongst our peers it seems) have elected to share our Google Analytics data (on the basis that we are proud of our numbers and aren’t shy about sharing). I see that as a result Google under-estimates our UK traffic and messes up the visits/user calculation; a bug I'm sure they'll fix and the overall picture is still accurate.

Indeed compare our reach to the pet retail giant that is Pets at Home and (allowing for how much of their traffic is store-finding and searching for the brand itself) I would argue the data supports my argument expounded in earlier Blog (Exploding the Multi-Channel Myth) that Online specialists occupy a competitive space that the off-line brands’ online propositions can't reach. The Pets at Home data also highlights some data glitches in the system – their traffic figues appear overstated (cf Hitwise) and I would very much doubt that 100% of www.petsathome.com traffic is from the UK.

Which brings us to ask the obvious question: how good is the data and is there any systematic bias? Google states

"DoubleClick Ad Planner combines information from a variety of sources, such as aggregated Google search data, opt-in anonymous Google Analytics data, opt-in external consumer panel data, and other third-party market research."

I think in practice what this means is the traffic data is google search based (unless the site in question elects to share analytics data) and the demographics data is triangulated from other sources. I suspect this means that sites who use a lot of email activity to drive traffic and/or have a high proportion of users who have 'favourited' them will be under-represented (as they will have a higher than average proportion of 'direct' traffic).
The keyword and site affinity data is also frankly pretty ropey; it does not triangulate well with Hitwise (or intuition) and is really of little commercial value at the moment. Take the example of our gardening / garden furniture site

Adplanner data for Greenfingers.com

Telling me that 'marks spencer' and 'sainsburys' keywords have a high affinity with my site is not of much use.

You have to wonder how long before Google extends/improves that information though (for a fee?) so that we can all see what keywords are driving traffic to our competitors and which ones they are spending PPC budget on (the main incremental value that Hitwise still offers). You have to wonder how long before Google extends/improves that information as well (for a fee?) so that we can all see what keywords are driving traffic to our competitors and which ones they are spending PPC budget on (the main incremental value that Hitwise still offers).

The 'sites also visited' data is fairly random at the moment too. To avoid getting too carried away with my own sites and hitwise data I tried checking eg. www.wiggle.co.uk versus www.chainreactioncycles.com (who are head-to-head competitors in their space as confirmed by Hitwise and common-sense) but they don't appear in each others' 'sites also visited' ... which is plain wrong.

Hard to be critical when you consider the data is free; it's pretty powerful data and a useful Competitive Intelligence tool. I'd be interested to hear others' perspectives.

Comment welcome

1 comment:

wane1024 said...

Thanks for the great post about Ad Planner. For website traffic specifically, Ad Planner uses a hybrid methodology that combines Google sample data (the sources you listed in your post) with direct measured site traffic data from site that opt-in their Google Analytics data. This combination of direct + sample sources allows us to identify and remove bias in the estimates.

Here's a doc we recently updated in our help center explaining our methodology.

http://www.google.com/support/adplanner/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=175532

Thanks,
- Wayne
Product Manager, DoubleClick Ad Planner