Fun with Web Analytics: Can You Measure Interaction With a Paperback Book?

Many marketers are still blissfully ignorant about web analytics and think that it was only of interest to the web team, namely for improving online marketing. Yet its promise goes much beyond.

This post aims to inspire you for taking web analytics up on this promise. 

Do you think web analytics could help measure and improve something as offline as a paperback book?

Book authors would love to know how deeply readers are engaged with the many pages that they have brought to paper. After all, people start reading many books but finish only few of them. Especially so with non-fiction books! reading

Having published a book on Multichannel Marketing Metrics earlier this year, I certainly was very curious how engaged my readers stayed through the 11 chapters that make up the book.Would they make it to the middle of the book and then lose interest?

With online content, this question is really easy to answer. For example, web analysts at the New York Times can easily tell for multi-page articles on NYTimes.com, how many click through all the way to the last page of the article.

But how would you measure that for a paperback book?

Traditional offline marketers would be quick to recommend a solution based on something that they always use for measuring “offline marketing things”, namely the use of panels or focus groups.

You would go interview a few readers. Then you would extrapolate their answers to all readers in the hopes that your panel is representative 

But under the right set of circumstances, web analytics can help us do better than that.

Look for ways to feed your web analytics with offline data 

Throughout most of the 11 chapters of my book, I have provided convenience URLs (also called vanity URLs) that reference interesting additional information about the subject that is discussed on the page. There are some 25 shortcuts of this nature spread from the beginning to the end of the book, similar to the following (click to enlarge): 

Book excerpt with convenience URL

These convenience URLs redirect to the target destination where the information is actually to be found. Often those target URLs would be much longer and cumbersome to type in directly. Hence the name, convenience URL.

You see these convenience URLs used everywhere these days. For example, you will find them in the National Geographic magazine. You even see them blended in on TV programs.

The main purpose of these shortcuts is indeed to inspire readers with further information. But as a side effect, everybody following one of my convenience URL creates an anonymous ping on my web site. Web analytics can count all those pings and aggregate them up to a report. The following chart contains all the pings coming from the 11 chapters of my book where readers followed a shortcut: (click the picture to expand it)

How deep do readers read the multichannel marketing book?

What jumps out at you?

Looks like a nice bell curve of engagement that grows towards the middle of the book and then slowly subsides towards the last chapters. As readers get drawn into the middle of book they become even more likely to follow the shortcuts. Towards the end, readers become a little less likely.

This was great news for me, I am super pleased that the drop-off towards the last chapters isn’t higher. The last chapters of the book have been called the most powerful by some gurus in their reviews.

How can this help you? 

Much liked we used web analytics to measure engagement with a paperback book here,

  • Direct marketers can measure engagement with their emails, catalogs, and credit card offers.

  • Brand advertisers can measure engagement with their TV and radio commercials, or newspaper ads, or even outdoors ads in subway stations.

Now, don’t get too excited though.

You also need to know the limitations of this analysis. Let’s discuss a few typical ones in regards to the chart.

In the chart, you see a sharp drop-off within chapter 1 on the shortcuts that have been followed, although the 4th shortcut (MultichannelMetrics.com/CEM) attracted more readers.

Why that drop off?

  • Is it because people didn’t finish chapter 1 and skipped to chapter 2? (Probably not, otherwise shortcut 4 wouldn’t have spiked up.)

  • Is it because more people are so familiar with shortcut 2 (/web20) and shorcut 3 (/brandweek) that they didn’t bother follow?

  • Maybe those particular pages were less engaging?

  • Or was it that the first two shortcuts led to content that wasn’t what readers expected so they stopped bothering at the third shortcut?

Two observations in response to these questions:

  • Web analytics can never really tell why people do what they do. That requires attitudinal data that is often best collected through surveys (ah, … so we are back to panels after all…)

  • The chart turns out not just to measure how far people get into the book. But the data is also influenced by how deeply engaging each shortcut was. 

    With those two aspects overlaid on the data however, does the positive interpretation that I originally made still hold true? Maybe fewer people made it to the end of the book but those who did were super engaged and eager to follow the hyperlinks because those really are the most powerful chapters?

 Welcome to the fun world of web analytics!

You see clearly why we need much more than just a web analytics solution to get good web analytics. We also need web analysts that spend enough time with the information to think about it, probe it, and verify their interpretations through experiments.

Alas, until the first edition of the Multichannel Marketing book is sold out and we get to publish a second edition, I won’t get to experiment with different shortcuts and re-measuring outcomes. That kind of thing would be much easier and faster with an e-book.

…………..

P.S.: If you are interested in hearing from some real life web analysts about their work, join the upcoming Web Analytics Strategies Panel moderated by Jupiter’s John Lovett . John will be joined by web analysts at The Hartford and Coastal Contacts.

2 Responses to “Fun with Web Analytics: Can You Measure Interaction With a Paperback Book?”

  1. Excellent post Akin! Very insightful, thanks.

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