Be surprised with Ubuntu!

Today, I installed Ubuntu Linux just to try out what all the hoopla was about. It was a pleasant surprise that I faced.

First of all some really heartening facts:

  1. The installer is genuinely easy!
  2. Installer detects your hardware and good package of software comes pre-installed.
  3. The system works – especially with Firefox inbuilt, and good help it is really quite easy to use.

Let me explain the points in detail.

Easy Installation

Believe me! This installation was a breeze! The last time I did a Linux install, it was when I was in college. At that point of time, it was a technical wizardry if you could install this beast of an operating system, make it work and also ensure that it did not erase and crash you existing Windows installation.

Ubuntu’s unique Live CD installer is a welcome change. Instead of first installing the Operating System, you can first simply start your machine on Linux by the CD itself. So, you not only have an installer, but, you can boot in, see the system in operation and only when you are sure, you can go ahead and install it.

Next, the partitioning was a dream. The most painful area of using Linux was always the partitioning. Sure, Red Hat had some nifty tools, but, the sheer screen showing the partitions was enough to send shiver down the spine of any non-geeky user. In Ubuntu, all I had to do was this:

  1. Choose which drive I wanted for Ubuntu. For this, I chose my D:\
  2. Then, I just cleared off all the junk songs and made some space and defragmented the hard disk. This is to ensure that when the existing disk is partitioned off no valuable data is lost. This is one step that takes a really long time and HAS to be done of Windows. For me, it took about 8 hours to format about 28 GB of my hard disk.

This was like a pre-installation procedure.

Then, I restarted my machine with the Live CD and started the istallation. Just do the following during the partitioning:

  1. Choose manual formating option instead of the guided ones – unless you are planning to have only Ubuntu on your system
  2. Choose the drive you want for installation and delete that partition from the list
  3. Add a partition called swap – this should be 1.5 times the size of RAM
  4. Add a / partition which should be at least 2 GB – this is where all the files of Ubuntu will reside.
  5. Click on the next few steps and you are on your way to installing Ubuntu

Remember that while selecting the partition, just choose the partition to begin from end so that the data is not lost.

The best part was that Ubuntu automatically detected the settings and even configured the dual-boot software (GRUB). I did not have to make some geeky things here to get it working. Though I did read through a lot, which was more of a habit 🙂

Good Software Package

The next pleasant thing was the very good set of software that it provided out of the box. There was the Open Office and Firefox, which I am sure will serve most needs of most people. After all, even in Windows, most of the time, most people use the browser and the MS-Office. Since a browser and an MS-Office like software is provided right from installer, the pain of searching, downloading and installing is directly reduced.

Then, the installer was automatically able to import the settings from Windows – so much so that it even imported my Internet connection details and the Wallpaper! This was really a big surprise to me. When I’d installed Red Hat in the bygone days, internet connection never ever worked with Linux. But this time, it was simply fabulous.

Apart from the basic software, the OpenOffice Writer (compatriat of Word) has the ability to directly export files as PDF which is very helpful for producing professional looking documents.

If you are a programmer, then this is again a real help. The system comes pre-installed with Perl. And with just this one command
sudo apt-get install apache

I managed to install apache. One step installation, something that you expect as a user if Windows is true on Ubuntu. And this is a the biggest relief! I did not have to sit and wade through pages and pages of help on the dependencies and what not. The above simple command detected everything needed and automatically installed everything.

Similarly, with one command I installed php and Java! If you are a developer, this is like a dream (unless you a .Net developer).

System Works!

And coming to the final part of the best thing of Ubuntu, it works! It works the very first time I booted from the Live CD and it worked the very first time I installed. It even detected a wireless connection that never ever worked on Windows! The system also understood that I have NVidia graphics card and got the software for it.

The moment I installed the OS, it said that there were 71 things to be updated – it promptly got them and installed. I did not have to break my head on what to find and update. Just like one click Windows updater, the Ubuntu updater went on and brought my system in synch with the latest. This was almost like a dream come true for me!

Conclusion

All in all, the installation, migration and the use of this new Ubuntu Linux has been a very pleasant and happy experience for me. For all those of you out there, believe me, trying Ubuntu is not so risky as it used to be with other distributions of Linux. Just to make things easier for migration, I’d recommend you do the following:

  1. On Windows, install OpenOffice and get a feel of the software. This is just to wean you away from MS-Office.
  2. Install Firefox and try it. This will ensure that you know how to access internet without IE.
  3. Use Live CD and boot into the system a few times just to get a feel of the system. To get the Live CD, just register here and get a CD shipped to your home – in case you don’t want to download it.

And be on your way to start using Ubuntu – Linux for human beings!

Basic Metrics

-Akshay Ranganath

Now that we’ve see what analytics is and how to start analytics, let’s get on to the next stage – seeing the metrics.

At this point, the assumption is that you have a site to analyze and the analytics code has been pasted onto each and every page that you want to be tracked via the analytics software. Like I explained before our blog is using Google Analytics. Hence, I’ll be showing the screen dumps from the Google Analytics site.

What metrics to see?
This is a very good question! The metrics that you would be interested to see will generally depend on what you intend to measure in the first place. Generally though, there is a basic set of metrics that needs to be captured for any higher level of analysis to take place. In this article, I’ll be covering these simple and general metrics.
For sake of clarity and better understanding, I’ll be defining the various metrics, as defined in Google Analytics glossary (1) and the Omniture SiteCatalyst (2) help center. This is just to give you a glimpse on the little differences that vendors may sometime have in the way their metrics work.

So, let’s get on with exploring the metrics.

Hit

Hit is a metric that is more of a remnant of the log-file based era. Basically, it was a measure of number of times any resource was served from a web server. For example, if your page has a logo, a stylesheet file and the actual HTML, one hit would be reported for each of the file – in effect when this page loaded, the site would record three hits.
Since this measure is not of much use, it is not reported on most of the modern tools.

Definitions

SiteCatalyst: A request to the web server for a file. This can be an HTML page, an image (jpeg, gif, png, etc.), a sound clip, a cgi script, and many other file types. An HTML page can account for several hits: the page itself, each image on the page, and any embedded sound or video clips. Therefore, the number of hits a website receives is not a valid popularity gauge, but rather is an indication of server use and loading.

Google Analytics: A single entry in a server log file, generated when a user requests a resource on a website; a request can result in an error or a successful transmission of any data type.

PageView

Page view is the next higher order metric. This measures the number of times a particular page having the analytics code is loaded by the browser. So, if the same page mentioned above were loaded, the analytics code would be present in the HTML page and hence, only one pageview would be noted by the analytics program.

This is the most basic metric that is measured by most of the analytics packages.

Definitions

SiteCatalyst: A request for a full-page document (rather than an element of a page such as an image, movie, or audio file) on a website; hits are not a useful comparison between websites or parts of the same website, since each webpage is made up of an arbitrary number of individual files

Google Analytics: A pageview is an instance of a page being loaded by a browser.

How to see?
On the Google Analytics do the following to see the PageView report:
Visitors > Visitor Trending > Pageviews

Visit / Session

A session or a visit is the interaction of a user with the web site. If I access a site, close the site, access something else and then return back to the site, then, I’ve visited the site twice. If I access a site and leave it idle for a specific period of time and then try again, then, it is considered a new visit or a session.

This type of a definition is necessary since the session or visit is based on cookies. A concept of session is needed to form a base of an interaction from which any meaning can be derived. For example, if you go to a shop, visit once and then return again to exchange some article, for the shop, you’ve visited twice. Based on this, they can form some information like you came to the shop twice, but bought only once. Or some data like, you came to the shop, stayed for about 30 minutes and then made a purchase of $ 100.

Of course, there is caveat in terms of the visit from a computer. Since it is based on cookies, if you clear the cookies in the middle of an interaction or if the site is accessed by your friend when you left for a quick break – such details cannot be captured.

Definitions

SiteCatalyst: A visit is a term that refers to a visitor’s access to a website. The visit begins when a person first views a page on your company’s website. It will continue until that person stops all activity on the site for 30 minutes. For example, if you log in to http://www.omniture.com, you have one instance of a visit that will last until you have incurred 30 minutes of inactivity, i.e. you have closed the browser or left your computer. If you are inactive for more than 30 minutes, and then you log on again, it is considered a new visit. SiteCatalyst also terminates a visit after 12 hours of continuous activity.

Google Analytics: A period of interaction between a visitor’s browser and a particular website, ending when the browser is closed or shut down, or when the user has been inactive on that site for a specified period of time.
For the purpose of Google Analytics reports, a session is considered to have ended if the user has been inactive on the site for 30 minutes.

How to see?
Visitors > Visitor Trending > Visits

Visitor

In the simplest terms, a Visit is performed by a visitor. This is the level where we are trying to associate an human actor in the entire process of interaction.

SiteCatalyst: A Visitor is a construct designed to come as close as possible to defining the number of actual, distinct people who visited a website. There is of course no way to know if two people are sharing a computer from the website’s perspective, but a good visitor-tracking system can come close to the actual number. The most accurate visitor-tracking systems generally employ cookies to maintain tallies of distinct visitors.

Google Analytics
: The number of actual, distinct people who visited a website. Omniture employs cookies to maintain tallies of distinct visitors.

How to see?
Just click on the Visitors option on the left hand menu.

Summary
Trying to co-relate whatever we’ve learnt till now with an example:
If I were to go to Amazon.com and view some book article, probably add a few things to my cart, edit or remove items and then check out and close the site, I am the visitor who generated so many page views, one each for all the pages that I saw. If I did all the activities without closing my browser and without leaving my browser idle for more than 30 minutes of a time, I’ve done the entire job in one visit!

This covers a short chapter on the absolute very basic metrics of any analytics package.

In the subsequent chapters, I’ll be examining how the metrics can be used to derive various other details for a site.

References:
1. Google Analytics Glossary
2. Omniture SiteCatalyst Help.

Starting Web Analytics – Part 2

Getting down and dirty with Google Analytics
-Akshay Ranganath

In the previous article I’d written about how to start the implementation of an analytics program. In this article, I’ll write about rolling your sleeves and getting into the actual implementation.

Note that the Analytics product that I am using is Google Analytics. In your case it may the product you have chosen but the overall steps will remain similar.

The steps in setting up an analytics program are as follows:

  1. Sign up for an analytics program
  2. Identify the site you want to track
  3. The vendor provides JavaScript tracking code.
  4. Take this code and paste it into each and every page that you want to track.
  5. Whenever a visitor to your website accesses a page, it is downloaded onto the visitor’s machine and the JavaScript code executes and sends out the tracking information to the data center of the analytics vendor.
  6. Log in to your reporting area and see the Analytics reports.

The above process is a simplification of the entire sequence of steps necessary, but it is also quite complete if the initial aim to just “get on with the tracking”.

Starting Analytics Program using Google Analytics

  1. Login to the Analytics site (http://www.google.com/analytics/) using your gmail id.
  2. In the screen, choose the option “Create New Account”
  3. Fill in the details like the URL of the site to track and the time zone that you’d like. The time zone details are needed for reporting like “Unique visitors in a day”.
  4. Enter your details in the next screen
  5. Go through the Privacy Policy and accept it.
  6. At this stage, Google Analytics displays a screen having the tracking JavaScript code. Make a note of this.
  7. Take this JavaScript code and paste it on each and every page that needs to be tracked just before the end of the tag.
  8. Once this is done, come back to Google Analytics. It will show a screen similar to the one below. If you click on the “Check Status” button, the site will start to try and build analytics reports. Please note that after hitting the “Check Status” button, leave it alone for a day or two for the analytics to start getting accumulated.
  9. Once the reporting starts to work, when you log into the analytics site, it will look like below. Click on view reports and stat analyzing!

Starting Web Analyics – Part 1

How to start collecting Web Analytic metrics?
By – Akshay Ranganath

Introduction
The following tutorial is a short primer on how to start collecting the analytics on your website. The goal of this article is explain what is Web Analytics, identify why it is necessary and explain how to start an implementation. The key take-away is help the audience to get a basic understanding and use of Analytics.

No individual product is examined or recommended at this stage. The following diagram explains the basic strategy.

What is Web Analytics and KPIs?
According to Wikipedia (1), “Web Analytics is the study of website visitors”. Using analytics, you can see what the users to the web site are doing, where are they coming from and are they performing the actions that you were expecting them to do.

The question that comes into the mind at this point of time is, “Why do I want to collecting these details?” Well, the answer varies from website to website but, the basic reason is to measure the performance of your web-site against some objectives that you had in mind when you created the site. Some of the possible objectives could be:

  • Are people coming to my site whenever they search “Book” as I am selling books online?
  • Is the new ad that I put on Google search working fine? Is it attracting anyone at all?
  • I just re-designed my site to show the new globally-local image. Is it a hit or are people still vary to use my services?
  • And so on..

These measures are called as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). According to Wikipedia (2), “key Performance Indicators (KPI) are financial and non-financial metrics used to quantify objectives to reflect strategic performance of an organization. KPIs are used in Business Intelligence to assess the present state of the business and to prescribe a course of action.”

So, Web Analytics is used to track various defined KPIs for a web site. The primary aim of any organization is to define the KPIs correctly. If you don’t know what you want to measure, you’ll probably end up measuring what you never wanted. (Something akin to Cheshire cat and Alice in Wonderland!)

How do I start Web Analytics?
If you are a blogger or a an enterprise embarking on the world of web analytics, the easiest way to start is to follow the three step approach:

  • Start collecting basic metrics on your site
  • Brain storm and identify the KPIs for your web site
  • Tweak the implementation and focus on the reports that delivers value to you

Let me explain each of the steps in detail.

Start collecting metrics
The first step in analytics is to first “go and get the hands dirty” concept i.e., start an implementation on the site without too much of brain work. Let the brain work go on in parallel.

The reason for this type of an approach is that most often, we don’t know how our site is performing. For example, when I had implemented analytics on my blog, I just wanted to see where people are coming from geographically. Instead I found some interesting behaviour where Google was directing users when they had searched some terms like “VIT” and “Cognizant campus”. I had never imagined that someone would land on my blog via Google since that had never been my intention.

In a similar way, the basic implementation will throw up some real surprises to you too. For example, people may be landing on your site due to a keyword search on Google but, that keyword would be a happenstance and not related to what you do. Or better yet, something that you’d never imagined that people would be interested in!

This basic implementation will also give you a starting point to examine and brain storm in identifying the metrics that should be measured on the site.

If you are simply trying to implement analytics for a blog, then try a free product like Google Analytics. If you are an enterprise, the product to choose is a bit more tough (and beyond the scope of this article). Whatever the product you choose, as a first step, go with a very basic implementation – something akin to out-of-box usage.

Brainstorm and identify KPIs for your Web Site
Once you’ve jumped into the ocean (so to speak), you need to dedicate energy into identify what is it that you are trying to measure. This is the core of analytics and will need a lot of elaboration. At a high level, this is what you should do:

  • Check what is your business
    • are you a retailer
    • an online book seller
    • a news publishing company, switching to online media
  • Identify why you are on the web
    • do you intend to generate leads on the web
    • do you want to sell more online
    • do you want to create interest for your shop
  • Correlate with the findings in the basic reports obtained earlier
    • are people coming to your site because they wanted to buy something
    • are people coming in for something that you don’t do
    • are they guided correctly from your keyword ads on Google/Yahoo and so on

This is an area that is very specific to the area of business. The main aim here is to identify why you are online and if the web site’s performance aligned with the strategy of the core business. Once this is determined, you can decide on the following factors:
In my line of business, what should I start to measure
Looking at the performance, is my site fulfilling its role or are people being misguided

Once this step is complete, jump into the third and continuing phase – Optimizing.

Optimizing
This is a stage where you tweak your analytics implementation, key word marketing, email marketing or SEO results to better suit the KPIs that are relevant to the business. For example, if the above analysis shows that people are hitting your site for a wrong keyword, use a SEO technique to ensure that your site appears for the more relevant keywords.

The ability to optimize the implementation of Analytics is dependent on the product being used. For example, Google Analytics is out-of-box while Omniture SiteCatalyst offers many ares of tweaks. Understand your product and implement the tweaks.

Conclusion
The stage of brainstorming and optimizing is a continuous one. Never get too complacent about your site’s performance. Keep measuring and keep improving!

The article is intended as just a thousand feet high view on the process of analytics. A lot of area has been covered in here and over a period of time, I’ll be building on the concepts introduced here.

References:

  1. Web Analytics From Wikipedia.
  2. Key Performance Indicators from Wikipedia.