[I offer a more-formal-than-not article based on recent real-world experience doing mobile analytics for a Semphonic client. You will be interested if you are a traditional web analyst who soon faces the added responsibility of measuring mobile.
For what's bound to be an engaging discussion about mobile analytics, come to the X Change Conference and attend Bob Schukai's 2 huddles on the topic. Bob advised me as I wrote the following article and I was really impressed with his depth of knowledge about the mobile space.]
Real-World Challenges of Tracking Mobile with Page Tags
As the mobile web grows in popularity, so does the need for mobile measurement. When put to the test, say, with a basic mobile campaign, we find that mobile measurement has not yet reached the level of maturity that we have come to expect from traditional web analytics.
If we treat mobile measurement like traditional web measurement we face challenges right away, starting with data collection.
An increasing number of mobile-specific tracking solutions are surfacing on the market; they offer arguably more robust data collection methods than traditional web analytics tools. [My colleague Phil Kemelor has written a nice series on the mobile analytics vendor landscape, if you're interested.] However, despite known deficiencies, site owners may still opt to use a traditional web analytics tool for mobile measurement simply because it’s already an accepted business standard for tracking existing web content.
In this article we will outline some of the challenges faced when using a tag-based web analytics tool adapted – by way of an image request – to measure mobile.
Consider two very similar online campaigns aimed at promoting the download of an application: the first campaign goes out as an email blast on traditional web, and the second campaign goes out as an SMS blast on mobile. Beyond the difference in screen size, these two campaigns look a lot alike: a message, a click, a download. But, when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of each campaign, mobile brings a whole new set of challenges.
Using this example – a pair of simple campaigns – we will illustrate common mobile measurement issues concerning campaign clickthroughs and downloadable files.
How do we track campaign clickthroughs?
In our campaigns, site-side tracking begins the moment someone clicks through from the message they receive to the landing page on the site. This tracking process is well-defined on traditional web, but less so on mobile.
On mobile, and with image requests for data collection, we cannot easily intercept campaign code query parameters on URLs. As a workaround, unique landing pages can be set up to track traffic from each campaign. This approach, although it works, does add a layer of complexity to the campaign creation process beyond what we would normally do to track campaigns on traditional web sites.
How do we track downloads?
The measure of success in our campaigns is the download of a file. Once again, established tracking techniques on traditional web must be re-evaluated on mobile.
On mobile, and with image requests for data collection, we must make do by treating the page just prior to download as a signifier of the download itself. This method will necessarily inflate the number of downloads, though, since it’s entirely possible to back out of the process before actually requesting the file. In this case, clear communication to data consumers is recommended in order to set expectations about data quality.
After all that, just the basics
The tracking techniques described above provide the absolute bare minimum we need in order to measure mobile campaign effectiveness, namely page views of the campaign landing page and downloads of the file. Tracking becomes more problematic if we hope to get accurate visit and unique visitor counts; mobile browsers do not reliably set cookies, and we are left with very weak rules for visitor identification.
The lesson learned, in comparing very similar activities across traditional web and mobile, is that mobile requires somewhat more effort just to get the most basic tracking in place. While we need not reinvent the wheel as we move into this new medium, mobile does force us to reconsider some of our fundamental assumptions about web measurement.