Ex-Reddit CEO Says Website Analytics ‘Fake’
For Ellen Pao, former CEO of Reddit, one of the largest active social media platforms, to come out and confirm that web analytics are “fake,” raises serious questions. But what prompted Pao to make this statement on Twitter in the first place? And is it really true? Are all web analytics fake?
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The reasons for Ellen Pao’s statement
Pao’s comments on Twitter appeared in response to a tweet from Washington Post’s Aram Zucker-Schariff who shared a segment from a New York Magazine article about the authenticity of web analytics. “Take something as simple as how we measure web traffic. Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: they’re accountable, trackable, and verifiable, and their existence underpins the advertising activity that powers our biggest social and search platforms. Yet even Facebook, the world’s largest data collection organization, doesn’t seem capable of producing authentic numbers.
The article then referred to a number of lawsuits filed against Facebook for exaggerating the amount of time users spend watching videos on the social media platform.
Upon seeing the post, Ellen Pao responded by tweeting, “It’s all true: it’s all fake. Also, the number of mobile users is wrong. Nobody figured out how to count disconnected mobile users, as I learned on Reddit. Every time someone switches cell towers, they look like another user and inflate the company’s user metrics.”
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So, is all web analytics data fake?
Amy Vernon, Vice President of Community at Rivetz Corp, said, “I tend to agree with Ellen Pao’s statement on web analytics. The problem isn’t the data itself, it’s how all platforms share and label data. In their rush to make their platforms as busy as possible, they [tend] to use the most inflated definition of page views, video views, unique visitors, active and more.
However, on the other side of the debate, Andy Gibson, head of news and vertical media at InfoTrust, disagrees with Pao’s comments. “[Pao] bases its argument on the fact that Silicon Valley companies like Facebook have in the past misled or outright lied about web and video statistics. This does not mean that the web analytics data is fake. That means there are bad actors presenting false analytics data,” Gibson said. Gibson added that companies that inflate their web analytics data are a reflection of their poor core values and culture, not web analytics tools or the industry as a whole.
In reference to the challenge of tracking “disconnected” mobile users that Pao mentioned, Alan Santillan, marketer at G2Crowd, mentioned that this is “well understood” in the analytics industry and is “not a secret” at all. “In looking at the actual quote, what Ellen Pao learned working at Reddit is that web analytics data is extremely difficult to track,” Santillan said. “The numbers aren’t wrong, nor are they a completely accurate representation of the current metrics we’re tracking due to how users are represented and tracked.”
Santillan said, “there are ways to track people across multiple devices that can mitigate the issue about ‘logged out’ users, which Pao fails to mention. Marketers will still be able to justify data points such as demographics and other more technical aspects available through platforms like Google Analytics.
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More transparency is coming
While it seems that the lack of trust in web analytics platforms stems from the misuse of their data by some Silicon Valley giants, web analytics brands or companies that rely on Web analytics solutions for their clients must now focus their efforts on transparency to regain consumer trust.
Steve Weiss, CEO of MuteSix, explained how his company is open and honest with its customers regarding analytics. “As an advertiser, we insist that our customers know what they’re paying for,” Weiss said. “It’s so vital to break down internal silos, be more open with partners about metrics of success, and have those much-needed conversations about investing in technology.”
A number of variables can influence an ad’s performance or your website’s performance each month. All of these variables must be communicated to the client. “Collaboration and transparency between customers is what we will see more and more digital marketers moving towards. We expect agencies to include more helpful tools that connect the client to actions, which will instill confidence in the process,” Weiss said.