A cautionary web analytics tale

Written by Paper. Posted in Articles, Drive

Published on July 20, 2016 with No Comments

Media companies and others with Internet businesses depend on those all important Web Analytics. It’s how trends are spotted and ads are targeted and ultimately sales are increased. Analytics companies and some of their clients swear by this method. So imagine the joy and celebration at Boston.com upon discovering that the readership was completely enchanted with the Noodle Kugel recipe – wild dancing all around.

Noodle Kugel is a creamy pudding, traditionally made by the Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe – and there are varied recipes. Some people labeled the Boston Noodle Kugel a cholesterol fest due to its ingredient list that includes sticks of butter, egg yolks, sour cream and cream cheese along with the egg noodles. Some people are downers who suck the lifeblood out of anything that promises to be fun.

But we digress. The Noodle Kugel seemed to grab Boston.com’s readership by the stomach in a very big way. Downloaded left and right for months, the recipe was at the top of the site’s most e-mailed list. Who knew Bostonians, famous for their preppy style and tax axe to grind, would gravitate to an old Jewish treat? Then came the elation crashing down to earth like so much space junk.

People may or may not have loved the Noodle Kugel but it was not as popular as its web analytics indicated. Technicians discovered hackers at work, using the catchy subject line as an attachment in a spamming scheme. An e-mail about Kugel is more likely to be opened than an e-mail about say, C*@lis or #i@gr@.

All of which is one more worry for businesses counting on web analytics to indicate customer preferences. Is it customer or hackers preference? Are customers being sincere or is it a prank? Did the mouse take the cheese or did the farmer’s wife take the cheese for the farmer’s dinner? And how do you know if you’re not constantly watching? The answers are never very clear or straightforward.

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