With today’s launch of v9, webtrends totally revisited how it presents analysis results. First, I must say that I was never a fan of how the company used data visualization. Through all the versions over the years, I thought that their use of graphs was always the same, i.e. useless (oh! those pie charts!). If you were a heavy user of the application, I bet you had the same habit as mine: always scrolling down the page over the graphs to see the actual results. In fact, I usually configure the template not to show the graphs when I implement it.
With 9, visualization has been completely revisited. It is in fact the bulk of the new version. I believe the company has made great efforts to apply what are now recognized as better practices in the world of data visualization, notably under Stephen Few’s influence. It would be too long to detail what this means, but let’s say that basically, we’re done with most of the eye-candy effects we had in previous versions that didn’t add much insight.
One thing that struck me when I first was shown the new UI, was the immediate availability of results. No more clicking to get to the profile list, clicking on the profile name, and getting to the Overview. Now, a lot of information is available right there, at the profile list level. The idea is to connect the users with their data as quickly as possible.
Also, webtrends got rid of the old gaudy color scheme; no more shadowy semi-transparent 3D column graphs with 20 different colors. It has now opted for a black/grey palette that is way smoother to the eye, and does not distract from the story:
It could be nice to be able to change the color scheme, though. Following Few too much can lead to a colorless grey world. I think it would be good to have the ability to choose a color theme. I would also like to be able to change the color of some graph elements in order to bring the reader’s attention to them.
Now, numbers nicely co-exist with their visuals. No more scrolling!! I mean, only this little improvement will spare me a lot of carpian canal pain on heavy analysis days! Selecting a value will of course immediately change the graph. The grey bars represent weekends, and webtrends has done a great job at making sure they align correctly when one compares different periods. Note the emphasis on the values in a new nice font.
Now, all available reports are beneath the result presentation area, making it quick to select another one. I just don’t know yet if we’ll still be able to use custom template here (I always rename the report sections, because I find the default ones to be rather meaningless to most marketing managers).
Oh, but wait! Look at the numbers in the picture. See? Yes! Bounce Rate!! FINALLY!!! It’s here now, but at this point, it’s hard to commend webtrends for having a KPI that’s been understood by the market for years. But, hey, we got it now. However, it would have definitely been nice, and really useful, to have BR all over the place, like we get it in GA: looking at search engine keyphrases, entry pages, top pages, referrers, etc., will still present the old measures, with no BR in sight. “Hits” are still there for Pete’s sake!
Another little problem is the need to scroll sideways to get to the full view of the measures. We understand that good dashboard principles require that all the data be available at a glance, allowing for a complete view or results. OK, not everybody agrees on this one, and it is certainly one of the most difficult rules to apply when conceiving a dashboard. I wonder if a solution here would be to allow for screen resizing.
Data in Context
I haven’t played with it yet, but webtrends now offers the possibility to integrate RSS feeds and add them to the graph in order to give some context to the trends. This is a very interesting example of how the company wants to make it easier for us to “Connect” with other applications by now allowing data in, and making it even easier to get data out (via their API I won’t comment today).
It seems that this kind of integration in the reports is also possible with radian6, the product webtrends whitelables for their social media measurement (more on radian6 in a future post). I would really love to see that, because it would certainly make it easier to see the actual impact (or lack thereof) of SM on a site! Needless to say that this is something that remains to be seen in general with Social Media. I must confess that I can’t see the rabbit yet.
A cool new feature is a function that takes some results and constructs a narrative by actually writing a paragraph, which could be simply copied and pasted in an email
It remains to be seen whether this functionality can be used with other Overview Dashboards using different indicators. But I still find the idea pretty neat. This reminds us that an analysis is a form of narrative, a story that must *tell* something useful. At the end, it’s all language.
The new visualization definitely belonged to the list of top things to do. I believe that changes are not simply cosmetics, but are a genuine effort to make result display more efficient, which means more insightful. However, webtrends 9 is still Webtrends Analytics, and the true renewal is still to come. The application will have to make it much easier to explore, slice and dice, check hypothesis on the fly, and one good way I think would be to get out of the Custom Reports logic. I mean by that there should be more possibilities to cross-tab dimensions without having to create a custom report for every question not answered by the default reports.
As someone who often has very little time to come up with insightful analysis of large set of web activity data, doing quick exploration, now, becomes critical. And with all their drawbacks, some other applications make that job easier.
Would a solution be merging Analytics and Marketing Warehouse/VI into a single product line (if even feasible)?
NOTE: I should have mentioned that the team behind the new UI had only 3 months to do all that. Impressive!