BBC Takes New Approach to Web Analytics

The BBC is revamping the technology it will use to crunch the data on its 350 sites.
In one of the biggest projects to date involving Web analytics, the BBC is revamping the technology it will use to crunch the data on at least 170 billion page views across more than 350 sites over the next three years. Attracting more than 100 million page views per day, the broadcaster's New Media unit is replacing a bevy of homegrown and packaged applications.

After a grueling, two-year selection process involving some 40 competitors, SageMetrics got the nod to revamp the BBC's Web analytics technology in August. The new technology and uniform approach, which will start rolling out in early 2005, will deliver much more granular navigational data, allowing the BBC to detect repeat visitors and track where they come from and where they go when they leave, says Gianni Maestra, senior statistics manager.

Maestra says the new system will also make reports far more user friendly for BBC managers, who previously had to struggle with reams of data in hard-to-decipher spreadsheet or HTML format. The data is increasingly important to the BBC as the new media business continues to grow. "It doesn't quite double every year, but it's close to that," he says.

Web analytics software constantly needs to prove itself because it's a category that "tends to get uninstalled more than most," says analyst Guy Creese of Ballardvale Research. "It's not uncommon to see a wholesale replacement." Companies often outgrow the software they've purchased or encounter scalability constraints, says Creese, and changing software can be as simple as changing Java scripts on Web pages.

Creese predicts that more large-scale Web analytics deals will involve media companies and online retailers. "They are both content rich and visitor rich environments," he says.

At commercial media companies, Web analytics are about boosting ad revenue, but the BBC is publicly funded so, Maestra says, it's more about public trust. "People want to see that their money is well spent," he says. "We can better ensure that our users are happy with what they get."

Calculating ROI for the software will be tricky, since the BBC doesn't generate revenue. The company is, however, subject to regular audits, and SageMetrics' software is compliant with the tools used by ABC Electronic, BBC's independent auditor.

SageMetrics won the three-year contract on the strength of "cost, scalability and flexibility," says Maestra. Web tagging functions also helped clinch the sale. Tagging embeds a piece of Java script tracking code in each Web page and eliminates the need for the host system to keep massive log files. You can also be selective about where you retain logging and where you replace it with tagging, which is especially important when you have complex, multiserver domains as the BBC has.

It also helped that the BBC already had a relationship with Nielsen/NetRatings, which provides more conventional panel-based statistics and analyses. Nielsen/NetRatings, named as a partner in the deal, also owns RedSheriff, an Australian Web analytics firm that resells SageMetrics technology in Europe.

Maestra says additional data sources, such as interactive TVs and mobile phones using BBC's WAP content, will be added into the mix.

Lightweight reporting products for Java and .Net apps, such as instantOLAP and Synaptris intelliView, are horning in on the territory of enterprise business intelligence systems (EBIS). Consider these when app size is a concern and users don't need to design reports or exploit all the features of EBIS, advises Gartner analyst Alan Tiedrich.