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Google TV and Web Analytics

This list might be disconcerting for web analysts. Google TV—and other emerging technologies—will turn web analytics on its ear.

Google TV is coming to consumers fall of 2010. Google announced a partnership with Intel, Sony and Logitech to essentially turn any HDTV into a dedicated media PC. Google released notes for developers who want to design sites that are TV-friendly. This all made me realize that Google TV will have a major impact on web analytics by redefining how we think about user behavior.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of ways Google TV may change the web analytics landscape.

TV Traffic May Be Hard to Differentiate

Will we be able to tell which visits are from TVs? Maybe. They might be identified differently in the operating system description, but in the most critical ways, they may appear identical to any other device.

Although TVs are larger, they have the same resolution as most computer monitors (and even some mobile devices!). They will use full Chrome browsers, capable of running Flash or anything else. They will run Android. They will have the same connection speed as your home computer.

"Visitor" Metrics Lose Meaning

As more visits to your site are from TVs, measuring any kind of "visitor" metric gets more detached from reality.

First, TVs will only be one way that a visitor accesses the Internet—and probably not the primary way. It is safe to assume that a visit from a TV will be accompanied by another visit by the same person using some other device. If the average visitor uses two or three or four devices to regularly access the Internet, it will be almost impossible to measure things like "unique visitors", "new visitors", "time since last visit", etc. All of our measurements will need to focus more and more on visits instead of visitors.

Second, unlike computers and phones, TVs tend to be used by groups of more than one person. That means one visit from a TV may in fact represent multiple people, making the definition of "visitor" even more tenuous.

Conversion Attribution

Attributing a conversion to a specific traffic source will become much more complex. Imagine this scenario: a person is introduced to your site while using Google TV with other people but decides to finish exploring individually on their own computer or phone. How do you attribute the conversion? There will be no way to connect the conversion to the visit from a TV. Nor will it be possible to compare number of conversions to the number of people who viewed the ad on TV.

Furthermore, how do you measure conversion when a visit is prompted by one member of the audience who has visited your site before? Is it a new visit? Is it direct? A referral? If they found it after searching for it, what use is it to know that it came secondly from a search engine if it was first referred by an audience member? This is not a new issue, but it will become more pronounced.

We may shortly find that all of the industry debate about multi-point conversion attribution is arguing the wrong point entirely. What we may really need to understand is how many devices our average site visitor uses and in what order. Far from closing the loop on conversion, advances in technology may widen the gap.

Group Dynamics

One more word about TV audiences. We are likely to find that groups have very different navigation patterns than individuals.

Imagine navigating a website with a group of friends. No matter who holds the controls, the group will be exerting some influence on how you interact with the site. You may have suggestions shouted to you or areas of the site pointed out to you. You will be less able to idly peruse pages without boring the rest of the audience. What you do online with a TV mounted in the living room will reveal more about group dynamics than individual tendencies. Decisions will probably be less whimsical and more critical. They will also be more likely to favor cultural or moral norms.

Groups will have different goals. They will be less likely to make a purchase, for example, unless it involves the whole group. Pages will need to be optimized for groups instead of individuals.

Separate Apps and Sites for TV

One thing that makes Google TV unique in its approach to marrying TV and the Internet is the availability of user-generated applications. Starting in 2011, the Android Market will carry apps designed specifically for TVs. This will shape the way TVs are used and how we think about them. Given the different restraints that TVs will place on navigating the web, companies may begin developing sites specifically for TVs, like they do for mobile phones. For both TV apps and TV sites web analysts will need to look at the reports from a fresh perspective.

What Does Google TV Mean for Web Analytics?

This list might be disconcerting for web analysts. Google TV—and other emerging technologies—will turn web analytics on its ear. Right as we are starting to get comfortable with what different numbers represent, those numbers either become irrelevant or change meaning altogether. But this doesn't spell the end for web analytics, nor does it make it less reliable, per se. It just means that web analysts and companies who are online in any way will need to be shrewder about how they interpret reports.

The exciting thing about this industry is that nobody has determined "the best way" to measure online activity. The debate over what to measure and how to interpret it has yet to reach maturity. The emergence of Google TV will keep good web analysts on their toes and add a new wrinkle to the debate.