Sat 16 Feb 2008
Take a look at these results, recently released by Hitwise and reported on TechCrunch. Couldn't be more skeptical, I must say. Hitwise's methodology seems pretty typical of web survey and analytics companies. They're subject to a huge number of biases to begin with, and systematically over-represent certain parts of the population and certain contexts, despite their best efforts. I know Hitwise is doing everything they can to combat these biases, but they don't go into enough detail on their website for us to be sure of how. I have a strong suspicion, for example, that these results are not so much representative of SES as of geography. But SES makes for a better story. That big purple blob at the bottom right probably represents suburban areas in a very few markets like San Francisco, New York, Boston. The top left quadrant, that's middle America. And none of this is news – Yahoo knows the heartland is their wheelhouse. Plus, what's 'Varying Lifestyles'? Is that the catch-all for all the people they can't pidgeonhole?
We'll continue to see analytics like this, of course, but I think recent news should make us all more skeptical. Advertising is a business that has been run on analytics from the beginning, and unsurprisingly, they got it very, very wrong from the beginning. The knowledge that a small percentage of individuals do most of the clicking (and very little of the buying) should shake the industry up, but it won't. So sad!