We recently added a new feature on aBlogtoWatch that you’d be forgiven for not noticing. On the aBlogtoWatch “About” page, we’ve added a small tool that allows anyone to see what our last six months of traffic has been like, which is data pulled directly from Google Analytics (a service that connects directly to our server with our permission and tells us about the volume of incoming internet traffic, and related metrics). We started with some basic stats and may decide to add more details in the near future. Is this some form of bragging? No, that isn’t the idea… but we are trying to prove a few important points.
If you are someone who just likes to read about watches from time to time and aren’t interested in the business of online media or of the watch industry itself, then you have my permission to just stop reading now. I won’t be offended, and I am sure that the articles directly preceding or following this one will be more of what you are looking for (as we like to say, “#watchporn”). This article is about fixing wrongs, taking a strong position on an important matter, and more generally, about promoting the important quality of transparency.
I would be remiss to ignore the very natural tendency for humans to be dishonest or make ill-informed decisions based on ill-acquired facts. We have all, from time to time, been guilty of overstating the importance of something or relying on facts which later turn out to be incorrect. Maturity and education are ideally geared to help people shy away from things such as exaggerating facts or relying on information which has yet to be proven. Those instances when you make an assertion, later fearing you may have been wrong and wanting to correct yourself is social maturity in action – and many of us receive a sense of pride from admitting we were wrong once we have learned the facts.
Now that I’ve defended human nature, I am going to admonish humans who disregard their social responsibility to be honest as well as fail to admit when they don’t know something. This all leads me to one of the more grimy sides of media: lying about the numbers. In the watch media industry, as well as many others, there is an unfortunate presumption that when traffic or circulation (in print) numbers are shared, they are a lie. Of course, this isn’t a rule, but it is often the norm. Sure, it is easy for me to talk loftily and self-righteously about the topic because aBlogtoWatch has numbers which tend to impress. Though, I don’t feel as though we got to where we are because of the fact that we were trying to impress anyone. Imagine my surprise when I first learned that some other media websites routinely lie about their traffic. It was the norm in luxury print media (the absolute norm), and as the print industry has continued to give way to online media, many of these bad habits have come to invade our digital space.
The weird thing is that digital media comes with actual number metrics which are rather easy to verify. While part of this article is to call out those who make up numbers, the other half of the point I want to emphasize is informing many people that they may be relying on false numbers. Because data is so vital to decision making online, there is a whole universe of companies who purport to display the traffic information for all types of websites. There is a not-so-small cottage industry within the marketing world that pummels watch and other luxury brands with offers of preparing all sorts of reports to help them make sense of the digital media landscape. If you consider data as a weapon, then these companies seem to be selling ammunition. The problem is that they don’t actually have access to the data which they are purporting to sell or otherwise use.
Let me use an example to help illustrate the problem here. Marketing Company A wants to sell a report to Luxury Brand B. The report says that it compares the relative value and traffic of a set of specific types of websites. Luxury Brand B is interested because it wants to make a variety of marketing and advertising decisions and has little internal data to support anything. So they like the idea of what Marketing Company A is selling because it seems to help them make better decisions.
What Marketing Company A doesn’t properly inform Luxury Brand B of is that the numbers in its report are all estimates – and in many instances, very poor estimates. While there are heaps of tools online which suggest that they have precise data on a website’s traffic, the small print always mentions that the data is collected in a variety of ways and that at the end of the day the data could be totally wrong – and it often is.
What traffic estimation tools are good at is merely trying to stack up one website versus another – but then again, different tools will offer sometimes vastly different insights. Marketing Company A, of course, doesn’t properly explain to Luxury Brand B how to understand the data (or the person buying it simply doesn’t know how to properly read it) and thus, serious problems can and do occur.
Think of it this way: people can estimate how much money someone makes or what they are worth, but only the person themselves (or people they specifically allow) know what they have in the bank. Website traffic is pretty much the same thing. Estimates can and do happen, but only a website’s own server and the services it allows have any accurate types of traffic data.
My decision to have our monthly traffic publicly available is about removing the possibility of misinformation getting into the hands of people who should know about our business, and also about suggesting to our colleagues how they can behave in a more honest and transparent manner.
In my own writing – which I hope is echoed in the voices of all aBlogtoWatch team members – is a regular call for people to “keep it real,” reject bullshit, and to act with fairness toward others and the topics they purport to express opinions about. If we cannot practice what we preach, then what point is there to even say anything at all. It is easy for us to openly criticize something we don’t like, but I would rather take simple action to promote what I think is a better approach and set what I hope is a good example.
I don’t think that all of a sudden media websites will begin to make their numbers available to the public. A lot of people consider such information to be of an extremely sensitive and protected nature. While, in my opinion, that sentiment is actually sort of silly, I respect that it is a deeply ingrained belief and that change happens slowly. My real hope is that those people who value transparency and honesty as much as me will see wisdom in what I am doing, as well as inform people who would seek to report or rely on data that they should verify the integrity of those data. It would also be nice to make it more difficult for those people who fabricate traffic statistics – which is really just a form of being grossly unfair.
One more point before I summarize, and that is why I think there is value in this topic for watch consumers. In September of 2015, I participated in my latest AMA (ask me anything) session on Reddit. One of the obvious trends I noticed in questions from watch consumers was a strong sense of overall skepticism and distrust toward the watch industry and media. Thankfully, little of that was directed toward aBlogtoWatch (and I think I successfully cleared up any that existed). I did, however, notice sentiments that indicate a rather intense lack of confidence to rely on a lot of what watch brands are doing and what watch media is generally saying. In response to that, I can only say that “I get it,” and that my efforts have been to mention this to watch brands and to focus on conducting ourselves in a way that is meant to be a good example.
So, in summary, aBlogtoWatch now has a small tool which will allow anyone to know our basic monthly traffic and where most of the people who visit the site come from geographically. We are doing this to assist marketing companies who would otherwise have totally wrong data about us, resulting in misinforming their clients. We are also doing this as an educational means for watch brands who themselves feel that they need some type of verification for what our traffic is. In other words, it isn’t something we are trying to hide, and we’d feel a lot more comfortable with it being out there, available for anyone to know and verify. That is all, proceed with the watch love…