Oct 12, 2009

What and Why Web Analytics ?


Web analytics is collecting and reporting internet website data to analyze the results for better understanding and optimizing web site usage.

What is Web analytics?

Web analytics is a study which explains the online behavior and number of website visitors in order to increase the organization scope. It plays vital role in taking strategic and marketing decisions. It is no surprise business of web analytics has grown equally with business use of the Internet. To be clear and precise, Web analytics are nothing but tools and methodologies used to enable organizations to track the number of people who view their site and then use this to measure the success of their online strategy.

Why Web analytics?

In the past decade, the Internet has transformed marketing in such a way every one using the web depending on web traffic analytics to increase their revenue and profitability. The web is a great medium to market and sell product and services. But if you don’t understand the behavior of your website visitors in sufficient detail, in another words analytics behind it, your business is going no where.


Two categories

Off-site web analytics

There are two categories; off-site and onsite web analytics. Off-site web analytics measures the websites potential audience, share of voice (visibility) and comments that happening irrespective of whether you own or maintain a website.

On-site web analytics

On-site web analytics measures the visitors journey with respect to landing pages (It’s just a lead capture page that appears when a potential customer clicks on an advertisement or a search-engine result link.) which encourage people to make a purchase. It measures the performance of your website in a commercial context. This data is typically compared against key performance indicators used to improve website efficiency and marketing audience response.

There are many vendors that provide web analytic tools that span both categories.

Techniques to collect the data

There are two common techniques to collect the data. The first method, log file analysis, refers to data collected by web server independent of your web browser .This technique is also known as server side collection The second method, page tagging, collects the visitors data through their web browser. This is usually captured by JavaScript on each page to notify a third-party server when a page is rendered by a web browser. This is also known as client side data collection and used by most of the outsourced, hosted vendor solutions. Both collect data that can be processed to produce web traffic reports.

Below table gives the advantages and disadvantages of both.

Page Tagging Advantages

Log file analysis Advantages

  • Breaks through proxy and caching servers – provides more accurate session tracking.
  • Tracks client side events JavaScript, Flash ,Web2.0
  • Capture client side e-commerce data –server side access can be problematic
  • Collects and process visitor data in near real time.
  • Allows program updates performed by your vendor.
  • Allows data storage and archiving to be performed by your vendor.
  • Historical data can be reprocessed
  • No fire wall issues.
  • Can track band width and completed downloads and can differentiate between completed and partial downloads.
  • Tracks search engine spiders and robots by default.
  • Tracks mobile visitors by default.

Page Tagging Disadvantages

Log file analysis Disadvantages

  • Set up errors lead to data loss – if you make a mistake with your tags, data is lost and you can’t go back and reanalyze.
  • Fire walls can mangle or restrict tags
  • Can not track band width or completed downloads. Tags are set when the page or file is requested not when the download is complete.
  • Cannot track search engine spiders, robots ignore page tags?
  • Proxy and cache inaccuracies. If a web page is cached, no record is logged on your web server.
  • No event tracking. No JavaScript, Flash, Web 2.0 is tracking
  • Requires program updates perform by your own team
  • Requires storage and archiving to be performed by your own team
  • Robots multiply visits

Alternatives and choosing the right solution

Cookies and packet sniffers are some of the alternatives. Which solution is right to implement depends on the amount of technical expertise within the organization, the vendor chosen, the amount of activity seen on the web sites, the depth and type of information sought, and the number of distinct web sites needing statistics.

Common problems in Web analytics

Data collection issues affecting log files

One IP address registers as one person

Generally a log file solution tracks visitor sessions by attributing all hits from the same IP address and web browser signature to one person. This becomes a problem when Internet service providers ISPs assign different IP addresses throughout the session. For example, a typical home PC 10.5 different IP addresses per month, In this case those 10 visits from single PC considered as 10 visitors. As a result visitor numbers are often overly calculated. This limitation can be overcome by using cookies.

Cached pages are counted once

Client side caching is where a visitors computer stores a web page they have visited. The next time they look at that page, it will be served locally from their computer. This means that the site visit will not be recorded at the web server. Server-side caching is made possible by “web accelerator” technology. This caches a copy of a web site to speed up delivery. It means that all subsequent requests a visitor makes to view that page are also served from the cache and not the site itself, again affecting visitor tracking.

Robots multiply figures

Robots, also known as Spiders or web crawlers, are most often used by search engines to fetch and index pages. These affect web analytics because a log file solution will also show all data for robot activity on your website even though they are not real visitors. When counting visitor numbers, robots can make up a significant proportion of your page view traffic.

Data collection issues affecting page tags

Setup error cause missed tags

The setup of page tags causes a number of issues when trying to track visitors to a site. Where web servers automatically log everything, a page tag solution relies on the webmaster to add hidden tag codes to each page. Pages can get missed, even with automated page tagging or content management systems. In one case, a corporate business to business site was found to have 70 percent of its pages missing tags. Missing tags equals no data for those page views.

JavaScript errors halt page loading

JavaScript page tags work well provided JavaScript is enabled on the visitor’s browser. Only about 1-3 percent of Internet users have disabled JavaScript on their browsers. How ever the inconsistent use of JavaScript code on web pages can cause a bigger problem. Any errors in other JavaScript on the same page will immediately halt the browser scripting engine at that point so page tags placed below it will not execute. JavaScript page tags work well provided JavaScript is enabled on the visitor’s browser.

Firewall block page tags

Generally corporate and personal firewalls that can prevent page tag solutions from sending data to collecting servers. In addition firewalls can also be set up to reject or delete cookies automatically. Some web analytics vendors can revert to using the visitors IP address for tracking in these instances. Users own and share multiple computers and latencies (time takes for a visitor to become a customer) also a big hurdle in collecting the data accurately.

Here are 10 recommendations to improve web analytics quality

1. It is important to choose the best method of data collection based on your business needs and resources.

2. If you choose to select a tool for data collection make sure that tool uses first party cookies.

3. Incase if you don’t get first party cookie information from a user ignore that user rather than considering it as visitor.

4. Keep a separate track on robots and server performance monitors else you can remove them considering them as a non-human activity.

5. Tracking everything is key to the success of getting as much as information we needed. Don’t limit tracking to certain landing pages, track your entire web sites activity, including file downloads and internal search terms and outbound links.

6. In order to ensure page tag completeness audit your website regularly. This will result in avoiding missing tags such as forgotten, corrupted and deleted.

7. Display clear and easy-to-read policy to establish confidence with in the customers for better understanding of how they are being tracked.

8. Don’t come to conclusions on very recent data that is one hours old. Most of the time it is inaccurate.

9. Test redirection of URLs to guarantee they maintain tracking parameters.

10. Make a clear differentiation by using tracking URLs between all paid online campaigns and non paid resources.

The above suggestions will you appreciate the errors often made when collecting web analytics data. Insight will make all the difference. There is so much room for errors so web analytics is not 100 percent accurate, and taking web analytics reports at face value can be misleading. But this knowledge will maximize the accuracy of your data and it is a critical approach for success.


Free online user counter said...

Great post.I agree that we have to collect all data for analysis.Analyzing recent data can lead to wrong analysis because chances of inaccuracy is more.I also prefer page tagging over log files method because page tagging, a visitor is counted every time the tracking code is loaded, therefore traffic should be more accurate.

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