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Improving the web with web analytics

Categories: Metrics understanding, Privacy and Accuracy / Comments: 2

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This is reprint of an article I wrote last month for .
It came about from a discussion of what is the most accurate method for measuring visitor activity.


  1. Page 1: Summary – there is no accuracy debate!
  2. Page 1: Introduction – why most of the web is junk and what role web analytics plays
  3. Page 2: On-site versus Off-site web analytics tools and how they work
  4. Page 3: Discrepancies – what’s accurate and how can accuracy be improved

1. Summary

There is no accuracy debate between on-site and off-site web analytics tools: if you wish to count the activity on your website then only on-site web analytics tools can do this effectively . Assuming a best practice implementation, these can be very accurate for measuring the number of visits, page views, time on site and page depth.

Off-site tools bring additional data to the table – not accuracy. This includes demographic, search engine query data and competitor intelligence information. Combining these pieces of the jigsaw provides a clearer view of the performance of your site and where it fits in the overall web landscape.

2. Introduction

Imagine using the web to find exactly what you are looking for, instantly. By that, I mean actually discovering authoritative, reliable and accurate websites, with the information you need, in a quick and efficient way.

Maybe the information you want is the best price from a respective retailer, resort reviews from real holiday makers or a news article from an expert that helps you understand what the financial crisis is actually about. The problem is that such sites are like gold nuggets – a valuable resource that is rare in a virtual world of poor ergonomics.

Why most of the web is junk
The truth is that the vast majority of the web contains poor quality content. Even for those sites that do have great content, often they are difficult to find (via a search engine) and the user experience, once you visit it, is so poor, you simply wish to leave.

Despite nearly 15 years of web development, most of us still waste dozens of hours a month trawling the web, weeding out sites that either have irrelevant content to our search query or where the user experience is just too frustrating.

Unfortunately – similar to weeding – those sites don’t really go away. A search engine query the next day can bring up the same poor results and the process starts all over again.

How web analytics can help

That’s where web analytics comes to the rescue – the part art and part science of measuring a website’s performance. Simply put, web analytics is for website owners to understand their online visitor behaviour with the purpose of improving it.

Perhaps the marketing campaign is poorly focused; visitor expectations not met when they arrive on the website; the content displayed is out of date; the navigation system sucks; or an on-site search function returns no results (or worse still the same result) no matter what keywords you use.

Web analytics tools can help you identify these problems so you can fix and optimise them.

There are two types of web analytics data: off-site metrics and on-site metrics (see Figure 1*).

As their names suggest, these relate to metrics that can be obtained irrespective of your website presence or those obtained when a visitor lands on your website respectively.

The different types of web analytics

Figure 1 – the two types of web analytics

* From a vendor perspective, the separation of methodologies is not as mutually exclusive as Figure 1 suggests. For example, Hitwise, comScore and Nielsen Netratings also have on-site measurement tools, while Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have the ability to provide off-site search query data to compliment their on-site tools.

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  1. Lara Fabans says:

    Thanks, Brian.
    I think onsite metrics are more useful, and hey, why not use what’s free? So I very much appreciated your pro’s and con’s. There is no one right answer for every situation, and it’s important that we *think* as we do.

  2. Leevi Kokko says:

    Brian, thanks for a great post!

    I think way too often the opportunities to use off-site metrics to complement on-site web analytics are overlooked. However, one thing to note is that for smaller markets (such as for us Finns) there really isn’t much choice. Currently you can get only comScore data here, and (as you stated in your post) you really need a high-traffic Finnish site in order for the results to be within a comfortable error margin.

    It will be interesting to see how the marketplace evolves in the future, and will there be emerging solutions to help marketeers in small markets to utilize off-site analytics outside the 800-pound-gorilla range.



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