Web Analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of web data for purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage.
Most web analytics processes down to four essential stages or steps, which are:
- Collection of data: This stage is the collection of the basic, elementary data. Usually, this data is counts of things. The objective of this stage is to gather the data.
- Processing of data into information: This stage usually take counts and make them ratios, although there still may be some counts. The objective of this stage is to take the data and conform it into information, specifically metrics.
- Developing KPI: This stage focuses on using the ratios (and counts) and infusing them with business strategies, referred to as Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Many times, KPIs deal with conversion aspects, but not always. It depends on the goal.
- Formulating online strategy: This stage is concerned with the online goals, objectives, and standards for the organization or business. These strategies are usually related to making money, saving money, or increasing marketshare.
On-site web analytics, the most common, measure a visitor’s behavior once on your website. This includes its drivers and conversions; for example, the degree to which different landing pages are associated with online purchases. On-site web analytics measures the performance of your website in a commercial context. This data is typically compared against key performance indicators for performance, and used to improve a website or marketing campaign’s audience response.
Historically, Web Analytics Data Sources came from 4 sources:
The fundamental goal of web analytics is to collect and analyze data related to web traffic and usage patterns. The data mainly come from four sources:
- Direct HTTP request data: directly comes from HTTP request messages (HTTP request headers).
- Network level and server generated data associated with HTTP requests: not part of an HTTP request, but it is required for successful request transmissions. For example, IP address of a requester.
- External data: can be combined with on-site data to help augment the website behavior data described above and interpret web usage. For example, IP addresses are usually associated with Geographic regions and internet service providers, e-mail open and click-through rates, direct mail campaign data, sales and lead history, or other data types as needed.
In the early 1990s, website statistics consisted primarily of counting the number of client requests (or hits) made to the web server. This was a reasonable method initially, since each website often consisted of a single HTML file. However, with the introduction of images in HTML, and websites that spanned multiple HTML files, this count became less useful.
Key Web Analytics Terms To Comprehend
- Hit – A request for a file from the web server. Available only in log analysis. The number of hits received by a website is frequently cited to assert its popularity, but this number is extremely misleading and dramatically overestimates popularity. A single web-page typically consists of multiple (often dozens) of discrete files, each of which is counted as a hit as the page is downloaded, so the number of hits is really an arbitrary number more reflective of the complexity of individual pages on the website than the website’s actual popularity. The total number of visits or page views provides a more realistic and accurate assessment of popularity.
- Page view – A request for a file, or sometimes an event such as a mouse click, that is defined as a page in the setup of the web analytics tool. An occurrence of the script being run in page tagging. In log analysis, a single page view may generate multiple hits as all the resources required to view the page (images, .js and .css files) are also requested from the web server.
- Event – A discrete action or class of actions that occurs on a website. A page view is a type of event. Events also encapsulate clicks, form submissions, keypress events, and other client-side user actions.
- Visit / Session – A visit or session is defined as a series of page requests or, in the case of tags, image requests from the same uniquely identified client. A unique client is commonly identified by an IP address or a unique ID that is placed in the browser cookie. A visit is considered ended when no requests have been recorded in some number of elapsed minutes. A 30-minute limit (“time out”) is used by many analytics tools but can, in some tools (such as Google Analytics), be changed to another number of minutes such as up to 4 hours. Analytics data collectors and analysis tools have no reliable way of knowing if a visitor has looked at other sites between page views; a visit is considered one visit as long as the events (page views, clicks, whatever is being recorded) are 30 minutes or less closer together. Note that a visit can consist of one page view, or thousands. A unique visit’s session can also be extended if the time between page loads indicates that a visitor has been viewing the pages continuously.
- First Visit / First Session – (also called ‘Absolute Unique Visitor’ in some tools) A visit from a uniquely identified client that has theoretically not made any previous visits. Since the only way of knowing whether the uniquely identified client has been to the site before is the presence of a persistent cookie or via digital fingerprinting that had been received on a previous visit, the First Visit label is not reliable if the site’s cookies have been deleted since their previous visit.
- Visitor / Unique Visitor / Unique User – The uniquely identified client that is generating page views or hits within a defined time period (e.g. day, week or month). A uniquely identified client is usually a combination of a machine (one’s desktop computer at work for example) and a browser (Firefox on that machine). The identification is usually via a persistent cookie that has been placed on the computer by the site page code. An older method, used in log file analysis, is the unique combination of the computer’s IP address and the User Agent (browser) information provided to the web server by the browser. It is important to understand that the “Visitor” is not the same as the human being sitting at the computer at the time of the visit, since an individual human can use different computers or, on the same computer, can use different browsers, and will be seen as a different visitor in each circumstance. Increasingly, but still somewhat rarely, visitors are uniquely identified by Flash LSO’s (Local Shared Object), which are less susceptible to privacy enforcement.
- Repeat Visitor – A visitor that has made at least one previous visit. The period between the last and current visit is called visitor recency and is measured in days.
- Return Visitor – A Unique visitor with activity consisting of a visit to a site during a reporting period and where the Unique visitor visited the site prior to the reporting period. The individual is counted only once during the reporting period.
- New Visitor – A visitor that has not made any previous visits. This definition creates a certain amount of confusion (see common confusions below), and is sometimes substituted with analysis of first visits.
- Impression – The most common definition of “Impression” is an instance of an advertisement appearing on a viewed page. Note that an advertisement can be displayed on a viewed page below the area actually displayed on the screen, so most measures of impressions do not necessarily mean an advertisement has been view-able.
- Single Page Visit / Singleton – A visit in which only a single page is viewed (a ‘bounce’).
- Bounce Rate – The percentage of visits that are single page visits.
- Exit Rate / % Exit – A statistic applied to an individual page, not a web site. The percentage of visits seeing a page where that page is the final page viewed in the visit.
- Page Time Viewed / Page Visibility Time / Page View Duration – The time a single page (or a blog, Ad Banner…) is on the screen, measured as the calculated difference between the time of the request for that page and the time of the next recorded request. If there is no next recorded request, then the viewing time of that instance of that page is not included in reports.
- Session Duration / Visit Duration – Average amount of time that visitors spend on the site each time they visit. This metric can be complicated by the fact that analytics programs can not measure the length of the final page view.
- Average Page View Duration – Average amount of time that visitors spend on an average page of the site.
- Active Time / Engagement Time – Average amount of time that visitors spend actually interacting with content on a web page, based on mouse moves, clicks, hovers and scrolls. Unlike Session Duration and Page View Duration / Time on Page, this metric can accurately measure the length of engagement in the final page view, but it is not available in many analytics tools or data collection methods.
- Average Page Depth / Page Views per Average Session – Page Depth is the approximate “size” of an average visit, calculated by dividing total number of page views by total number of visits.
- Frequency / Session per Unique – Frequency measures how often visitors come to a website in a given time period. It is calculated by dividing the total number of sessions (or visits) by the total number of unique visitors during a specified time period, such as a month or year. Sometimes it is used interchangeable with the term “loyalty.”
- Click path – the chronological sequence of page views within a visit or session.
- Click – “refers to a single instance of a user following a hyperlink from one page in a site to another”.
- Site Overlay is a report technique in which statistics (clicks) or hot spots are superimposed, by physical location, on a visual snapshot of the web page.
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