Web Analytics can be a powerful tool to help understand what your page visitors are looking for and what they see on your website. Using these tools properly can make the difference between your website(s) increasing page hits and SEO ranking or getting lost in the sea of websites, of which there are close to 1 billion worldwide as of December 2014 (netcraft.com).
But how to get the most accurate number? Below are the two main ways data is collected for websites and how your analytics statistics might be impacted. I’ll keep the tech minimal to focus on the analysis and marketing/branding benefits:
- Logfiles- data collected by your web server, logged as a text file, independent of the visitor’s browser. Data collection with logfiles suffers when people use dynamic IP addresses, which means someone might visit your page 4 times a day and count as 4 different people, if they cache your page, meaning it’s saved on their browser so it’s like they never left your page and thus their repeat visits are not measured, and if search engine “robots” are accidentally counted as page activity even though they aren’t real people.
Page tag collection is where “cookies” are used. Attaching a “cookie” to a visitor’s web browser is how most website track and collect information on who is visiting, because this is the easiest and best way to obtain demographic information. How else would you know if your visitors were male or female, old or young, or visiting your page from a mobile device or desktop?
The problem is many people delete cookies routinely or set firewalls for their personal or company web browsers. If you use page tag services like GA, data will be incomplete or missing because if this person then visits your site a month later, they will be treated as a totally new user and if they are blocking cookies important data can’t be collected. Also, you have to add the GA tracking code to every webpage you want tracked, or else you won’t have information for that page. Lastly, “Cookie time-outs”, when an analytics vendor must stop collecting data because a page visitor is no longer active on the site, can affect your statistics, as discussed in the previous post.
So what can you do to compensate for these data collection inaccuracies?
- Use visit metrics over unique user visits- According to Brian Clifton, author ofAdvanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, 3rd edition, unique visits can be misleading. His example: You visit a travel booking site to search for plane fares on your personal computer, then make the purchase from your work or office computer, you visits count as two uniques but it’s still one person.
- Don’t assume New visitors plus repeat visitors does not equal total visitors- Consider this example: A person makes his first visit to your site then comes back later than that. He counts as both a new and returning visitor but is only one person.
- Wait at least 24 hours before checking data-it takes GA 24 hours to sift through the data and paint a more accurate picture of your web visits.
In my next post I’ll talk about how to create data spreadsheets with data and I’ll provide some examples. This is an easy and simple way to track your progress.