Every webmaster, that cares about the performance of a website, will use some sort of analytical software. This will give information about various metrics including: Visitors, page views, referring domains, time on each page, browser used etc etc.
This is vital information for the web marketer. It is one of the most advanced and simple ways to gather information about your visitors.
Of course as a business owner that has a clothing store for example, you could hand a questionnaire to each customer that comes into your store and ask them various questions about how they found out about the store, what are they interested in buying etc.
This would be great information, but this may annoy the customer. I have seen these forms in quite a few stores, but I never personally fill one out. Always in a rush!
Website analytics can provide a lot of these answers within the various metrics it offers IN REAL TIME.
- How did you find out about our store? Metric: Referring domain information
- What are you interested in buying? Metric: Purchase information, most popular pages
- Will you be back? Metric: Repeat visitors.
- Are you satisfied with your experience here? Metric: Time spent on site
- Where do you live? Metric: Country/City IP
The early days
In the early days of the world wide web, most websites used their server based software, called log files, to give an indication of visitors, page views etc. There was a need to create a more accurate solution because server based stats do not include pages stored on proxy servers at ISPs. Web pages were also stored locally on a business web server or the computer itself.
In laymens terms, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) would store previously viewed pages for two reasons. One was to give you a faster result when surfing the web and the other was to save them money on bandwidth costs. This was great, but what about all of the data that is missed because of this method?
Back in 1999 I started working for a company called IMR worldwide which changed its name to Red Sheriff and finally Neilsen. The tech guys there developed a tool called «Web Measure» to overcome this data inaccuracy. My job was to test it in various environments and systems.
«Web Measure» was a browser based measurement tool which meant that every time a page was loaded, it would send information directly back to the IMR worldwide servers. This prevented caching by ISP proxy servers and gave marketers the accurate information they needed. This also provided third party independent stats that marketers could trust because it was not coming directly from the client.
It is called browser based technology because each time a page is viewed in a browser, a code within the page will send information to a server with details about the visit.
In some research we did with our clientele, we found that some sites were so heavily cached by the ISP that when they switched over to «Web Measure» their stats were out by 70%.
In order for this new technology to work, the webmaster has to add a snippet of code to each page of the website. For a dynamically generated website, WordPress etc this is easy, for a static HTML site, this can be more of a task if the coding on each page in and around the end body tag is different. If this is the case, the webmaster will need to insert the code manually on each page. If your site is 100+ pages, this can be quite a job (I know because I have had to do that a couple of times and it is not fun).
A quick comparison
Google Analytics is based on the same methodology as is Statcounter and Web Measure. The notable difference is that this software is free (basic versions) for Statcounter and Google Analytics. You need to pay for it at Neilsen and the product is now called Site Census.
I have mentioned only three different measurement services, but there are many more out there.
I am comparing two of these based on my experience with them.
Browser based measurement
Basic usage: Free
Paid usage: between $5 and $119 per month
Based in Ireland
In 2008 measured over 2 million sites worldwide
There are 35 different metrics available with Statcounter and most of these are seen in the image to the left.
I have used Statcounter on over 100 websites and have all of these in the one account which is very easy to use. I can login and see all of the websites listed to the left with their stats for that week in table form to the right. Comparing the usability of Statcounter to Google Analytics, I would have to say that Statcounter wins hands down because of its basic layout.
They have also recently added Google webmaster tools keyword analysis to their data. You need to sync the two by adding Statcounter as a restricted viewer of the data, but this is easy. This data is invaluable!
Due to the Statcounter design, I would use most of the metrics quickly and easily. One metric I really like is «Recent Visitor Activity» which allows me to locate a visitor I was interested in.
When the contact form on the site was filled out, I could use this and the recent page views metric, to see which visitor used the form, then Statcounter would give me a global map of where the person came from, the computer they used, the keyword they used to find the site etc etc. Fantastic data and invaluable to me at that time. You can also drill down to see exactly which pages were viewed by the visitor from entry to exit.
I used these metrics once to get more information about a visitor that was enquiring about SEO. I could see:
1. what search term they used on Google (in the days that Google still provided this info)
2. which pages were viewed (therefore services they were interested in)
3. how long they spent on the site.
4. if they were local
Their initial email was short and simply asked me to contact them again via email.
Due to the great info I got via the analytics, I then sent them an email similar to this one (this one has been shortened) :
Thanks for your enquiry. I have used my website analytics to see that you found me by looking up «SEO Kristiansand» on Google and you also viewed my logo design page.
Please provide me with more information about what you need, or I can call you for a chat.
That information is powerful!
- Google Analytics
Browser based measurement
Basic usage: Free
Paid usage: Premium option is said to cost 150,000 USD per year
Servers based globally
Began in 2005 and now
In 2012 measured over 10 million sites worldwide
There are more than 230 metrics and dimensions in Google Analytics, so there are far too many to mention. It has the same as Statcounter and now also includes demographic information. Google states they get the demographic information from third party Double Click and device identifiers.
So this data is not 100% accurate and should be seen more as an estimate. The only way around this of course would be to have an Internet panel of users, kind of like a TV panel or an internet panel that I used to manage in Australia. That subject can be discussed another time…..
Google Analytics has a lot more customization options and reports compared to Statcounter and is better for businesses that wish to analyze their data fully. Statcounter, however is great for an overview.
Another advantage with GA, is that you can connect it to your Google Adwords campaigns getting some great insights into its performance and affect on your website.
I am somewhat of a novice when it comes to GA and am in the process of learning more about it. From what I have seen so far, it is very powerful and is exactly what an organisation like Visit Sørlandet needs.
Every website should have some sort of analytics. To prevent in-accurate reporting, use a browser based service (not your server log files). For a small business that just wants an easy overview, I would go for Statcounter. Those that require in depth analysis, use Google analytics.
Cheers and happy surfing!
Adam @ Visit Sørlandet