Web Analytics FAQ

Information on web site traffic analysis and how to track and analyze traffic to your web site


If you are involved in running an online business, you've probably wondered about the traffic to your web site. How much traffic does your site get? Where is the traffic coming from? How do visitors find your site? What pages are visitors viewing when they get to your site? How many visitors are first-time visitors, and how many are repeat visitors?

More importantly - What percentage of your visitors make a purchase at your site? How well are your paid advertising campaigns performing, and which ones are performing better than others? What can you do to improve your site's ROI?

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A hosted web analytics service can be used to answer these questions and gain valuable insight into the traffic to your site. Used properly, these services can be leveraged to provide critical information to web site marketers and those who run online businesses for making strategic decisions, increasing traffic, and growing the business.

Hosted web site traffic analysis services are typically activated by installing a small piece of javascript code in the pages of the web site. This code acts as a beacon - each time a visitor views a page on the site, the javascript code collects information about the visitor and sends this information back to the service, where it is stored in a database. Analytics services typically provide an array of different types of reports comprised from the data collected through the tracking code. To see a sample of information that a tracking code on this page was able to pick up about you, click here.

Most web analytics services provide a comprehensive library of reports. To start with, most services provide basic statistics such as the number of unique visitors to the site, number of page views, number of repeat visitors, number of first-time visitors, etc. Most services also provide breakdowns of traffic by geographic location, pages viewed, entry pages, exit pages, referring web site, ISP, etc. Many services also provide reports that show the search terms that visitors entered in search engines, (such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing), for visitors that found the site through search engines. Additionally, most services report on technical information about visitors, such as types of browsers and operating systems used, which may be useful to web designers.

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Some traffic analysis services take reporting to the next level, allowing you to 'drill-down' through the reports and segment your visitors, in order to focus on a specific subset of your visitors. For example, these types of reports may be used to examine only visitors that came from a particular referring site, or only visitors that reached the site through a particular advertising campaign, or only visitors that made a purchase. With these types of reports, it is often possible to view individual visitors' page-by-page path through the site, if necessary.

For online businesses and 'eCommerce' web sites, some web analytics services offer tools that can be used to breakdown traffic based on certain defined goals, such as completing a registration form, adding an item to a shopping card, proceeding to a shopping cart checkout page, or finally completing a payment transaction. These services can also be used to track the performance of paid advertising campaigns (such as Google Adwords) or email marketing campaigns; and calculating ROI from these campaigns. Reports can also be used to pick up trends that may drive strategic decisions for growing an online business. For example, an online marketer may see from this type of report that only a small percentage of visitors from advertising campaign A ultimately make a purchase at the web site, whereas a much greater percentage of visitors from advertising campaign B make a purchase at the site. This type of insight may drive a business decision to reallocate funds from campaign A to campaign B, which is performing better - a decision that could directly impact the bottom line of the business.


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Free Web Analytics Services

A number of providers offer free web analytics services - most notably Google Analytics and Yahoo Web Analytics. Both of these providers offer fairly comprehensive web analytics solutions, which rival some of the competing paid services. However, one drawback of these services is that data may not always be available in real time - some have reported a lag of several hours before visitor data appears in reports. In addition, some in the web analytics industry have raised questions about the ways that these providers may be using the data that they collect through these free analytics services. For more information on this subject, you may want to read the paper 'Free Analytics are Not Always the Best Deal', published by Net Applications.


Entry/Mid Level Paid Web Analytics Services

Entry/mid level web analytics services generally offer several of different service plan, across a range of price points, geared for different types of clients. Pricing typically is also tiered based on the level of traffic to the web site and the number of page views tracked, and generally starts in the $10.00 - $20.00 / month range. A few of the services that we have reviewed and recommend are:

  • HitsLink HitsLink (by Net Applications) offers an impressive array of over 100 interactive reports, charts, and graphs for slicing and dicing your web traffic data. The service also includes reporting tools for measuring ROI of advertising campaigns and detecting click fraud. In addition, users can create reporting 'dashboards' and schedule automatic email delivery of reports. Pricing for HitsLink starts at $9.95 per month. HitsLink offers a 30-day free trial, and a lifetime 10% discount off the subscription charge for new subscribers that sign up for service after clicking through to their site from this page. Another unique feature of HitsLink is the option to add additional web sites to an account for only an additional $1.00 / month (usage is based on the sum of the traffic to all sites in the account). This feature is ideal for webmasters that manage many sites.

  • Clicktale Clicktale's focus is on monitoring website visitors’ complete online behavior and providing deep insights that help companies improve online customer experiences and increase revenues. Clicktale offers a uniqe set of features, including the ability to watch and download playable videos of your customers’ actual browsing behavior, enabling you to see every mouse move, click, scroll and keystroke. Clicktale's solution also includes powerful visual heatmaps which can aggregate thousands of browsing sessions, showing you where visitors look, where they click, where they skip and how far down they scroll. Clicktale claims to serve over 70,000 companies, including Groupon, Linked-In, and Dell. Pricing for standard plans starts at $99/month, and the company offers customized enterprise plans.

  • Web-Stat Web-Stat is one of the earliest traffic analysis services on the market, offering a complete array of reports to better understand your visitors' behavior. A unique feature of Web-Stat is that it can be used to watch 'live' as individual visitors interact with your site. Web-Stat also offers a Geo-targeting tool which detects the geographical area of site visitors and can be used to dynamically adapt web site content according to the visitor's location. Web-Stat also offers event tracking, which can be used to capture file downloads, or monitor pure Flash content. Finally, Web-Stat offers a 'Watchdog' service which can be used to monitor a web site and send an email or SMS alert in the event of a site failure. Web-Stat's pricing starts at $5 per month, with a full account costing $9.50 per month, for up to 100,000 page views per month. A free 30-day trial is available.

  • WebStat WebStat (not to be confused with Web-Stat, above) offers a very comprehensive service with over 40 reports including reporting for campaign tracking. This service is competitively priced starting at $9.95 per month for up to 20,000 page views per month. WebStat also offers a scaled-down free tracking service, supported by an advertisement for WebStat that is displayed on the site being tracked. WebStat offers a 14-day free trial of its paid service.

  • VisiStat VisiStat is a suite of website tracking tools that provide lead generation tracking, and measure the effectiveness of overall site performance. This service was clearly designed by web marketers, for web marketers. Pricing starts at $29.95 per month for 25,000 page view tracked. Visistat's pricepoint is a bit higher than the others that we've reviewed, but the service includes a number of unique features not found elsewhere such as heat map click sensing, dynamic page tracking, granular user click path reporting, and presentation ready reports. In addition, VisiStat's optional 'LeadCaster' add-in module can identify companies that visit a Web site, and then produce their business addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, for real-time lead generation. Corporate and hi-volume plans are available. 7 day free trial available.


Enterprise Level Web Analytics Services

Enterprise level web analytics services take web analytics a step further than the mid/entry level services. Mid/entry services generally provide a one-size-fits-all web analytics service, then leave it up to you to run with the ball at that point. Enterprise level services on the other hand, offer a much more comprehensive set of services, designed to enable their clients make actionable business decisions and develop strategies based on the information derived from the analytics. Services in this class generally include training, consulting, and creation of customized dashboards and reports tailored to clients' specific web site or business. Enterprise level services also often are able to cross-reference clients' data with industry data to compare and contrast a client's site's performance with other businesses in the same industry. Most enterprise-level services also provide lifetime storage of visitor data, so that long term trend reporting is possible; and most enterprise-level services include guaranteed service level agreements. Pricing for enterprise level services is generally in the range of several thousand dollars per month. A few of the services in this class are:

  • Omniture Omniture acquired Visual Sciences/HitBox in 2007, resulting in a merger of two leading web analytics firms at that time. The company was later acquired by Adobe Systems, Inc. in 2009. Some of Omniture's clients include: Paypal, Walmart, and the New York Times.

  • Coremetrics Coremetrics is venture funded, having received its latest round of $30M in funding in 2008. Some of its clients include: PETCO, Office Depot, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

  • Webtrends Webtrends was one of the earliest web analytics services, established in 1993. Some of Webtrends' clients include: Ticketmaster, match.com, Reuters, General Mills, and US Bank.


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