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Posts Tagged ‘web stats’

‘Hits’ are the Pits – It’s People That Buy Manufactured Homes

September 30th, 2010 No comments

In baseball ‘Hits’ can earn you millions – in web stats they are completely meaningless!

Everytime I hear someone talk about how many ‘hits” their website gets, I have to stop and wonder. Are they misusing the term or are they trying to deceive?

Since most people have no intention to deceive, they are probably just using the wrong term. But there are exceptions; those who intentionally use inflated stats for their own aggrandizement.

Why would someone want to deceive you or me about the number of visitors to their site? As so often is the case, it comes down to money. The more traffic a website gets, the more it can ask for advertising or other services.

For instance, a website owner can charge more to place an ad or item if he can show more traffic. If a web designer can show that she is drawing big traffic numbers to a website, her value goes up.

So, what’s wrong with ‘hits’?

When counting web traffic, three common terms are used, each of them measuring something different. In A couple of things you need to know about website stats, I stated “‘Hits’ are the most misleading and worthless stats on a web log” and showed an example of how 89 pageviews can turn into 1,171 ‘hits.’

Since pageviews represent people and most ‘hits’ represent some other, non-human page element, the problem is one of who your business serves – people or elements. If your business is like mine, it’s people who pay the bills.

How would you like to pay for 1,171 of something and only receive 89?

Alright, let’s explain the three main terms used to describe web traffic. You may have seen this before, but sometime seeing it again in different words helps clarify it.

Sessions – A session is initiated when a visitor enters your website. The session ends when they leave the website or when the session times out. The session can time when a visitor enters your site, and walks away from the computer without actually leaving your website. The we web server has a timing mechanism and when the visitor stays beyond that time with no activity it times them out and ends the session. You’ve probably had this happen when you logged on to a website (maybe the bank), got distracted and then returned to the web page to find yourself logged out. A ‘unique’ visitor is one who initiates a new session. One person can initiate more than one session in a day if the web server it set to time them out quickly.

Pageviews – A pageview is recorded whenever you visit a web page. So a visitor to your website who visits several pages can record several pageviews in a single session. Your sessions and pageviews counts, along with the stat that tells you how long the average session lasted are very valuable stats in helping you determine the value of a website visitor, whether for advertising purposes or for your own analysis.

Hits – A ‘hit’ s recorded every time a web page or an element of a web page is loaded into your browser. That means the web page counts as a ht as well as every element of that web page including images, javascripts, stylesheets or anything else the page calls. Those with an interest in inflating this statistic can also pre-load images – even though they never appear on the page, they are counted as ‘hits’. That’s how 89 pages viewed produced 1,171 ‘hits’ as mentioned above. For most purposes, ‘hits’ are meaningless.

When someone quotes ‘hits’ stats to you, look at it with suspicion, not necessarily for the the intent as much as the lack of knowledge. Ask them for the ‘people’ stats of sessions and pageviews. If they can’t or won’t supply those, take your business elsewhere.

I’ve never received an order or a visit from a photo or a javascript. It’s the people that count. Make sure you are counting the people and you’ll always get your money’s worth of value.

A couple of things you need to know about website stats

August 11th, 2010 No comments

Screen shot of Urchin web stats reportWebsite stats. They have all the charm of 12th grade algebra. But they are very important in the world of online marketing. In this post, we’re going to look at a couple of web stats and what they might mean to you.

Annually, monthly, weekly, by the day or hour are the most common ways of looking at them. Any date range can be specified so you can have a look at your websites performance in large chunks or tiny slivers of time.

Two of the most important web stats are “sessions” and “pageviews.” Other very important stats are “bounce rate” and “length of session.” Most web statistics programs such as Google Analytics and the Urchin software it is based on can display web stats in a variety of ways. There are a variety of other web stats analysis applications that may already be on your web server.

A “session” is recorded every time a visitor arrives at your site for the first time since the expiration of their last session. Session expiration occurs when activity ceases for a time specified in your server configuration or when the visitor leaves your site.

The “sessions” graph shows the number of visitors your website had in a given time period. In the example graph below (from the logs of a server I use for testing), you can see I had a range of session numbers from 2 to 13.

Urchin Sessions Graph

A “pageview” occurs when a visitor enters a page on your website. A visitor can visit multiple pages during a single session. Pageviews are often mistakenly called “hits” which are a different stat entirely. Calling a “pageview” a “hit” is a lot like calling a Manufactured Home by the “T” word.

The pageviews stat tells you how many of your web pages are being looked at in the specified time. Now we’re ranging from 2 to 126. I like to see 3 or more pageviews per visit on my site – more is great, but less could simply be the result of having a site with few pages to look at. Here is the pageviews graph from my test server.

Urchin Pageview Graph

“Hits” are the most misleading and worthless stats on a web log. A “hit” is recorded every time a page element is loaded. So if you have a web page with 5 images, a link to a JavaScript and a link to a CSS stylesheet, the log will record 8 hits. Anyone can increase their “hit” count by inserting more graphics, even single pixel transparent images.

When you hear someone describe how many “hits” their website is getting, it’s a good bet you can divide that by a factor of 10 to 25. Ask them how many pageviews their site gets. If they can’t answer that, as Lyndon Johnson used to say, “I put my hand on my wallet.” NEVER give advertising money to a website based on the number of “hits” they get. If they use the improper term, it could be an honest mistake (some manufactured home pros still use ‘trailer’), but they should know the difference and should be willing to share the correct data.

Here is a “hits” graph of my test server for the same period as the other two charts. Notice the difference, especially in the Saturday and Monday stats. Do you see how inflated the “hits” stats are? 1,171 hits for 85 pageviews? That’s a ratio of 14 hits per pageview on a site with minimal graphics.

Urchin Hits Graph

“Bounce rate” is determined by the number of visitors who leave your site after viewing only one page. They can “bounce” for any number of reasons (for more, see the blog post What is Bounce Rate? What does it mean to you? on BobStovall.com. A decent bounce rate could be anywhere from 33% to 67%. Some one-page sales sites have a bounce rate of 100% and do OK. But if you have a multi-page informational site and you have an unusually high bounce rate (67%-95%) you need to have a look at your site and see what is driving visitors away so quickly.

“Length of Session” is another “tell-tale” stat. It tells you how long the average visitor is spending looking at your web pages per session. It might seem odd, but 2-3 minutes is a pretty good session length. if 66% of your visitors are leaving immediately, the other 33% are staying for 6-9 minutes and that is quite respectable.

There are a lot of other things your web logs can tell you, such as what percentage of your visitors are using Macs or Windows, how many are visiting using Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer or Safari, what pages they are entering on, what pages they are leaving from and more.

We’ll delve into more web stats in the future, but I think you now have a good basic understanding of which stats to keep an eye on and what to look for.

Website stats – Caveat emptor?

April 25th, 2010 No comments

“Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgment, the manner in which information is collected and used.”
– Dr. Carl Sagan

Web stats chart

Do you rely on website statistics as a basis for your online marketing decisions? If you do, having accurate information would seem very important to you.

Yet, over the past few years I’ve seen repeated evidence that the statistics many of us rely on may be suspect at best. There has been a lot of chatter on the Internet regarding underreporting of website statistics by Google Analytics.

Over the past year, I have been tracking stats on 15 sites that I maintain for myself and for several clients. All 15 sites have Urchin 5 installed to read the server logs as well as Google Analytics.

What I’ve noticed is a very consistent underreporting of the raw numbers on all 15 sites. The underreporting ranged from 15% to 20% once bots and other non-human visitors were removed from the mix.

In one particular case, a new web page showed 17 unique visitors in it’s first week according to our server logs, which were independently verified as having been 17 individual human visitors. But Google Analytics only showed 1 visit to the page. That was an extreme case, but was 100% verifiable.

That incident just noted occurred in January of this year. It is not an old case where the problem has been corrected since. This sheds doubt on all website counts based solely on Google Analytics.

I’ve read many reports from website owners who claim underreporting rates of Google Analytics of 50% or more. In the past I have always found that number to unacceptably high and also unrealistically deviant from the norm. Now, in the light of the facts noted above, I am not so sure.

What could cause this sort of underreporting? While I can’t say with certainty, I suspect it has something to do with Google Analytics reliance on remote JavaScript as it’s method of gathering data. If a visitor has JavaScript turned off, or a network error interrupts the transmission of data from the browser to Google, no visit is registered for that page when a visit has actually taken place.

That said, I still use Google Analytics for the statistical samplings and ratios, such as pageviews per visit and bounce rate. Why? If the sampling is broad enough, even taking the underreporting into account, that such statistics can be considered accurate within acceptable statistical margins of error.

Alexa stats are another issue. We recently had a website with a bounce rate of under 20% according to both our web server logs and Google Analytics, but reported by Alexa with a 79% bounce rate.

That’s a HUGE difference – what could cause that? Well, the reason is the biggest weakness in Alexa stats and a good reason to doubt their veracity at any level. Alexa relies on users with the Alexa toolbar installed to gather data.

Problem – who is the Alexa user base?

Webmasters, designers, marketers and other “web admin” types are heavy users. But the overwhelming majority of consumers and Internet users don’t even know what Alexa is, let alone have it’s toolbar installed. So Alexa stats are almost exclusively created by the people who use the data, not the people who should be included in the data.

Knowing this, it is clear that smaller, niche websites whose user base actually consists of Alexa toolbar users have a decided advantage in Alexa rankings.

If you are using Alexa data to make marketing decisions, be aware that you are basing those decisions on data mostly collected from sellers like yourself, not from the buyers you are trying to reach.

If there is a bottom line to this, it may be that the webserver’s logs are the most accurate form of website statistics. So internally, we use our Urchin 5 statistics for most purposes, because the method of collection is the most accurate.

So when you are looking at website statistics to make marketing or other decisions, please take the following into consideratione. Whose statistics are being used? How were those statistics gathered? Are those statistics from the website’s own server logs, or from a third-party service that does samplings but can’t possibly have completely accurate information apart from the websites own server logs? “Caveat Emptor” – let the buyer beware.

If you’d like another take on this subject from another source, please check out this link:
Another source for Google Analytics underreporting information.