Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Watching brief

Watching brief

Web analytics is often the only way to understand who visits a web site and why

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | All 4 Pages

Web site analytics - analysing user behaviour and the information provided by their web browsers - has long been regarded as an inadequate activity.

While scooping up the Internet protocol (IP) addresses of web site visitors and the number of hits and page impressions might impress techies, turning that data into information that can sell advertising or more products has proved more challenging.

Yet Amazon.com shows just what can be done with a well-designed analytics function. In combination with a user profiling system, it personalises content and pushes relevant products to users, even telling them how much their past purchases might be worth second-hand.

The Amazon experience demonstrates that while the data generated by web analytics packages might be limited, it can go far in helping organisations understand what kind of people visit their web site and what they use it for. This makes it useful not just for commercial site operators that need to know more about their customers, whether to sell them products or to 'sell' their site's demographic profile to advertisers, but for a wide range of organisations, both public and private.

These include:

  • local authorities and other public sector organisations that are obliged to show that their web sites are available to citizens and that they do indeed use them;
  • organisations that want to provide information and need to be sure that the right people are able to read it;
  • service providers who want to ensure that as many people as possible can take advantage of a service;
  • any organisation that wants to ensure its web site is free of errors and is accessible.

Web analytics is potentially useful to any organisation that has put up a web site with a purpose. Indeed, research by web analytics software maker WebTrends suggests that nine-tenths of organisations now regard it as a key tool supporting their Internet strategies.

Who, where, why?
The range of data potentially available to organisations through web analytics at first glance seems small. Most web statistics revolve around the seemingly mundane figure of how many times people have downloaded particular pages.

But every web visit provides far more information than just requests for data. Each request also includes the user's Internet (IP) address, and the time and the time zone of the user's computer. So it is easily possible to locate the countries in which users are based. If they are corporate users, it can also identify their employers.

The data should also identify the web site the user has just surfed in from. This is usually stored automatically in web server logs and can then be analysed to create an historic view of exactly where the site's web traffic is coming from.

Any requests for missing pages, images and so on will also show up, highlighting broken links and references. Since the IP address is usually unique and constant throughout a visit to a site, it is possible to see which pages a particular user viewed and in what order.

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | All 4 Pages

Interested in commissioning a similar article? Please contact me to discuss details. Alternatively, return to the main gallery or search for another article: