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Web Analytic Insights Improve with Multiple Sources

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Web analytic insights are as simple or complex as an site manager chooses to make it.

Web analytic insights are as simple or complex as an site manager chooses to make it — simple with a single, shallow analytics report or complex with reports from multiple sources.

An accurate view of a Web site audience often comes from more than one source.

Some marketers struggle with accurate data about their Web audiences because they use misleading software, interpret the numbers incorrectly or don’t spend enough time to understand them.

Part of the problem is caused by misunderstandings about what is being measured.

Another part of it is due to the numerous sources of information out there, many of which disagree with each other.

Quantitative Measurements

Common quantitative measures come from raw site logs and Web analytic software such as Omniture, Quantcast or Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is the most widely used analytic package in digital media, in part because it is free and in part because it provides a tremendous amount of information.

It looks at a site audience from a Google perspective. It is entirely quantitative, meaning that it provides numbers but not perceptions about a site’s brand.

As packages such as Google Analytics have grown in power, raw server logs via the likes of AWStats have declined. They often overestimate site traffic because they can include a staff’s site production activity, files that don’t qualify as visitor page views such as headers and footers, and oftentimes even scripts and iframe files.

But AWStats and others like it still provide some useful information, such as the IP addresses that send the largest numbers of visitors or non HTML file downloads of PDFs and other file formats.

Web analytics software tends to be more reliable from the major, creditable providers such as Omniture and Google. It is less reliable when it is written from scratch and freely available from someone who may not have a good grounding in audience metrics.

Some sites use ad-serving reports as a secondary source of quantitative data about site traffic.

Qualitative Measurements

Common qualitative sources include Scarborough, Nielsen NetRatings and Media Audit. These studies often involve researchers calling representative samples of people at home to ask them questions about Web usage.

Experienced Web managers know that the data is more useful for the demographic descriptions and especially the perceptions of a site’s audience rather than total site usage of unique visitors, frequency of visits and page views.

The demographic data is best incorporated into sales presentations, while total site usage is popular with senior management and industry reports.

A site such as Quantcast tries to bridge the gap between quantitative and qualitative audience measurements by trying to provide pure numbers as well as insights about branding.

Sites that use the Quantcast tag show reports that show shopping, media and political interests as well as age, gender, education level, ethnicity, number of children in the household and affinity with other websites.

Such information is similar to what is provided by Scarborough, Nielsen and Media Audit. Whether it can capture the human nuances and flexibility of a phone or in-person interview remains unclear.

It is worth noting that Google Analytics is moving in that same direction. In any event, each source has a limited reliability with its data because of the way the data is collected.

Which One to Use

Whether a business is small or large, there are times when it must provide web analytic insights for executives or owners if they care at all about the busines benefits of the site.

Some businesses even have to provide such reports to clients, such as media organizations that provide information to advertisers.

Presenters would be wise to use multiple sources rather than single sources for sales presentations and internal reporting. It is wiser still to provide context with each source.

Explain the difference between quantitative and qualitative sources. Don’t rely only on the highest number. Use averages over a period of time such as a quarter or the preceding three months rather than just a single month to smooth out the misleading highs and lows.

Credibility with management, shareholders and customers comes from averages, trends and multiple sources. It doesn’t come with a high single number that can’t be sustained or one source that may get it wrong next time.

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