Part two looks at the differences between off-site and on-site analytics, while part three suggests how you can use web analytics to build an accurate picture of your website's users.
Imagine using the web to find exactly what you are looking for, instantly. By that, I mean actually discovering authoritative, reliable and accurate websites, with the information you need, in a quick and efficient way.
Maybe the information you want is the best price from a respective retailer, resort reviews from real holiday makers or a news article from an expert that helps you understand what the financial crisis is actually about. The problem is that such sites are like gold nuggets – a valuable resource that is rare in a virtual world of poor ergonomics.
Why most of the web is junk
The truth is that the vast majority of the web contains poor quality content. Even for those sites that do have great content, often they are difficult to find (via a search engine) and the user experience, once you visit it, is so poor, you simply wish to leave.
Despite nearly 15 years of web development, most of us still waste dozens of hours a month trawling the web, weeding out sites that either have irrelevant content to our search query or where the user experience is just too frustrating.
Unfortunately - similar to weeding - those sites don't really go away. A search engine query the next day can bring up the same poor results and the process starts all over again.
How web analytics can help
That's where web analytics comes to the rescue – the part art and part science of measuring a website's performance. Simply put, web analytics is for website owners to understand their online visitor behaviour with the purpose of improving it.
Perhaps the marketing campaign is poorly focused; visitor expectations not met when they arrive on the website; the content displayed is out of date; the navigation system sucks; or an on-site search function returns no results (or worse still the same result) no matter what keywords you use.
Web analytics tools can help you identify these problems so you can fix and optimise them.
There are two types of web analytics data: off-site metrics and on-site metrics (see Figure 1*).
As their names suggest, these relate to metrics that can be obtained irrespective of your website presence or those obtained when a visitor lands on your website respectively.
* From a vendor perspective, the separation of methodologies is not as mutually exclusive as Figure 1 suggests. For example, Hitwise, comScore and Nielsen Netratings also have on-site measurement tools, while Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have the ability to provide off-site search query data to compliment their on-site tools.
Read other parts in this series:
'Improving web analytics (part two)' - how on-site and off-site analytics work
'Improving web analytics (part three)' - how you can use web analytics to build an accurate picture of your website's users
Brian Clifton is a search marketing and web analytics expert, and author of Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics. He is founder and senior strategist for Omega Digital Media and was previously head of web analytics for Google Europe, Middle East and Africa.