Sunday, March 5, 2006

Web Analytics definitions

What is "web analytics"?

In the process of writing an introductory paper on the topic, I found there seems to be no universally accepted definition of exactly what is Web Analytics. Here are some definitions:
  • Aberdeen Group : "the monitoring and reporting of Web site usage so enterprise can better understand the complex interactions between Web visitor actions and Web site offers as well as leverage that insight for increased customer loyalty and sales"
  • Gartner Group : "Web analytics uses a variety of data and sources to evaluate Web site performance and visitor experience, potentially including usager levels and pattern at both an individual and aggregate level. Data and sources may include click-stream data from the Web server log, Web transaction data, submitted data from input fields on the web site and data in the Internet customer repository. The goals are o improve site performance, both from a technical and content perspective, enhance visitor experience (and thus loyalty), contribute to overall understanding of customers and channels, and identify opportunities and risks."
  • Webopedia: "A generic term meaning the study of the impact of a Web site on its users. E-commerce companies often use Web analytics software to measure such concrete details as how many people visited their site, how many of those visitors were unique visitors, how they came to the site (i.e., if they followed a link to get to the site or came there directly), what keywords they searched with on the site's search engine, how long they stayed on a given page or on the entire site, what links they clicked on and when they left the site. Web analytic software can also be used to monitor whether or not a site's pages are working properly. With this information, Web site administrators can determine which areas of the site are popular and which areas of the site do not get traffic and can then use this data to streamline a site to create a better user experience."
And goes on with his own definition:
  • Peterson : "Web analytics is the assessment of a variety of data, including Web traffic, Web-based transactions, Web server performance, usability studies, user submitted information and related sources to help create a generalized understanding of the visitor experience online."

Other definitions include:
  • Wikipedia: "Web analytics is the measurement of the behaviour of visitors to a website. In a commercial context, it especially refers to the measurement of which aspects of the website work towards the business objectives; for example, which landing pages encourage people to make a purchase. Many different vendors provide web analytics software and services."
  • Hurol Inan: "Web Analytics is the formal discipline of studying user activities on a website or web application to understand how well it fulfils its objectives and meets the user requirements, and to seek ways to optimise it to become more usable, relevant and efficient. Web Analytics involve a variety of analytical techniques to analyse user activity data, which can be collected by a combination of techniques such as server log files, browser tags, search log files, cookies, and custom-written scripts. Web Analytics is often investigative and requires tools or platforms to drill or filter through the user activity data to spot trends and user experience problems. Web Analytics has been inceasingly expanding itself on to other corporate data sources to view and analyse the user activity data in an integrated fashion."
  • Web Analytics Association: "Web analytics refers to the collection, analysis and reporting of Web site usage by visitors and customers of a web site. This information is used by those responsible for the success of the web site to better understand the effectiveness of online initiatives and other changes to the web site in an objective, scientific way through experimentation, testing, and measurement. This understanding and knowledge can be used wisely to optimize the web site so that it more effectively accomplishes the goals of the business. The optimization process can occur in any number of areas such as site content and media offerings, product and merchandising, site navigation, creative design, internal search and the checkout process."
  • WebSideStory: "Web analytics refers to the collection, analysis and reporting of Web site usage by visitors. The information helps site managers better understand the effectiveness of their online initiatives and helps them optimize their Web site. This optimization process could occur in a number of areas, including site content, media and promotional mix, merchandising, site process designs, maximizing the value of site initiatives — such as the internal search tool — and much more."
And finally, some comments:
  • The IAB fails to define "analytics" or "web analytics" in its glossary
  • And most vendors define "web analytics" in a very product centric way, focusing on the data collection, analysis and reporting aspects
I think there are some key elements that define "Web Analytics", one of them stemming from the definition of "analytics": Analytics is the branch of logic dealing with analysis or, as Aristotle would say the part of logic that focus on demonstration:
  1. Data sources: various sources such as, but not limited to, web logs, web transactions, surveys and usability data, infrastructure and applicative performance data, etc.
  2. Measurement: the tool(s) used to analyse the data and provide individual and aggregated results
  3. User and behavior centric: focus on the human activities and experience while using a Web site
  4. Goal oriented: strong orientation toward achieving and measuring business objectives (be it sales, satisfaction, cost reduction, etc.)
  5. Formal: a discipline involving several field of expertise: statistics, social sciences, marketing, information system and technology, business administration, etc.