When it comes to the web, information is king. Indeed, the web itself is information, a massive collection of articles, videos, blogs, news stories and photographs trying to convey a message to various audiences scattered around the world. The big sensation over the last year has been Twitter, a system built around condensing information to a mere 140 characters and broadcasting it out to interested users with a minimum of frills and features.
YouTube, a site where literally anybody can upload their videos for the appreciation of others, became the fourth most popular site on the Internet in less than a year. Compare that to newspapers and television, which both have been experiencing decreasing viewership in recent years. People need, want, and will seek out every conceivable sort of information, and the Internet is the place to find it.
Who Wants To Know?
Information isn’t just of use to the casual browser or dedicated auction enthusiast, however. Equally and increasingly interested are the very people posting content to the many pages on the web. Who is visiting which pages? How much traffic is your site getting, and how does it measure up against traffic going to similar sites? What has changed since you put up the big new advertising system last year? Necessity being the mother of invention, this increasing craving for varied and precise forms of information has led to the steady growth of a field called Web Analytics.
What Are You Looking At?
Put simply, Web Analytics is a system of study dedicated to collecting, measuring, and reporting on web and Internet data. This general idea breaks down further into two broad disciplines. The first is on-site analytics, which concerns itself with the journey of each user to a website, and is of primary concern to the owners of that site. It records information ranging from a record of which pages are being visited to a comparison of which pages garner more purchases from visitors. Off-site analytics focuses on information on the Internet as a whole, such as what websites more people are visiting, and what sites are being talked about most frequently. Both methods seek to answer the key question for any website operator – what are people looking at?
But What Does It All Mean?
Proper Web Analytics goes a step further than simple data collection, however. It also concerns itself with interpretation of the data in a context that allows the site owner to take appropriate steps. Let’s use the advertising campaign mentioned earlier as an example. Simple web measurement would be the collection of how many hits and purchases the site gathered before and after the campaign. A serious analytic comparison would explain how quickly purchases picked up after the change, what products and portions of the site drew more traffic as a result, and which pages remained unaffected. In short, web measurement is the gathering of the data; Web Analytics is the comparison and interpretation of that data.
The importance of the analytics field to the modern site owner can be observed in the sheer volume of material available on the subject. Sites offer free programs allowing users to set their own metrics, and others can be purchased, offering extra features and a professional interface. Hardcover and electronic format books have been published dealing with the material, and people have formed associations for the purpose of standardizing Web Analytics methodology and terms.
There is even a Web Analytics conference, the E-metrics summit, held in Santa Barbara, California and London, England each year. Going even further, there are listed job offerings in the field that offer salaries approaching $100,000 a year. Clearly this is not a passing fad, but a serious, vital step for any website interested not just in drawing an audience, but keeping it.
It’s All About Information
Of course this all begs the question – how does a user get started. Moreover, to what degree should they seek to implement Web Analytic tools and techniques? Perhaps a bit counter-intuitively, the quest for information begins with information. Site owners know what they want to accomplish with their sites, be it promoting a specific product or generating an audience for geopolitical discussions in a casual atmosphere. This information is the best place to start because it allows the user to begin understanding what information will help them pursue their goal.
For example, if a page is intended to promote an e-book series, then the user wants to know what information will help them do that promotion. They can then look for analytic tools that will tell them what pages are more successful at selling e-books, and what techniques are less successful.
Taking the time to sit down and think through the purpose that analytic information is ultimately intended to accomplish will make the search easier, and more fruitful from the beginning. With this basic framework established, the next step is the web itself. A simple web search on ‘Web Analytics’ or ‘Web Analytics for beginners’ will return a substantial amount of information. From there users can locate articles, videos, and e-books that will help them make the decisions they need to make their websites successful.