web stats

5 Jul 2005 - 1:05pm
9 years ago
3 replies
703 reads
Ellen Ayoob
2005

hey there-

I am working on a web site strategy and requirements doc and there has
been a request to include a web stats program but no articulated reason
why except it would be "cool" to know the "information". It has been a
while (4 years) since I dealt with web stats programs so I've been
doing some research and I'm wondering:

- Why use one? the stats seem to be important to server administrators
to keep the site running smoothly (referrers, browsers etc.) and to
marketers who will make inferences from the comparisons. Are there
other compelling, strategic reasons to know session lengths, average
visitors per day, unique visitor etc? (I ask knowing that the answer
could be "it depends").
- If using one, are stats on page views a reliable indicator of
"popular" content or a reliable way to make connections between visitor
types and content. i've read some articles that debunk the usefulness
of web stats from a strategic perspective.
- Do you recommend their use and if so, do you have a preferred program
and/or service?

This document is the first step in a site design that will eventually
use a software agent on the back end for content updates in lieu of a
human web master. So I'll probably be posing more questions to the
group as I get past the mundane into more critical and interesting
interaction issues concerning software interface agents.

thanks,

Ellen

Ellen M. Ayoob, Interaction Designer and Instructor
HCI- Carnegie Mellon University

AIGA Pittsburgh Chapter, President Emeritus
pittsburgh.aiga.org

The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly
and in a thousand things well. - Horace Walpole

Comments

5 Jul 2005 - 3:41pm
Johan Sjostrand
2005

Oh,
not really answering your email but it worked as a reminder for me:

I would need a tip on a good webstats service out there for this site I
just did:
http://www.commercialalert.org

They have articles that reach 3 main target audiances which are:
Researchers (Issues - Sorted by subject)
Reporters (News - Sorted by date)
Activists (Take Action - Campaigns)

Stats that shows me the most clicked on links on the site so we can
continue optimize the site for these 3 groups. All other stats would be
useful too.

And preferably, we would like a stats company that would feel strongly
about these issues so much that they would like to give us an acocunt
for discounted price or free.

Any suggestions?

Thanks / Johan

7 Jul 2005 - 12:17pm
Noreen Whysel
2004

I have also not used web stats programs in a while, either, but the ability
to track how people get to individual pages, and whether they are following
the click-through scenario you set up for those pages, could be quite
valuable. Also, of value is information on the site that seems to be of
interest to your users (identified by high hit counts) so you can work on
optimizing the paths they take to and from that content.

Webtrends addresses this in their "5-point Scenario Analysis" which uses the
language of ecommerce, but can be applied to general user path scenarios:

* Inflow: The pages and programs that are driving visitors into your
conversion scenario
* Fallout: Insight that tells you at which step a visitor leaves your
conversion scenario
* Abandonment: Of the visitors that fallout, how many left the site
immediately
* Detours: Insight that identifies the information that led visitors out of
your scenario
* Step Jumping: Identify which steps visitors find confusing or skip
altogether

Stats programs also give a pretty good analysis of which search engines
brought you to a specific page and which keywords are getting the most hits.
I used to know a lot more about tracking keywords, but that was a few
years ago....

Noreen

Message: 2
Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005 14:05:54 -0400
From: Ellen Ayoob <ema at cs.cmu.edu>
Subject: [ID Discuss] web stats
To: discuss at ixdg.org
Message-ID: <f322321f5f309c04bc9c5e20c204cc73 at cs.cmu.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; format=flowed

hey there-

I am working on a web site strategy and requirements doc and there has
been a request to include a web stats program but no articulated reason
why except it would be "cool" to know the "information". It has been a
while (4 years) since I dealt with web stats programs so I've been
doing some research and I'm wondering:

- Why use one? the stats seem to be important to server administrators
to keep the site running smoothly (referrers, browsers etc.) and to
marketers who will make inferences from the comparisons. Are there
other compelling, strategic reasons to know session lengths, average
visitors per day, unique visitor etc? (I ask knowing that the answer
could be "it depends").
- If using one, are stats on page views a reliable indicator of
"popular" content or a reliable way to make connections between visitor
types and content. i've read some articles that debunk the usefulness
of web stats from a strategic perspective.
- Do you recommend their use and if so, do you have a preferred program
and/or service?

This document is the first step in a site design that will eventually
use a software agent on the back end for content updates in lieu of a
human web master. So I'll probably be posing more questions to the
group as I get past the mundane into more critical and interesting
interaction issues concerning software interface agents.

thanks,

Ellen

7 Jul 2005 - 1:29pm
Susan Farrell
2004

>Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005 14:05:54 -0400
>From: Ellen Ayoob <ema at cs.cmu.edu>

>- Why use one? the stats seem to be important to server administrators
>to keep the site running smoothly (referrers, browsers etc.) and to
>marketers who will make inferences from the comparisons. Are there
>other compelling, strategic reasons

* Find code errors and forms problems (404 etc.)

* Identify entry and exit pages (so you can decide whether to dress
them up or fix their problems)

* See where people give up on the path to information they are looking for

* Notice where people are not going

* Decide whether you want those search terms to find those pages, and
what to do about keywords

* Decide which Adwords and domain names to buy

* Decide where to place advertising.

> to know session lengths, average
>visitors per day, unique visitor etc?

Yes, especially if: you sell products or advertising, attract
sponsorships or funding, or you may need to justify your site's or
staff's continued existence. You can also use this type of data to
decide when to increase bandwidth and buy new hardware.

Note that you probably don't need realtime, daily data to do these things.

>- If using one, are stats on page views a reliable indicator of
>"popular" content or a reliable way to make connections between visitor
>types and content. i've read some articles that debunk the usefulness
>of web stats from a strategic perspective.

I'd take this sort of indicator (traffic to specific pages) with a
grain of salt. Popular pages may simply be easier to find, rather
than being the most useful place for a person to be (this red-herring
effect is especially seen in search results). That said, knowing
where people end up can provide valuable clues about what kind of
content and navigation you need there.

I recommend paying a lot of attention to _site search engine_ logs
and statistics. Checking them several times per year, or before and
after a design change can tell you a lot of things you need to know,
such as:

* What content are people looking for?

* Are their strategies working to find the right things?

* Which misspellings should be added to the synonym list?

* Which new content does the site need?

* Which navigational items might have been overlooked, causing searches?

* How long should the search text input field be?

* Which pages are generating the most searches?

* What is the site visitor's vocabulary, and how should the site
change to accommodate it?

>- Do you recommend their use

It depends. Some sites really don't need stats analysis, at least not
regularly.

I think small and not-so-busy sites can do periodic spot checks using
inexpensive tools and services (and getting less data), but when logs
pass 25MB - 50MB gzipped per day, they become very cumbersome to
work with, especially for businesses with limited computing resources.

At some point you have to ask if it's worthwhile to use an external
service. And that brings up privacy and security issues.

If you have a very competitive enterprise that is rapidly evolving,
such as Amazon.com, it's smart to dedicate a lot of internal
resources to constant programmatic analysis of user behavior in order
to make rapid design changes.

For every site, it is also a very good idea to do user testing and
employ other usability methods during various development phases to
gain insight, decide among design and interaction alternatives, and
to weed out the big problems. Statistics usually can't tell you why
something is happening (and how mad that makes your customers), but
study participants often can. A combination of stats analysis and
usability data can help drive site improvements and justify design
changes (by proving the problem exists, how big it is, and that the
proposed solution works).

Key questions to ask before spending money are:

* What are you planning to do with the information?

* How much could that activity improve the business/site?

* What are you (not) able to change on the site?

* How often (and how soon) will you be able to act on information you
get from analyzing traffic data?

* Are the tradeoffs of time, money, privacy, and trust worth what
you're planning to extract from it?

* Does the stats software or analysis provide the data you most need,
at the depth required?

Susan Farrell

PS: Make sure your logs and stats on public sites are not being
spidered or put in a default location. Exposing them to the public
can cause referrer spam and other unpleasant side effects.

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