Saturday, March 15, 2008

Exploring Web Analytics #1

Number of subscribers to Making A Mark - it's a long haul up that incline!

I confess - I actually LIKE looking at numbers. Which is why I'm surprised that I am only now sitting down to try and understand more about web analytics and, in particular Google Analytics.

As ever, for those of you who didn't click straight to another page at the sight of the word 'numbers', I'm going to record the journey and what I find out.

This seems to herald the return of the "Techie Saturday" posts. Three on the trot - is this a trend? ;)

Web analytics: Why I use statistics

Web analytics is the study of the behaviour of visitors to websites/blogs. I study my stats because I like to know:
  • how many people visit my blog and when - that helps me gear posts which are likely to be more popular to days on which I get lots of visitors. Do you you know the days on which you get the most and least visitors over time?
  • whether I can change the trend in visitor numbers. The answer is 'Yes' - I've done it deliberately a few times now which means that for the 'blockbuster' post it probably doesn't matter when I post.
  • what changes the trend in subscribers - like spending less time in forums and more time on developing my blog and understanding its audience!
  • which subjects are the most popular - which tells me whether I'm writing for a wide audience or a serious niche. That then influences how I write.
  • which keywords are the most popular - You'd never ever guess at least two of the terms which regularly turn up in the top spots. Well - a couple of my readers might - because my guess is that they experience the same phenomenon.
  • which sites send me the most visitors - I'm not sucking up to those sites - but I'm certainly not setting out to annoy them! Interestingly I find niche sites can generate big numbers whereas (some) big sites don't.
It's always fascinating to hear your stories about what happened to your statistics and blog after your blog or website got a mention on this blog. So far I've got lots of people who said their stats went through the roof and some people who've even sold work as a direct result!

Web analytics: Which statistics packages I use

I've tried out various statistics packages on this blog. I currently use
Web analytics: Why I want to know more

First, I only installed Google Analytics on this blog just over a month ago. I spent the first 48 hours after installation racing around the site - but, of course, it had negligible statistics so didn't have any 'interesting' reports. A month later I looked again - and it's a completely different story! Now I just have to try and find out what it all means!

Second, I'm currently developing publications and building a new website and which will draw on material on this blog and elsewhere. It's a major project so understanding more about the popularity or otherwise of topic areas enables me to direct my efforts in a logical way. I also need to decide which webware to use for my stats for that project.

Third - because I'm eternally curious and like to know more than I do right now!

Web analytics: What do all those terms mean?

So let's ease our way slowly into web analytics by starting off with the definitions of the technical terms used in web analytics. What follows is the Wikipedia definition as there isn't industry wide agreement about what the terms mean.

Note in particular the ones where it's easy to misunderstand what they mean. It's worth making an effort to know a bit more - otherwise you'll be confusing your reach with your bounces! ;)
Key definitions

There are no globally agreed definitions within web analytics as the industry bodies have been trying to agree definitions that are useful and definitive for some time. The main bodies who have had input in this area have been Jicwebs(Industry Committee for Web Standards)/ABCe (Auditing Bureau of Circulations electronic, UK and Europe), The WAA (Web Analytics Association, US) and to a lesser extent the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau). This does not prevent the following list from being a useful guide, suffering only slightly from ambiguity. Both the WAA and the ABCe provide more definitive lists for those who are declaring their statistics using the metrics defined by either.

  • Hit - A request for a file from the web server. Available only in log analysis. The number of hits received by a website is frequently cited to assert its popularity, but this number is extremely misleading and dramatically over-estimates popularity. A single web-page typically consists of multiple (often dozens) of discrete files, each of which is counted as a hit as the page is downloaded, so the number of hits is really an arbitrary number more reflective of the complexity of individual pages on the website than the website's actual popularity. The total number of visitors or page views provides a more realistic and accurate assessment of popularity.
  • Page View - A request for a file whose type is defined as a page in log analysis. An occurrence of the script being run in page tagging. In log analysis, a single page view may generate multiple hits as all the resources required to view the page (images, .js and .css files) are also requested from the web server.
  • Visit / Session - A series of requests from the same uniquely identified client with a set timeout. A visit is expected to contain multiple hits (in log analysis) and page views.
  • First Visit / First Session - A visit from a visitor who has not made any previous visits.
  • Visitor / Unique Visitor / Unique User - The uniquely identified client generating requests on the web server (log analysis) or viewing pages (page tagging) within a defined time period (i.e. day, week or month). A Unique Visitor counts once within the timescale. A visitor can make multiple visits. The Unique User is now the only mandatory metric for an ABCe audit [[3]].
  • Repeat Visitor - A visitor that has made at least one previous visit. The period between the last and current visit is called visitor recency and is measured in days.
  • New Visitor - A visitor that has not made any previous visits. This definition creates a certain amount of confusion (see common confusions below), and is sometimes substituted with analysis of first visits.
  • Impression - An impression is each time an advertisement loads on a user's screen. Anytime you see a banner, that is an impression.
  • Singletons - The number of visits where only a single page is viewed. While not a useful metric in and of itself the number of singletons is indicative of various forms of "Click Fraud" as well as being used to calculate bounce rate and in some cases to identify automatons ("bots").
  • Bounce Rate / % Exit - The percentage of visits where the visitor enters and exits at the same page without visiting any other pages on the site in between.
  • Visibility time - The time a single page (or a blog, Ad Banner...) is viewed.
Wikipedia - Web Analytics - Key Definitions
The advertising industry seem to have a very specific set of terms
The Express Guide to the Industry Agreed Metrics:
  1. How many - the 'audience reach' metric = Unique Users
  2. How busy - the 'volume' metric = Page Impressions
  3. How often - the 'frequency' metric = Visits
  4. What see - the 'opportunity to see' metric = Ad Impressions
  5. What do - the 'response' metric = Ad Clicks
What I'm now looking for are some perspectives on this topic. I aim to I link in future posts to places where you can read more about different aspects of web analytics.

So who out there is already a Google Analytic Techie - and have you written any useful posts on this topic?



Scott said...

What caused over a 50 percent increase in your subscribers in September of 2007? You had steady growth up to that point, then a significant bump.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

The answer lies in two things

First - the vertical 'cliff' bit is (I think) when I changed to include my feedburner feed in the Blogger feed line settings (see see last Saturday's post). It seems to find more of people who subscribe to me. I think people using feed readers were previously not always captured.

The second reason - for the steeper incline since last September is to do with environment rather than in anything techie.

I believe the jump is associated with the behaviour and attitude of people who 'live' on the internet in different places.

Before I blogged, I participated in an on-line art forum called Wet Canvas.

In September 2007, I decided to stop being an active member and started devoting the time I used to spend at WC on my blog and my blogging network. I immediately started to get many more subscribers which I hadn't been expecting.

With over two years of blogging now under my belt, my experience tends to suggest the following. Artists on the net who want to communicate tend to be either forum people or types who prefer blogging/social communication sites. Personally, I don't think forums have caught up with the ways in which web 2.0 sites have changed people's lives. I'm very definitely one of those who enjoys blogging and the people I meet in the blogosphere. The ones who stick around (as opposed to those who 'have a go') seem to me to be much more inclined to be creative and 'get on and do' and 'make things happen' sort of people. My sort of people! :)

I like the autonomy of blogging and the scope it gives me to write about what I like in the way I like without interference from others. Forums seem to me to be much more fuddy duddy in comparison. I'd describe forums as tending towards being more parochial and supporting those who just want to hang out in one place while blogs tend to fit better with those who have a globe-trotting mentality.....and people who know me know how I like to travel (with a sketchbook of course!)!

What I'm pleased about is that my approach certainly seems to get the endorsement of readers!

Jael Bendt said...

Following on what Katherine has said, on her approach getting her the endorsement of readers:

I think the content itself of what is being posted attracts a lot more interest than some other topics. For example, blogs that are more informative and present information that can be used by everyone instead of information that only applies to the author seems to get people coming back more recently.

Such pages would be Katherine's and James Gurney's. I find myself checking these two pages every day because there's always something *interesting* that I can also learn from -- this in the art field, I mean. Whereas there are other blogs ALSO art related that I only check every once in a while because they focus more on the information pertaining to the author than to the general public.

I did a little personal experiment with it as well...followed two things for a few posts: gave out information that help people in general from what *I* had learned in class, and also moved my subscription options to the top of my blog.

Overnight my "readers" went from 2 to 10. They flow back and forth, but that's fine with me. I'm quite new to blogging and my blog is only four months old and I cannot afford to post every day due to school, etc. But consistency in posting seems to bring people back as well.... its that secure feeling that no matter what, the next morning when you check back, there'll be something new AND interesting to read.

I am also new to WC, and love the place because as well, I get to learn from it. In this learning stage of mine, being just 20, anything that provides good, useful information, catches my attention. But I do agree with Katherine in some points about forums.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I think looking back I maybe could have worded some of my points better!

I agree with Jael - content is all important. You always keep coming back to sites which are stimulating and informative - whether or not you always agree with the content.

I also agree with Jael that forums tend to support people who wish to learn. It's a bit like being in class. A lot of confidence can be generated by being with people who are in pretty much the same 'place' as you in development terms.

However, just like with class, people also 'graduate' and start to find their feet and get out and about and try doing things for themselves.

Here's another big generalisation coming up: when you're ready to 'graduate' you still want people you touch base with - but you maybe need to be with them less on a day to day basis as you (and they) get on with your own version of 'doing' rather than 'learning'. That's where blogging, from my perspective, seems to work better than forums. I 'expect' other bloggers to be preoccupied with what's going on in their lives. I value the fact that some choose to share those experiences.

It's a bit like going out with a sketchbook on your own for the first time - a bit nerve-wracking to start with, but once done most people don't think twice about doing it for a second time and are then rather keen to get on and start painting plein air!

I think that's what it's like with blogging. Once you've got used to communicating as a blogger it's rather difficult to go back to forums - although I do know some people who manage to be very successful at keeping a foot in both camps.

They both serve a purpose - and I think are part of a 'life cycle' of meeting, learning and doing in which different types of internet communication attract us at different times in our lives and experiences.

The thing is to remain open to the possibilities of value which can be found in all the places that we visit.

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