Collecting sitevisitor activity data

Site-visitor activity data captured in web analytics systems records the number of visitors on the site and the paths or clickstreams they take through the site as they visit different content. There are a wide variety of technical terms to describe this activity data which Internet marketers need to be conversant with.

Traditionally this information has been collected using log file analysis web analytics tools. The server-based log file is added to every time a user downloads a piece of information (a hit) and is analysed using a log file analyser as illustrated by Figure 1.14. Examples of transactions within a log file are:

www.davechaffey.com - [05/0ct/2006:00:00:49 -000] 'GET /index.html HTTP/1.0' 200 33362 www.davechaffey.com - [05/0ct/2006:00:00:49 -000] 'GET /logo.gif HTTP/1.0' 200 54342

Despite their wide use in the media, hits are not a useful measure of web site effectiveness since if a page consists of 10 graphics, plus text, this is recorded as 11 hits. Page impressions or page views and unique visitors are better measures of site activity. Auditing companies such as ABC electronic (www.abce.ora.uk). which audit sites for the purpose of proving the number of visitors to a site to advertisers, use unique visitors and page impression as the main measures.

Hits

= All files downloaded

e.g.

= 4,000,000

Page views

= 'Impressions viewed

e.g.

Visitor sessions

= Visits

e.g.

Visitors

= Unique visitors

e.g.

= 60,000

Figure 9.5 Examples of different measures of visitor volume to a web site

An example of visitor volume to a web site using different measures based on real, representative data for one month is presented in Figure 9.5. You can see how hits are much higher than page views and unique visitors and are quite misleading in terms of the 'opportunities to see' a message. We can also learn from the ratio between some of these measures - the figure indicates:

• Pages per visit (PPV) - the average number of pages viewed per visitor to a site (this is indicative of engagement with a site since the longer a visitor stays on a 'sticky site', the higher this value will be). PPV is a more accurate indication of stickiness than duration on a site in minutes since this figure is skewed upwards by visitors who arrive on a site and are inactive before their session times out at 30 minutes.

• Visits per (unique) visitor (VPV) - this suggests the frequency of site visits. Readers will realise that this value is dependent on the period that data are collected over. These data are reported for a month during which time one would not expect many returning visitors. So it is often more relevant to present these data across a quarter or a year.

Other information giving detailed knowledge of customer behaviour that can be reported by any web analytics package include:

• path or clickstream analysis showing the sequence of pages viewed;

• country of visitor origin (actually dependent on the location of their ISP);

• browser and operating system used;

• referring URL and domain (where the visitor came from).

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