Web Analytics’s Dirty Little Secrets

If only Web-analytics software worked as advertised. Before you buy a service, here are five things you should consider.
John XenakisFebruary 21, 2001

During the sales process, Web-analytics suppliers rarely mention some common problems and pitfalls, according to Guy Creese, an analyst with The Aberdeen Group. Here are some of them:

  • Data collection perfection is unattainable. The Internet was not designed with auditing of end-user behavior in mind. Different technologies gather different views of the user’s behavior. Enterprises that depend on only one of these technologies are seeing no more than a partial view of Web-site behavior, yet getting a “total” view can be expensive or impossible.
  • Page views and Web-site visits must be defined. Individual Web pages can be very complex, using multiple frames, tables, and graphics, some of which are shared between pages. Collecting raw data about the elements a user has downloaded to her browser is one thing, but the enterprise’s business analysts have to decide which of the elements have to be combined to form a true page view or Web-site visit.
  • Understanding the visitor’s journey is key. Enterprises have a functional view of their Web site — One group of pages goes under “products and services,” while another set belongs under “partners.” However, this view clashes with the process orientation of visitors who are browsing, buying or complaining, involving several functional areas. The key to understanding visitor behavior is to study visitors’ journeys across the Web site rather than simply count the waypoints.
  • Affiliated business processes are not always easy to implement. Enterprises typically underestimate the amount of work required to integrate Web analytics into business processes, just as they initially underestimated the work it takes to maintain a Web site. For example, an enterprise must agree on the amount of information it will gather. Enterprises that track too much risk antagonizing privacy watchdog groups. If they track too little, the corporation won’t understand its customers.
  • Beware of corporate politics. Web analytics systems initially tracked activities of particular interest to IT managers concerned with predicting Web-site growth. But with the shift toward business metrics, marketing managers who are currently excluded from seeing the data should now have access to it.

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