What is Web Analytics?

When I tell people I am a Web Analyst by trade I often either get blank stares, or questions like “oh so you build web sites?” or “so you help sites get more traffic?”. Web Analytics is still such a new field, although the practice has been around since the first counter was put on a web site.

Web Analytics started out with web site owners simply wanting to know how many people were “hitting” their site every day. Over time this translated into giving them leverage to sell advertising space (advertisers wanted to be on the sites with the most “hits”). Once we knew how many people were “hitting” a site, that also gave rise to new questions: where are they going once they get to the site? how are they getting there? how long do they spend on the site?

To answer such questions, web site owners turned to the logs that web servers kept of user traffic. This data was able to answer a lot of the early questions about what people were doing, and for how long, on a particular web site. However, inevitably, this led again to more questions. The fundamental question was: why? Why are people going to this link instead of that one? Why don’t they use the search? Why do they use the search? What are they searching for?

So of course this lead innovators like the folks at Omniture, HitBox, WebTrends and the rest to come up with tools to help not only understand what visitors were doing on web sites, but to help answer the question of why they were doing it.

With all that said I’d like to offer up the Web Analytics Association’s official definition of Web Analytics:

“Web Analytics is the objective tracking, collection, measurement, reporting, and analysis of quantitative internet data to optimize websites and web marketing initiatives.”

And that, in a nutshell, is Web Analytics.

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