Do you know how many people visited your site? You do? According to who?

I’ve always known that there is a difference between web analytic software. Whether you’re using WebTrends, HitWise, Coremetrics, Omniture, Google Analytics, or even LiveStats, there are definitely differences in how things are measured. But it’s surprising HOW much of a difference there is. Why am I blogging about this? We’ve been using LiveStats for the past few years and frankly I’m tired of it. It doesn’t give us a modern up-to-date approach to how we want to view our metrics. So I jumped on the bandwagon and signed up for Google Analytics. And like a good web manager, I added the tracking tag to practically every page I could get my hands on. It was a hard and long effort, but ultimately I succeeded and now the reporting is coming in…much to my delight.

But there’s more to the story. I’ve been rather infatuated in looking at Google Analytics and see the nice numbers, but it’s really hard to look at them and think that the numbers mean something…when they don’t. I don’t have anything to base them on. So I logged back into LiveStats after a short hiatus and looked at the monthly reports. I’ve been using LiveStats over the past year to find out the trends in our site visitation so I was a little besides myself when I compared the results in LiveStats to that of Google Analytics (GA). GA had the number of unique pageviews (which I figured equate to unique visits) lower than LiveStats…but it was higher at one point, until I realized that I had to exclude the HTML pages that weren’t a part of the main site and then I got it on a level playing field.

With our upcoming redesign project nearing completion along with a new hosting provider, I’ve come to look at what’ll happen when we launch the new site with a new web analytics only to find out that perhaps the big drop in visitation doesn’t occur from people not visiting, but rather because of the way our new software calculates the visits. It’ll be an interesting experiment nevertheless. So I did what any other folks would do and googled to see what other folks had observed. I came across this article written by Jim Sterne published online in August 2007.

What did Jim Sterne do? He looked at several popular web analytic software to compare how different their calculations really are. It’s surprising how the numbers are when you see the results. He looked at the following software packages:

  • Clicktrack
  • WebTrends
  • Omniture
  • Google Analytics
  • IndexTools
  • Unica Net Insight
  • WebSideStory HBX Analytics

Here’s some of the data that they tested when they looked at and ran all the software at the same time period: Analytics Data – Final Report Data Visitors Uniques Page Views
Clicktracks 663,803 609,511 1,071,589
Google Analytics 603,619 586,580 1,045,327
IndexTools 638,602 618,376 1,138,659
Unica Net Insight 627,072 614,512 1,062,493
Visual Sciences HBX Analytics 525,038 513,020 922,692
Average 611,627 588,400 1,048,152

There’s MUCH more to the report and you can gaze at the differences in each tool. But I think the statement that’s in the report states it quite clearly:

As Jim Sterne is fond of saying, if your yardstick measures 39 inches instead of 36 inches, it’s still great to have a measurement tool. The 39 inch yardstick will still help you measure changes with a great deal of accuracy. So if tomorrow your 39 inch yardstick tells you that you are at 1 yard and 1 inch (i.e., 40 inches), you know you have made some progress.

So I’m thinking that while your folks in higher management may be upset when they see that your web analytics isn’t 10,000 higher than what it was before, you can explain that it’s basically a way for web analytics to calculate. Until there is a consistent and uniform agreement on how to evaluate the visitation to a site, I think we’re all going to have to sit there and bear the brunt. Or, you can be like Jim Sterne and purchase all the web analytics, install them onto your server, and run them all and pick the highest numbers for your reports. Sounds like a plan?

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently Flipboard's Assistant Managing Editor, overseeing news curation in technology, science, gaming and health. In addition to his day job, Ken's the co-host of "The Created Economy" podcast, examining the Creator Economy. In a past life, he was a former reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding.