Free web analytics: might as well use them

Jeremiah Owyang had this great twitter posting earlier today about how most of the folks that come to his site earned around $100k or more. How did his quantify that amount? I doubt he went to the owners of each individual IP address that visited his site and did a survey of their personalities to put together these demographics (although he does work for Forrester Research so I wouldn’t put it past him). No, Jeremiah used Quantcast.

What’s Quantcast? Well in my observations, it’s basically another way of tracking people who come to your site. It’ll tell you the average salary/income that people have when they visit your site, gender, age, any affinities they have with respect to brands, ethnicities, and much more. It’s quite a powerful tool in terms of generating psychographic and demographic information, but seems to lack the core web traffic metrics. It would be nice to add this to your site since it’s currently free for people to try out.

And why not add one additional measurement of web traffic to your online presence? Does it really hurt your business? Probably not, but I did discuss in an earlier post about how the actual measurement of web traffic can vary significantly based on which software you’re using. The web traffic that you’re accustomed to receiving from WebTrends won’t necessarily be the same if you’re on Urchin or Google Analytics. Hence is the dilemma that plagues all web metric researchers. How much validity is there when you’re saying that you have 600,000 unique visitors a month when using Urchin, but when you’re using a product like LiveStats, it becomes 800,000? The problem also emerges when you’re shifting hosting providers and the company’s business model dictates a change in web statistics because you feel there are better features and reporting in another software.

So what’s a guy to do? Well first I would say explore all your options. Why not try Google Analytics first? It’s free after all. What? You need MORE reasons why to try it? It’s not going to cost you anything. Sure, if your company’s hosting provider offers a web metrics package, then take a look at it. But one thing to be cautious about when using more than one analytic is whether a combination of programs like WebTrends and Google Analytics will screw up the accuracy of your reporting. I’ve encountered problems where if you apply two Google Analytics tags to the same site, one will get a majority of the traffic reported while a percentage will go to the other traffic. Hence none of traffic was truly accurate. And before you pounce on me for applying two Google Analytic tags, let me be clear: these were for two different campaigns run by different agencies coincidentally at the same time.

But anyways, getting back to my earlier point…why don’t you try out these different web metric tools and get acquainted with what they have to offer? If you find out that Google Analytics offers better reporting on the keywords used to search and you actually want to buy some software, then that feature should be something you should look for. WebTrends obviously has some strengths and so does LiveStats. Urchin, Google Analytics, and now Quantcast are remarkable and powerful tools as well. So remember that you’re not going to find everything that you want, but at least you can get enough to make appropriate web strategic decisions, right?

But don’t get mistaken that you have all this great tools at your disposal. You must also remember one rule: that you’re going to need to provide the information on web activity to your group/team/company. If they’re asking you for reports, you’ll probably need to ask why they’re asking for the reports. Is there some marketing, sales, business reason for it. What will they need the number of page views for? Are they going to do some search marketing soon and that’s why they need the number of referrals from Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask.com? Don’t give out these things just for reporting sake. Give enough to keep your team informed, but not enough that they’ll abuse the reporting just to make it seem nice and pretty.

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."