7 Lies Your Web Stats Tell You

7 Lies Your Web Stats Tell You
By: Cindy Lighter

Your web statistics might not be lying on purpose. They might just give you the wrong impression about what is happening with visitors on your site. Keep the following seven possible lies in mind when you check your web statistics next time.

Web Stats Lie #1 - All Your Visitors Are Being Counted

If you're using more than one web statistics tool, you already know this isn't true. But do you know why?

Each web statistics software package counts visitors in several ways, and each one decides what constitutes a unique visitor differently. For example, some web statistics programs may set a cookie on a visit from what it perceives is a new visitor. This may work well enough, until that person moves to a new computer, or changes their browser. Or they may be using a shared computer, and more than one person at that computer may be visiting your site.

The programs that measure by IP address aren't necessarily superior. An IP address may represent a single user at a single computer, or it may not.

Still, this is just an issue to be aware of, not a reason to abandon all hope. The very best stats program is giving you an estimate at best. A close estimate, but not an absolute number.

Web Stats Lie #2 - Common Terms Have Uniform Meanings

Even if your stats show as many of your visitors as possible, the metrics they measure may not mean the same thing from program to program, or even from report to report.

A common term like page view might mean an entire page has been completely displayed, or it might mean that an invisible graphic has been loaded.

Web Stats Lie #3 - Your Page Views Can All Be Matched to a Person

Not all the times your pages are viewed are necessarily loaded by a person. A common miscounted page would be an RSS feed. It may be fetched once by a popular program, and then redisplayed to several other viewers. Unless the referring site tells you the number of subscribers, you have no way of knowing for sure.

Web Stats Lie #4 - Number of Page Views is of Utmost Importance

At the same time, how many pages are viewed isn't as important as it may seem when you look at your report for the month. For years, the page view was one of the most important items on a web stats report. It's of some importance now, but just because it's still prominently featured on reports doesn't mean it's the main point of focus.

Page views were important because they were attempting to measure how engaged visitors are with your content. Now, with audio, video, web content feeds and other dynamic content that can be accessed from one location, the length of time spent on a site is more important than the page view.

Web Stats Lie #5 - Hits Are Meaningful

This is an old myth that has plagued the internet and allowed many unsuspecting web owners to be duped by companies promising outlandish results.

One of the first things you should learn about website traffic is what a hit is. A hit is a successfully requested file. But your typical web page may yield five hits when it is loaded. How is this possible?

A web page is a file often made up of several other files. The text of your web page might be accompanied by four pictures. Each of those files is counted under the term hit, where page view, or impression entails the entire web page.

In fact, it's possible for hits to be down when page views and uniques are up. If you change the design of your pages to include fewer images, each web page will yield fewer hits.

Next time you look at your web stats, ignore the hits column. It doesn't mean anything significant in terms of traffic, and is truly a relic of the early era of the web.

Web Stats Lie #6 - Only Your High Volume Keywords Are Important

Since you are probably only seeing the top few dozen, few hundred, or few thousand keywords in your reports, you might think that only the keywords that bring the most visitors are of any importance. They're at the top of the list, and the program might not be able to show the lower volume terms.

In some cases, the high volume visitors aren't the ones that bring the most sales. The lower traffic keywords also often pave the way for keywords that yield larger volumes, and can give you clues about what you're likely to rank for in the future.

Web Stats Lie #7 - The Amount of Traffic You Get is All That Matters

Your stats are measuring who came to your site, how long they stayed, what they did, where they came in and how they left. These are all of significance, but of equal importance is the number of those visitors who turn out to be buyers. And there are other aspects of a site's success that stats can hint at, but not necessarily predict.

This isn't to say that the information that web statistics programs give us aren't valuable or don't give us important data. In proper context, the information we get from observing visitor activity is helpful to the point of being essential to monitor.

It just helps to understand what you're reading.
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