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Tracking and Analytics 101

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Tracking and analytics are the next stage of the SEM (define) learning cycle. You have your keywords, ads, and landing pages. Thanks to Chris Boggs, you know how to rewrite your URLs.

Next to be added to the mix is Web site analytics, where tracking code on your site differentiates sources of traffic and visitor behavior. All future decisions are made based on analytics. Today, we'll just focus on the terminology.

The lack of uniform analytics definitions creates problems for marketers. For precise definitions and standards, you can download the Web Analytics Association definitions. Here are my definitions to get you started:

Page Views: The number of pages viewed is the basis of analytics and site traffic. At best, page views are a rough measurement. They're the building blocks of analytics. Click backs and refreshed pages get double counted, while partial page loads can be counted differently. They need to be factored in to make statistics accurate.

Unique Page Views: A filtered view based on the number of pages a visitor views without the duplication of double visits to various pages. Duplicated visits can be examined with another view for visitor pathing. Whether a unique should be defined as unique to a session or some other time frame is subject to interpretation.

Frequently Visited Pages: The popularity and number of pages can show what content brings in long tail traffic and other insightful facts.

Visitors: The start of all in-depth analytics. Visitors are customers and users of your services in whatever capacity they come in. Visitors can be associated with so many factors -- but most importantly they're the ones that take action. A standard of their measurement should be established. Without a cookie or information about the visitor's IP address, the accuracy of this number varies greatly.

Unique Visitors: Similar to page views (separated by a time frame), a unique visitor is generally one who's visited once during a day, week, or month. The length of time can be segmented by many analytics programs -- exactly how is the issue.

Page Views Per Visit: This metric reflects the stickiness of a site -- or would if measured the same way by all analytics programs. For sites that earn income from CPM (define) ads, the sources of traffic that provide more inquisitive users is important. Tools should agree on how this element is measured.

Time Per Visit: This is self explanatory -- and should be based on the length of the session.

Geographic Location: Technology allows programs to filter where a visitor has come from by using the IP address. This is another inaccurate system given shared IP addresses. AOL, for example, shares its IP address across many geographic locations. The good news: this is becoming more precise as time progresses.

Referring URL: Where traffic comes from -- a search engine, an advertisement on a content site, a blog, or online forum -- can send traffic your way. Referring URLs show whether a person used the organic or paid link on a SERP (define). They can also be used to find sites that send you traffic and to start developing relationships with those who like what you're doing.

On Page Links Clicked: Some programs track what links a visitor clicks on your pages. By seeing what's popular, you can add relevant content or new pages to improve the site's traffic.

Anchor Text of Referring Links: Since we generally don't control this one, the ability to know what terms your site is being referred by is important in advanced SEO (define) and general site development. Not all systems offer this feature, but it's one to keep in mind.

Click Through Rate: The number of clicks divided by the number of impressions, or how many times an ad is served. This seems to be a standard definition.

Cost Per Acquisition: How this one is measured has a lot of ambiguity, not only to the analytics programs, but to Web site owners in general. Many times the thing being evaluated to provide the cost misses many actions that have value but aren't specifically counted. With the ability to wipe cookies and many tracking programs overwriting where a visitor originates from, it's hard at times to be specific or standard on this important measurement.

Many more elements are used in analytics. A good grasp of the fundamentals can help you develop a method for evaluating visitors actions and how to improve your site's ability to convert.

Chris Boggs Fires Back

Chris Boggs: Frank, once again great job. It's really hard to find areas that you missed, but maybe the forum visitors will be less forgiving. Web analytics is the single greatest ally of the search marketer (with the possible exception of an unlimited budget). In order to understand this important specialty, you need a solid understanding of the terminology.

I want to drive home one particular topic: referring URLs are important from an SEO perspective because they can help you identify incoming links. If the links could be further optimized with keyword-rich anchor text, they become even more valuable.

Keep in mind that the IAB is working on ways to actually measure a standard "click," let alone a page view. Many analytics packages measure things slightly differently. If you're using multiple systems to track traffic, it's normal for the numbers not to match up.

Join us for SES London February 19-21 and for training classes on February 22.


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