Google Analytics has been on the website traffic statistics scene for just a little over a year now and looks to be in no danger of fading into obscurity. For many website owners and professional online marketing firms it has become the de facto standard for helping to manage online marketing campaigns. Much of this is due to the depth of data and the ability to cross reference categories of information and really drill down to specifics on the who, what and when of your site’s visitors. When Google Analytics is integrated into a shopping cart based site it can really shine, providing valuable research on what your most popular products are and exactly what dollar amount your average visit from various sources of traffic are worth. But behind the slick interface, fancy charts and tightly zoomed data details the technology this system is built upon offers up some lesser known pros and cons.
For a long time now traffic analytics meant usually one thing, log analysis. Every website has a raw log file that records each request to the server, such as a page or image. This log file will record this information regardless if it’s an actual site visitor collecting this data or one of the hundreds of thousands of automated software, or bots, scouring the web for information for both helpful (search engine crawlers) and hurtful reasons (address collectors for junk email). Sifting through this data to separate the real traffic from the junk makes the data gleaned fairly useful for trends and patterns, though true specific numbers are hard to come by without some level of inaccuracy. If you have a site that utilizes programming to serve images or other files, the numbers can be further skewed. While many software packages have been offered to do some of the heavy lifting, there is still usually some amount of manual filtering and analysis needed to get useful information for online marketing efforts.
From the standpoint of maintaining complete oversight and statistical references for your site, it would be wise to be sure to have in place both a log analysis system and something that gives a richer more true detail such as Google Analytics. While the majority of your time should be spent researching your real visitors’ behavior and working to meet their expectations and needs with your internet marketing effort, it’s important to have the tools to get further under the hood and troubleshoot when the need arises.