Over the past decade I have investigated various methods of measuring online traffic for the different web sites I’ve managed, and no single measurement seems to bear up to scrutiny. In fact, most do a pretty good job of contradicting each other. Google Analytics? Smarter Stats? Nielsen? Hitwise? Alexa? Take your pick, and think of a number.
This problem was highlighted recently with the publication of Internet Advertising Bureau’s report (1) showing that online ad spending in Australia has just topped the $2bn mark (doubling over the past 4 years). Another recent report(2) predicted internet advertising will nearly double again over the next 4 years to leapfrog newspapers and TV to become the number one advertising medium in Australia.
The $2bn breaks down roughly to half in search/directories (so, mainly Google Adwords), a quarter in online classifieds (mainly real estate, cars and jobs) with the rest spent on general online display ads (skyscraper banners and the like).
The reports bemoaned the fact that although you could measure dollars spent on online advertising, measuring traffic to & from the ads was a guesstimate at best.
With this growing dominance of internet advertising, it would seem important that we can actually measure the precise number of visitors visit our web sites (and to which pages), something the internet was supposed to deliver. All businesses, even the smallest real estate agency office, should know how many people are coming to its online shop window.
Every time a web visitor clicks onto a web site, their visit should be recorded in the log files on the server (unless there’s some serious caching going on). Server-installed software (such as ‘Smarter Stats’) can interpret these and draw some pretty charts in real time, and send you daily/weekly reports by email so you can keep an eye on things.
Alternatively (and maybe additionally as a double check) install Google Analytics code into your web site code, and let Google measure the traffic, as most people do. And/or for those with high traffic sites wanting third party advertising dollars, Nielsen tags are supposed to do the same thing. Or sign up to Hitwise.
For those that can only really afford Google Analytics (it’s free to install), you may have checked the click thrus from, say, your enewsletter to the referrals from the same enewsletter to your web site (as measured by Analytics).
Or those that have paid for advertising on Google Adwords, or other places, may have tried to compare the reported click thrus with the referral traffic measured in the other direction. Shouldn’t every link one way be equal to the referral click measured the other way?
Of course none of these measurements tally up. Nothing like. I find variance by a factor of 2 or 3 times on all the above.
So who’s right? Are they all wrong? I’ve asked many online marketers and ebusiness people and no one seems to have the answer.
1. IAB Australia’s Online Advertising Expenditure Report, compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Aug 2010
2. “Internet Advertising set to Dominate”, Lara Sinclair, The Australian, 2nd Aug 2010
Photo – Gizmodo (Google StreetView guys)