The growth of the Internet and related technologies has made web analytics an important tool for developing and refining web sites. Several methods are used when analyzing websites, including on-site tools such as visitor counters and off-site techniques that attempt to measure the popularity of a site based on external data. These methods are used by website owners to improve their sites and make them more user-friendly. Advertisers also use this data to help them determine where to best spend their marketing budget.
Visitor counters were one of the earliest methods of analyzing websites and remain an important tool in 2011 for website owners who are interested in user traffic. This type of data can usually be tracked on a statistics page generated by a web-hosting service. Many web-hosting services also will discriminate between returning users and the number of unique visitors. In many cases, this data also will indicate how long a user spent browsing a website and record the pages he viewed during his visit. Website owners can use these statistics to track the popularity of certain pages and see what types of changes help improve traffic flow to the site.
Another on-site method used for analyzing websites is the user survey. Many website owners use surveys to get valuable demographic data and general feedback from users. This type of data can be very useful when approaching advertisers, particularly if the website serves a profitable demographic. These surveys also can help website owners get user input on changes to the design and what users would like to see on the site in the future. Surveys should be used sparingly, because they can annoy users who are constantly being bombarded with requests.
Off-site analytics typically require more research and may be less reliable than other statistics. Analyzing websites with these techniques usually involves gauging the potential audience for a site and tracking references to it on social networks, blogs and other kinds of sites. Some of this data can be tabulated through certain search engine tools and from the social networks themselves. Larger websites may pay for this data and hire extra employees to help track the popularity of the site.
Smaller websites should start out by using the free data available to them from their hosting service and free search engine tools. As the website grows, it may hire employees to perform this service or contract with an outside firm that specializes in analyzing websites. These kinds of specialists can help improve a site’s popularity and make it more attractive for advertising.