Most people are introduced to web analytics by the ever-popular hit counter, a simple bit of code that counts and displays the number of visits to a web page. More sophisticated web analytics track the number of unique IP addresses visiting a site, count views for every page, break down results based on hour and day, show which countries the visitors are from, what browsers and operating systems they are using, and which links or search engine terms they used to find the site. One of the most popular web analytics services is AW Stats, which is available for free with most hosts.
Web analytics are important to anyone who cares about who visits their site and how they got there. Traffic can make or break the success of an online business or venture. Smart site owners write pages that are rich in relevant keywords and score well for Google searches on related topics. If you look at the articles on this site carefully, you'll notice that relevant keywords are intentionally repeated frequently in the text. A keyword for this article is the term "web analytics".
Google joined the web analytics scene in late 2005 with Google Analytics. The service is integrated with AdWords, which are the little advertisements you sometimes see on the right side of the browser screen when you search for a popular keyword. Because a site must pay Google for each clickthrough from an AdWord ad, it is important to make sure that each clickthrough is as beneficial as possible to the owner of the site.
Site owners want visitors that stay at their site for a decent length of time, visit several pages, and add the site to their favorite links list for revisiting. Web analytics help webmasters target such users. More advanced forms of web analytic tools can gather stats about streaming video watching and RSS feeds, create various scatterplots about visitor data, and perform other sophisticated functions.