Analytics: The Legal Way to Stalk Someone

Website owners: Want to get inside your visitors’ heads?

No, not with that little jingle you’ve cooked up. You don’t want them to hate you, right? We’re talking about finding out what they think, why they visited your site, where they come from, how often they come back, and more. Your web hosting provider already collects a wealth of this information on its servers, and much more can be had by applying one of the available low-cost or no-cost analytics services.

Why Analytics?

There are lots of things you can learn—and act upon—from web analytics, from basic user statistics to the effectiveness of your search engine optimization (SEO). Here are some highlights:

  • User profiles: What countries your users are from, what browsers they use, what platforms they are on (Windows, iOS, Android, and so on), what they clicked on to get to your site, what pages they look at, how long they stay, and more.
  • SEO effectiveness: What search terms visitors use to find your site and where your site ranks against other sites for those search terms.
  • Sponsored search performance: If you pay search engines to appear in their search results, you can get all kinds of information about the effectiveness of your campaigns.
  • Offline marketing effectiveness: You can also gauge the effectiveness of print and broadcast advertising campaigns by measuring the response of visitors to your site. Because all of these metrics are captured over time, you can perform trend analysis to see how these measurements change over weeks, months, or years.

How can you use this information? Some options:

  • If a high percentage of your visitors are using mobile devices, consider optimizing your site for mobile.
  • If you have a large number of visitors from a particular foreign country, you can think about ways to cater to those visitors, such as supporting multiple languages.
  • If you aren’t getting the search results rankings you’d like, you can tweak your SEO strategy or consider going to sponsored search. If you’re already doing sponsored search, you can gauge the clickthrough rates and whether you’re getting your money’s worth.
  • If you have an e-commerce site, you can directly correlate any of these statistics to conversions.

Popular Analytics Services

There are a number of analytics services available for every budget. Many services follow the “freemium” model—basic features are available at no cost, with more advanced features available for a one-time charge or subscription fee. Here are some of the popular services that are available:

  • Log file analysis software: This is software that reads and summarizes the log file on your web server. Usually a one-time purchase (free/open-source titles are available as well), this can be a good, cheap source of basic user profile statistics, but it is limited to the data your web server’s log file collects. Because browsers commonly cache frequently-visited web pages, the numbers may not be entirely accurate because not every page view actually hits your web server. Commonly-used tiles include Splunk and Deep Log Analyzer.
  • Visitor analysis services: These services are usually hosted on third-party servers. You add a few lines of code (typically JavaScript) to your web pages; when visitors view your site, the page sends information about your visitors to the third-party server—typically a richer set of data than is captured by your web server’s log file. You can view and download a wide range of reports to gain insight into your visitors’ behavior on your site. Popular services include StatCounter and Site Meter.
  • Advanced services: More advanced services can give you insights on your SEO strategy, sponsored search performance, and more. The big names here include Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics.

In general, web analytics are simple to implement and easy to use, and you can learn a lot about your site and its visitors. You might learn, for example, that they hate annoying jingles. On second thought, you probably don’t need fancy analytics to figure that one out.