Pick any group of people. Throw in the phrase Web analytics. 99% of the time, everybody in that group would give you a blank stare that screams, ‘What is this show-off talking about?’ To many, Web analytics is akin to the dark arts of the Internet. However, telling them Web analytics is used to rank websites would likely shine a huge light in their heads. Web ranking is a phrase that many understand.
Ranking websites though is just a tiny part of what is done by Web analytics. Many things are involved in the collection, analysis and reporting of Web data. These are used primarily to understand how online work can be optimized. That is just Web analytics in a nut shell. Though the actual process can be very tedious.
So who cares about Web analytics if 99% of people don’t know what it is even about? The short answer is, Internet marketers and people who own websites especially blogs. For these set of people Alexa is the place to go to check out how well their websites are doing. Another website that deals in Web analytics is Compete. Both Alexa and Compete do basically the same thing. Show you how websites are performing in terms of traffic. But should people really care about how these Web analytics firms operate? Or to be more specific, how much importance should Internet marketers and bloggers attach to the data released by Alexa and Compete?
The best way to answer these questions is to look at how they get their data.
Both companies get most of their primary data by using a toolbar installed on the browsers of Internet users. While Alexa get theirs from Firefox toolbar, Compete went a step further by developing their own toolbar. And that is where questions might be asked about the ethics of how they get their data. By using toolbars installed in browsers, these firms have access to users online activities. For starters, not many users know of the existence of these toolbars in their browsers. And assuming users somehow are aware or the toolbars, how many of them realize that these are used to collect personal data from them. One might argue that the owners of the toolbars use ‘Terms and conditions’ (T&Cs) to spell out clearly what happens when users install the toolbars. But lets be honest here, how many of us read all those lengthy T&Cs which are mostly written in small print to discourage us from reading them? I know I don’t read them.
Another issue is how accurate the data are. The fact is, collecting data from only people using a particular toolbar skews the final conclusion in favor of one group only. What about those who don’t use the same toolbars? What this means is that based on toolbar-usage alone, different Web analytics company would have different results or conclusion about the same sets of parameters. These might encourage some companies to doctor the results into what their clients, mostly marketers, need to see.
So for Web analytics result to be more accurate, companies like Alexa need to expand the sources of their data or else there would always be this niggling feeling that something is not just right about the results. In the final analysis though, the results from Web analytics are still a fair representation of users online habits. And Internet marketers, from indications over the years, must have found the results really useful to their work. If not, a company like Alexa would have closed shop a long time ago. They are still going strong after twenty years.
photo credits: compiac.me; dheerajkumar.com