Measuring and Qualifying Website Traffic
Every webmaster's goal is to increase traffic to his or her website, i.e. increase the number of visits everyday. Therefore, it is essential to have indicators that, on the one hand, facilitate the measurement of how website traffic is evolving (which is called both "audience monitoring" and "website metering") and, on the other hand, identify the audience in order to provide content that is closer to what the website's visitors want.
Generally there are thought to be two types of studies:
- Site-Centric Measurement
- User-Centric Measurement, performed mostly with a panel of users
Measuring and defining a website's traffic are two methods for measuring a website's effectiveness in order to permanently improve its quality.
How to Measure a Website's Traffic
There are three solutions for measuring a website's traffic:
- Exploiting the web server's logs (log files) by using a specific tool. This involves choosing a tool capable of analysing web server log files and creating a control panel containing the website's main traffic indicators
- Developing an ad-hoc statistics system. It is possible on a website to store visitor information each time a visitor loads a page in order to use that information at a later date. For websites with high traffic flow, this type of mechanism can cause the processor to become heavily loaded and the disk space to be more full, especially if the collected data are stored in a database management system
- Using a "traffic measurement" service. This system consists of inserting a "marker or "tag" on each page so that the traffic measuring service can collect the data on a server. The advantage of this type of service is that it conserves material resources because all of the processing is done on a remote server. What is more, the company offering this service is responsible for upgrading the indicators and control panels so as to be constantly in sync with the evolution of Internet access technology and web browsers. However, the statistics gathered this way will not necessarily be exhaustive because:
- some users stop loading pages before the tag code is downloaded
- intermediate proxy servers are likely to impede the page from loading
- security infrastructures and firewalls in particular can block information from being uploaded
The terminology of website statistics and traffic indicators is relatively complex and often varies from one tool to another. But when they are used in comparative and marketing research, traffic indicators only make sense when the terms being used correspond to a common comparative base ("you don't compare cabbage and carrots"). It is particularly important to master the definition of each one of the indicators.
Thus, the goal here is to make sense of the different terms used in the area of traffic measurement. Most of the indicators defined below stem from projects carried out by the French organization CESP (Centre d'étude des supports de la publicité, or the Advertising Medium Research Centre).
A "page view" is when a page is completely loaded after the user performs an action (e.g. a click) on the page.
The "page view" concept is vague because it depends highly on each website's architecture. Thus, a page containing frames runs the risk of not being counted in the same way that a simple webpage is.
A session is the period of time that corresponds to the uninterrupted browsing of a website. Any period of inactivity of over 30 minutes is considered an interruption.
A visit is defined as browsing a website during a session, no matter how many pages are browsed.
A visit is qualified by a period of time (day, week, month). Thus, there are daily, weekly and monthly visits. The number of visits indicates the number of workstations that access a website over a given period of time.
A "visiteur" is an individual. Thus, the "number of visitors" is the number of individual who went to a website over a given period of time.