Measuring True Website Traffic
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
When it comes to measuring the success of your website, it is tempting to look for the biggest number – the page view count. This is a total of all the views the pages across your website have received, and if it’s a high number, it indicates that your website is doing well and becoming popular, right?
Not exactly. Counting page views is highly misleading because really you have no way of knowing whether those page views came from a hundred people clicking ten pages each or a thousand people clicking one page each. Even if you could tell the difference, which would be better for your site? Fortunately, Google Analytics provides you with more solid numbers that help you not only determine your real traffic count but the quality of that traffic too. These statistics are represented as Unique Visitors, Return Visitors and New Visitors.
The main way Analytics assesses traffic is through the count of Unique Visitors. Each time someone visits your website, a cookie is stored in their browser that marks their use of the site as a single event, not multiple page views. This cookie lasts for two years, meaning any visits from that person during that time are not measured as unique. A second cookie is used to measure individual visits from the user, and this one expires every 30 minutes. It also measures how long they stayed on the site, giving you a good idea as to whether or not your website is engaging.
Although doing things this way will produce a lower number than if you were to just measure page views, the data is far more accurate and practical. If that visitor returns within the two years of the cookie, they will count as a Return Visitor, whereas when they arrive at your site for the first time, they will be counted as a New Visitor. This way you learn about the real, human users of your website, and the data teaches you about the true usage patterns of your site. Of course, counting page views is still useful as it gives you insight into how long users are staying engaged with your website for, and whether the initial foot traffic is converting to interest and sales.
There are also some shortfalls with the cookies method – some users will have cookies turned off, and if they use two browsers then it will count as two separate visitors. By and large however, these are just the natural fluctuations you can expect with any data gathering. Overall, it is important to regularly review your site traffic totals to develop a more realistic picture of how well your website is performing.
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