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Web Site Measurement Hacks
By Eric T. Peterson
August 2005
More Info

How do these hacks stand up? Comment on a hack from the book by choosing the associated "Discuss" link below. You can also view the code from any of the hacks by clicking on the "Listing" or "Code" links. A number of hacks have been selected to be featured online in their entirety; you may view those hacks by clicking on the hack titles that are linked.

Jump to: Web Measurement Basics  | Implementation and Setup  | Online Marketing Measurement  | Measuring Web Site Usability  | Technographics and "Demographics"  | Web Measurement and the Online Retail Model  | Reporting Strategies and Key Performance Indicators

Web Measurement Basics

HACK
#1

Talk the Talk
Learning how to talk the web measurement talk is the first step in really taking advantage of the data, especially if your hope is to someday become a professional "web data analyst
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#2

Best Practices for Web Measurement
To truly be successful with your online business, you need to treat web measurement as a business practice and be willing to invest time, effort, and money as necessary
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#3

Select the Right Vendor
One of the most important decisions you will make in web measurement is which vendor you're going to work with, keeping in mind that some are better than others but there is no one "best" vendor for every company's needs
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#4

Staff for Web Measurement Success
Selecting the right vendor is only half the battle in successfully building a web measurement program for your company. You should also be thinking about dedicating resources to manage, maintain, and evangelize the data throughout your company
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#5

Get to Know Your Visitors
Knowing that you have three totally different kinds of unique visitors coming to your web site can save you time, money, and headaches
[Discuss (1) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#6

Understand Common Data Sources
Before you get started analyzing, determine where the data will be coming from
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#7

Understand Visitor Intent
Despite the great body of knowledge that web measurement applications help you collect and organize, the intent of visitors when they come to your web site is nearly always part of the "great unknown" online. By recognizing this, you can often improve your overall understanding of the metrics, improving their value and use
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#8

Know When to Use Packet Sniffing
Network data collectors, or "packet sniffers," create an alternative data source that has a handful of benefits, provided that you maintain their upkeep
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#9

Write a Useful Web Measurement Request for Proposal (RFP)
Business people love to create complex RFPs when they're making a purchase decision. Here's why this is a bad idea and what to do about it
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#10

Find a Free or Cheap Web Measurement Solution
Free or inexpensive packaged solutions are a great place to get your feet wet with web site measurement
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#11

Use Analog to Process Logfiles
Analog is purportedly the most popular web server logfile analyzer in the world. If you're just getting your feet wet in web measurement, you might want to give it a quick try
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#12

Build Your Own Web Measurement Application: An Overview and Data Collection
If you've got passable Perl skills and the desire to control your own destiny, you can use our code and build a simple page-tag analyzer
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#13

Build Your Own RSS Tracking Application: An Overview and Data Collection
Content syndication via RSS and XML and blogging are extremely hot topics, but there are few tools available to track people reading and interacting with your content and articles. With a little bit of Perl knowledge, you can use our "build your own" hack to write a bare-bones RSS traffic analyzer
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Implementation and Setup

HACK
#14

Optimize the Implementation Process
Implementation is over half the battle in web measurement, so you want to make sure you do it right
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#15

Improve Data Accuracy with Cookies
Cookies are a fundamental component in any web measurement solution and they come in several flavors. Because of the explosion in use of anti-spyware applications, you need to understand how cookies are commonly used and make an active decision about how they'll be used on your site
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#16

Know When to Use First-Party Cookies
As consumers become more sensitive to potential invasions of their privacy, many are moving to limit your access to information about them via the use of cookies. Here's how to know when to use first-party cookies and what effect their use will have on your analysis
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#17

Alternatives to Cookies
While cookies are the most widely used means to identify unique visitors, they are by no means perfect, and a handful of worthy alternatives exist
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#18

Use Macromedia Flash Local Shared Objects Instead of Cookies
Leverage the ubiquity of Macromedia's Flash and Local Shared Objects instead of cookies
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#19

Fine-Tune Your Data Collection
One of the most important steps during implementation is fine-tuning your data collection to suit your specific needs
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#20

Define Useful Page Names and Content Groups
Make sure that everyone in your organization can decipher your page and content group names
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#21

Understand Where Data Gets Lost
In web measurement, there are a number of ways that data can be lost. By understanding these sources of loss, you can work to minimize their likelihood
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#22

Deconstruct Web Server Logfiles
The history of web site measurement is, for the most part, the history of web server logfiles. Understanding the data logfiles provide and their limitations will help you better plan for their use
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#23

Exclude Robots and Spiders from Your Analysis
One of the major complaints about web server logfiles is that they are often littered with activity from nonhuman user agents ("robots" and "spiders"). While they are not necessarily bad, you need to exclude robots and spiders from your "human" analysis or risk getting dramatically skewed results
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#24

Bust the Cache for Accuracy
Measurement solutions based on web server logfiles suffer from a variety of factors that decrease their accuracy. Caching devices are the primary culprits but, in some cases, the cache can be beaten and accuracy improved
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#25

Use Query Strings Effectively
The query string (the stuff after the "?" in a URL) is a powerful tool for web measurement and data collection
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#26

Web Measurement and Visitor Privacy
The relationship between web measurement and visitor privacy is complex due to the extensive use of cookies, making it essential that you both understand the issues and establish a robust privacy policy that describes your use of cookies for measurement
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#27

Establish a P3P Privacy Policy
The convergence of privacy concerns and widespread use of cookies necessitates a published commitment to privacy on your part. The Platform for Privacy Preferences provides an easy way to let your visitors know what data you're collecting and how you plan on using it
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#28

Deconstruct JavaScript Page Tags
Page tagging and the hosted data collection model are relatively new, but becoming more popular. Learn how JavaScript page tags work and make better decisions about deploying them on your site.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#29

Understand Web Bugs
A very important aspect of JavaScript page tagging is the use of a small image request to send information to the data collection device. Often referred to as a "web bug" or "web beacon," these images are usually one-by-one pixel image requests designed to carry data from place to place.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#30

Hack the JavaScript Document Object Model
Understand how the JavaScript Document Object Model is used by many, if not all, tag-based web measurement solutions.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#31

Use Custom Variables Wisely
Use of custom variables to track data most relevant to your business, generating a more complete view of the visitor in the process.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#32

Best Practices for Data Integration
Many companies, as they get more experience with web measurement, seek to integrate external data in an attempt to create a unified marketing interface.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#33

Measure Your Intranet or Extranet
Companies collectively spend billions annually on intranet and extranet projects but often fail to take the extra step in justifying the expenditure and ensuring that employees and business partners are actually using available tools.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#34

Measure Your Mistakes
One of the historical uses for web measurement tools that retain value is the ability to identify and diagnose error messages that your visitors may be seeing.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#35

Build Your Own Web Measurement Application: The Core Code
One thing that every web measurement application needs to deal with, regardless of price or sophistication, is stitching together multiple page views into a visit and assigning that visit to a unique visitor.
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#36

Build Your Own RSS Tracking Application: The Core Code and Reporting
Syndicating content via RSS is similar to, but not the same as, building normal web pages. Because of this, the parsing of information collected is very similar to our "build your own" web measurement application, using a similar architecture. However, because RSS is designed to be presented in any number of applications and environments, the reporting is slightly different (but no less interesting)
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Online Marketing Measurement

HACK
#37

Understand Marketing Terminology
Online marketers have their own language and lingo, always asking about your "CPA" and the "CPC" for a campaign
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#38

Identify Your Business Objectives
To provide real business value, you must first know what to measure and why
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#39

Define Conversion Events
Measuring conversion events and conversion rates is one of the most popular uses of web measurement tools
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#40

Measure Banner Advertising
Knowing the impressions, response, success, and cost for each of your banner advertising campaigns can significantly improve the return on investment associated with this popular form of advertising
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#41

Measure Email Marketing
Email marketing is among the most popular methods for customer acquisition and retention, and a key factor driving conversion for many companies. Fortunately for you, email provides a plethora of interesting, easily measured data
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#42

Measure Paid Search Engine Marketing
Paid search marketing is one of the most popular marketing acquisition strategies in recent years, primarily because its effects are so easily measured. Taking the time to understand the "what" and "how" of search marketing can dramatically improve your return on investment for search keywords
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#43

Measure Organic Search
Many people think that organic or natural search results are impossible to track. Fortunately, if you're careful with how you set up your paid search marketing, you often get organic search tracking for free
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#44

Contrast Paid Keywords Versus Actual Search Queries
One of the best kept secrets in paid search marketing is that you can save huge amounts of money simply by examining your paid search keywords in contrast to the actual search queries that visitors entered triggering your keyword advertisement
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#45

Measure Affiliate Marketing
Many online marketers take advantage of affiliates and affiliate programs to drive traffic to their sites without considering everything that can be measured
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#46

Use Unique Landing Pages
Many marketers make one critical mistake when attempting to lure visitors to their web sites—they use specific language, offers, and messages to drive visitors to the most generic landing page of all: the site's home page. The use of unique landing pages, while slightly more difficult to maintain, can dramatically improve key performance indicators like stickiness and conversion rates
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#47

Measure Content Syndicated via RSS
An emerging frontier in web measurement is the ability to track weblog readership, referrals, and link out clicks. No known vendors support weblog measurement directly, but this surprisingly simple hack will show you how to do it yourself
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#48

Segment Visitors to Understand Specific Group Activity
Web visitors are complex creatures, and each has slightly different behaviors and goals. Visitor segmentation is a popular strategy to differentiate these groups and develop a deeper understanding of your audience
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#49

Measure Conversion Through Multiple Goals
A particularly advanced use of your web measurement application is tracking visitors as they convert on multiple goals through your site. While easy to say, it can be much harder to do successfully unless you're careful in how you set up your conversion tracking
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#50

Leverage Referring Domains and URLs
Knowing how visitors found you is as or more important than knowing what they do on your web site. Referring URLs are (usually) the source of this type of information
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#51

Calculate Click-to-Visit Drop-off
Some advertising systems may report far more clicks than ever reach your web site, a frustrating proposition for anyone paying for clicks. Learn where those clicks might be going and how to bring them back
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#52

Create Visitor Loyalty Segments
Merely watching your percentage of returning visitors rise and fall is not enough to understand visitor loyalty. You need to segment your visitors in profitable ways to truly understand and identify opportunity
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#53

Build Your Own Web Measurement Application: Marketing Data
At this point, we're sure you're itching to generate some real, useful data with your "build your own" application. In this hack, we attack common marketing measurements, including number of visits, page views per visit, referrers, search terms, and entry pages
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Measuring Web Site Usability

HACK
#54

Measure the Value of Pages and Clicks
Assigning value to your web pages and links will help you determine critical visitor paths to success.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#55

Measuring Clicks the Old-Fashioned Way
If your particular web measurement application doesn't provide you the ability to measure which links your visitors are clicking, use this simple JavaScript hack to track them yourself.
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#56

Use Language to Drive Action
The use of language on your web site is a critical usability element, one that has a tremendous amount of control over whether or not your visitors are satisfied.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#57

Deconstruct Time Spent on Site
Your measurement of time spent on site and on pages is one you may end up struggling with from time to time. Still, knowing how much time visitors spend browsing information on your site can help you begin to understand some of the most common usability issues all sites face.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#58

Use the Entry, Exit, and Single-Access Page Report
When you boil it down, your ability to understand visitor interaction with individual pages is one of the most important things you'll do with your web measurement application. Knowing where visitors enter and exit your site, and which pages are least engaging, is fundamental to this knowledge.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#59

Measure Multi-Step Processes
Reducing abandonment through multi-step processes is a tried and true method for making your investment in web measurement pay off.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#60

Measure Usability in the Checkout Process
For online retailers, one of the single greatest opportunities for improvement exists in the checkout or purchase process. Exploring the usability in this part of your site using web measurement often provides significant return on the time invested.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#61

Measure "Internal Campaigns"
Don't forget about your internal campaigns—efforts to up-sell and cross-sell your visitors on other products, solutions, or ideas—which are also easily tracked using your web measurement solution.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#62

Use Browser Overlays
Browser overlay applications have rapidly become a popular tool for sharing web measurement data outside of analysis teams and exploring data using more natural visual models. There are a handful of best practice uses for these tools that can help you be more productive.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#63

Run Your Own Split-Path Tests
While there are a number of vendors providing split-path testing tools, relatively simple code will let you run your own tests.
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#64

Measure Internal Searches
Sites that have deployed an internal or on-site search application have a great opportunity to leverage their web measurement application to learn a great deal about their visitors.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#65

Take Advantage of "Zero Results" Internal Search Results
On-site search, also known as internal search, can make or break a site. Often, many small things can be done to greatly improve an on-site search, and this can ultimately improve site performance.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#66

Effectively Measure the "Known" Visitor
Sometimes it makes sense to track individual visitors to your site and create a feedback loop.
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#67

Build Your Own Web Measurement Application: Usability Data
Now that you've read up on usability data, it's time to add average time spent on site and a report on the number of single-page visits to the mix in your homegrown web measurement application.
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Technographics and "Demographics"

HACK
#68

Measure Site Performance
Combining site performance and visitation data can provide valuable insight into visitor behavior
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#69

Measure Connection Type
Determine whether your visitors use modems or broadband connections, and support critical site design decisions
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#70

Know How to Use Screen Resolution Data
Answer the question "Should we build pages for 1024 x 768 or 800 x 600 screen resolution?" using the data you already have
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#71

Know How to Use Browser Version Information
Make sure you're performing application quality assurance testing for the browser versions that your visitors are actually using
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#72

Know if People Are Bookmarking Your Site
One fairly strong indicator of audience loyalty is whether or not people have 'saved your site in their bookmarks folder; use this hack to track this behavior
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#73

Measure Browser Plug-ins
If you're developing any advanced functionality that requires external plugins, you should use your web measurement application to make sure your visitors have the right plug-ins installed
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#74

Know Which Technographic Data to Ignore
Not all technical data is as useful as it looks at first glance. Knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore can save you time and prevent frustration
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#75

Know How to Use Visitor Language Reports
Knowing which languages your visitors speak will help you improve your message and improving your message will help your conversion rates
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#76

Hacking into Page-Level Details for Language
Generate a page-by-language text file that can be mined for deep and rich information
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#77

Track Demographic Data Using Custom Variables and Visitor Segmentation
If you're collecting any type of demographic data from your visitors using forms, you can easily pass this information along to your measurement application and do some light demographic analysis
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#78

Track Your Geographic Visitor Distribution
Knowing where your visitors reside can help focus online and offline marketing efforts
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#79

Accurately Measure Downloads
Many sites need to know not just who has requested a downloadable file but whether that file was successfully delivered. Fortunately, in many instances, you can use your web measurement application and server logfiles to make this determination
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#80

Build Your Own Web Measurement Application: Technographic Data
One of the more interesting things that web measurement applications are able to do is help you understand the geographic distribution of your visitors. In this hack, we leverage a freely available geo-targeting database and add IP-based visitor geography reporting to the build your own application
The Code
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Web Measurement and the Online Retail Model

HACK
#81

Know How to Use Retail Analytics
While not exactly a class of its own, web measurement for online retailers entails fairly specific uses of the tools and hacks described in this book; knowing how and when to leverage these tools can significantly increase your ability to market, merchandise, and sell
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#82

Measure the Shopping Cart
For online retailers, there is perhaps nothing more important than measuring visitor flow and abandonment through the shopping cart. Your use of metrics and measurement in these pages can make or break your business
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#83

Measure the Checkout Process
Improvements in the online checkout processes have yielded more incremental revenue than almost any other aspect of web site measurement
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#84

Understand Frequency and Lifetime Value
Not all customers are created equal, nor are all customer acquisition strategies. Frequency and lifetime value are powerful metrics to help you differentiate customers and the content they engage in most profitably
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#85

Measure Potential Customer Value Using Recency and Latency
The most powerful predictor of future purchases is the measurement of how recently the last purchase was made. Recency and latency are two very powerful metrics for predicting future customer behavior and business success
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#86

Manage Lifetime Value Using the Visitor Segment Value Matrix
Combine the measurements of current value and potential value to refine your business's customer marketing and retention strategy
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#87

Use Cross-Sell Data to Sell More Products
One proven strategy for increasing your average order value is cross-selling products when a visitor is committing to a purchase. Your web measurement application can provide great insight into who best to cross-sell to, provided you know where to look
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#88

Use Geographic Segmentation to Measure Offline Marketing
With the growing adoption of multi-channel retailing strategies, Geo-segmentation can now provide valuable insight into offline advertising effectiveness
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#89

Measure New and Returning Customers
One of the keys to successful web optimization lies in effective segmentation of your visitor population. One of the most obvious areas of segmentation is simply evaluating behavioral and conversion differences between new and returning customers
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#90

Build Your Own Web Measurement Application: Commerce Data
Fundamental to online retailers successful with web measurement data is the ability to get non-traffic data into the analysis. In this hack, wel show you how to add the value of a transaction to the mix and tie it back to your referring sources
The Code: Page Tag and Tag Processor
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Reporting Strategies and Key Performance Indicators

HACK
#91

Distribute Reports Wisely
Don't waste people's time by sending out pages and pages of data
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#92

Know If the News Is Good
One of the most common issues in web site meaurement is having the data but not being sure what it means. Knowing whether the news is "good" is central to your company's success with web measurement
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#93

(Don't) Benchmark Your Site
Except in very controlled situations, attempting to compare your conversion rate information to published data almost always creates more problems than it solves and should be avoided
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#94

Use Key Performance Indicators
Key performance indicators are a powerful way to present complex information that works to maximize the use of web measurement data within your organization
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#95

Know the Difference Between a KPI and a Measurement
All key performance indicators are numbers, but not all numbers are key performance indicators
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#96

Key Performance Indicators for Online Retailers
Online retailers, perhaps more than any other business model, should review key performance indicators on a regular basis to mine for changes in visitor interests and identify emerging sales opportunities
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#97

Key Performance Indicators for Advertising and Content Sites
Companies that make money from online advertising should be primarily focused on depth of visit, visitor retention, and loyalty
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#98

Key Performance Indicators for Customer Support Sites
The surest path to lowering customer support costs is making sure that people are successful using your online support content. The surest way to do this is to regularly monitor a handful of support key performance indicators, watching for problems and monitoring the effect of changes
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#99

Key Performance Indicators for Business Sites (Lead Generation)
It is extremely common that the activity that a web site wants the visitor to take is as simple as taking the next step. Especially for products or services with long and complex sales cycles, getting a qualified lead is as good as gold. Business sites like these have just as good key performance indicators as direct-to-consumer online models
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#100

Build Your Own Web Measurement Application: Reporting
Now that the application is built and you're collecting and analyzing data, the time has come to think about next steps. We make a handful of suggestions about other things this application could do to improve data collection, performance, or reliability
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]


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