Technology

Web Analytics

By Marcus Underwood • October 5, 2010

Marcus Underwood
Marcus Underwood, Chief Innovation Officer, Naylor Association Solutions

As your association’s website continues to grow, you’re probably getting more frequent questions about its traffic. How many eyeballs does it attract? Where is the traffic coming from? How do visitors find your site? What pages are visitors viewing when they get to your site? There are two primary ways of gathering and analyzing this information.

takeaways

  • Log file analysis and page tagging are the two main tools you can use to measure, analyze and report on the traffic to your website.
  • Many associations lack a rigorous process for reviewing their web statistics, despite how much that information can tell them about their members.
  • Understanding which sections, stories and tools members use the most on your site allows you to have an ongoing, virtual “survey” of what really matters to them.
  • Many good analytics tools are neither expensive nor difficult to use. Once in place, you can learn a great deal about your members by reviewing your key metrics in as little as half an hour per month.

1. Log file analysis

You can purchase software that is installed on your web server. Webtrends and Coremetrics are among the oldest and best known of this type.

Pro: On the positive side, log file analysis requires no changes to your website, and you can change the tool you use anytime you want. Also, the information is stored on your own servers, which makes it very secure for those concerned about highly confidential member data.

Con: On the negative side, there is a one-time cost, along with annual upgrade fees. Additionally, your IT team must be responsible for installing, updating and managing the software, as well as ensuring that all the data is backed up. Finally, log file analysis typically does not count “cached” pages accurately. A cached page is like a snapshot of a Web page, which is saved i.e. “cached” in order to decrease the amount of time it takes for a page to load. Since there is not a request to the server for this cached page, the log files won’t show it as a “page view” even though it is. As a result, your usage statistics may be undercounted, which can adversely affect everything from your budget clout within your organization to the advertising rates you charge vendors.

2. Page tagging

The other option for measuring your site traffic accurately is installing a hosted traffic analysis tool on your web pages (also called “page tagging”). Google Analytics, which is free, is the most prevalent page tagging hosted traffic analysis tool. Yahoo Analytics is also gaining traction with many organizations. Page tagging traffic analysis services are typically activated by installing a small piece of JavaScript code in the pages of your website. Each time a visitor views a page on the site, the JavaScript code collects information about the visitor and sends this information back to the service, where it is stored in a database.

Pro: Page Tagging is very useful for organizations that don’t have large IT departments. There is no software or hardware to worry about, and you are assured of having the latest and greatest version of the tool. The industry leader, Google Analytics, is also free to use and extremely powerful. Finally, caching is not an issue with page tagging, as information is pulled when a page is displayed, not when it is called from the server.

Con: On the negative side, implementing page tagging correctly requires that you put a line of JavaScript code on every page of your site. Depending on your site, this could take a fair amount of effort. And, if you decide to change to a different vendor, you would have to go through and change all the code.

Regardless of which option you choose, most web analytics tools provide a comprehensive library of reports. In my dealings with associations, I’m surprised to find that many of them do not review this information on a regular basis (and some aren’t even sure how to get it). This is extremely valuable information about what your members value. Understanding which sections, stories or tools they’re using the most on your site allows you to have an ongoing, virtual survey of what matters the most to them.

Implement one of the solutions above and spend 30 minutes per month reviewing the key metrics. I guarantee you will come away feeling more in touch with your members–and they with you.

Marcus Underwood is vice president and general manager of NaylorNet, the online media solutions division of Naylor, LLC.