Evolution of Web Analytics

If the field of Web Analytics was tracked over time using an imaginary analytics program it would show that it started out as one thing and ended up as another. If you did a report on the keywords used as search terms for web analytics it would probably show technical terms in the 90s and then marketing terms later on. If your package could track who was looking for web analytics, it would show you first the IT department and then the marketing department. This is because web analytics has changed from a data driven exercise to a people driven exercise (no offence IT people).

Log Files
The first web analytics were log files which were used by the IT department to help them do their job. The main priority of most IT departments was to keep the website up and running and deal with server problems. If someone requested a webpage, the web server sent all the information over. The server keeps a log of this and it is very useful for troubleshooting by admins. The log files tracked a range of actions so it could provide a limited analysis of visitors, pages, bandwidth usage, operating systems, browser, where you came from etc. This sort of data was not very useful for the IT department but it did interest the marketing department. Seeing an opportunity, vendors appeared selling analysis of log files. The problem was that this data often gave very little real insight.

Page Tagging
In the mid 90s, page tagging appeared. This is the use of javascript to track web pages. This does a better job than log files as it is designed to give more accurate measurements of the elements on a page by tracking if the person was a new or returning visitor. Page tagging also tracks more specific actions on pages such as when a video was paused or where a person exited and where they went to. This allowed marketers to capture interactions. This was useful as it came at a time when web pages began to be more complex and dynamic. They could now create reports that were completely separate to the IT department because they did not depend on server reports and they could start to tie the analytics in with business objectives such as sales, lead generation and brand awareness.

The use of page tagging came at a time when organisations had to start justifying their spend on their web presence. Measurement is key to that. Web analytics began to demonstrate competitive intelligence and use historical data for comparisons. As the programs and packages developed, marketers could ask more relevant questions, get answers, see trends and adapt their campaign through testing and more targeted experimentation.
The future?
Einstein said – “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Web analytics is the search for what counts.

Note – This is a copy of a blogpost that I had to do as part of my digital marketing course.


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