“Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”–Mark Twain
Numbers may be the purest language, but there’s some impurity when it comes to counting on the Web. A recent article on The Wall Street Journal explains that despite new amazing tools for tracking Web traffic on your site, the interpretation of the numbers can be flawed.
For instance, Facebook has more users than Yahoo, according to Compete, a traffic monitor. But other monitors say the opposite. Both are right; they have the numbers.
It’s not enough to count unique visits only. The article points out that a person may visit a Web site from home, work or on a personal device. A counter may see those three visits as three different people. Or a counter sees multiple people sharing the same computer as one user making multiple visits.
Technology gets in the way, as well. Web sites can assign unique tags–cookies–to each visiting Web browser, but many users delete cookies regularly. Thus each visit counts as a new one, because the site finds no cookie already in place. Bots inflate the numbers, too; search engines send automated browsers out in the Web for each search request, and these bots are then counted as people.
One marketing research company, comScore, is solving this problem from all angles, using what it calls a unified approach. Client sites use their own tools and a comScore cookie to measure users. Bots and international visits won’t be counted. ComScore uses its data to factor in deleted cookies and repeat visitors, also. The most common result for users is a traffic increase for their site.
But don’t insist your own client use comScore’s tactics. Some heavy-traffic sites refuse to work with comScore, saying the service–with a $5,000 fee over six months–is akin to paying for traffic increases. And other trackers have similar formulas, which give similar traffic numbers.
It’s a step ahead, even with the confusion still remaining. It’s good to count numbers and call it a day; but it’s better to count the right numbers and know what you are seeing.