Last week I mentioned “Your Guide to the Best Analytics Solution” a highly acclaimed, independent, unbiased study of the top analytic programs released by CMS Watch. Well, in line with this recent release the guru of analytics, Jim Sterne wrote the introduction to a similar “2007 Web Analytics Shoot Out – Interim Report” created and released by Stone Temple Consulting. The report analyzes the following analytics packages: ClickTracks, Google Analytics, IndexTools, Unica Infinium NetInsight, Omniture, WebTrends and WebSideStory HBX Analytics.

What is Web Analytics?
For those who are not sure what I am talking about here is the Wikipedia definition of web analytics: “Web analytics is the measurement of the behaviour of visitors to a website or web application. In a commercial context, it especially refers to the measurement of which aspects of the website work towards the business objectives; for example, which landing pages encourage people to make a purchase.”

Results of Interest from the Interim Report
A part of this interim report that really caught my eye was 1st party vs 3rd party cookies. The report verified that utilizing 3rd party tracking cookies would decrease the reliability of traffic stats by 13% – read on for what exactly this means to you and your website.

  • What is a Cookie? Cookies are placed on your computer whenever you visit a website that has used them to help track return users and other specialized data. Note: Cookies have received a very bad press in the past but in reality they do nothing but store information that you have provided to a website. They do not steal personal data. If you provide the information then a cookie is designed to save it for later use – as a help to you as well as to help the website track basic site activity. See here for an old but well written Harvard article: “Use of Cookies Considered Safe
  • What is a 3rd Party Cookie? A 3rd party cookie is one that is provided to you from a website not obviously associated with the one you are visiting. For example if you were to visit site “A” a cookie from site “Z” (a 3rd party – perhaps a website analytics service) would be placed on your computer so that site “A” could track your progress through their website. Since the browser can tell that site “A” actually does not ‘own’ the cookie from site “Z” it is possible that the browser will delete the cookie or impede it’s use. So why is it bad for the site owner if a 3rd party cookie is blocked? Well that is where the reason for implementing cookies comes in. The most common reason for using cookies on a website is so that site “A” can distinguish whether you are a returning visitor or a new visitor. In this regard, if you visited site “A” twice in the same day, week or month, site “A” would be able to connect the two visits together and consider it one “unique visitor”. If the cookie is deleted or blocked then every time you visited site “A” you would be considered a unique visitor which would improperly skew your statistics.
  • What is a 1st Party Cookie? A cookie that is delivered and placed on your computer by the website you are visiting. No third party websites are involved.

All Praise Analytics!
As many regular readers of the StepForth SEO Blog might have noticed I am turning into an analytics evangelist. Why? I am 100% certain that website analytics can increase the profits of nearly any website; I can’t think of one that it won’t work for but I am cautious enough to be careful. I will even go as far as to say that analytics will be a requirement for small businesses to remain profitable on the web within the next 2 years. Perhaps that is a bold statement but the numbers simply make sense; with the exponential growth of the Internet continuing unabated the competition for online profits will grow as well. As a result, small businesses will require every potential edge to grow profits and flourish online.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth SEO Services
Celebrating 10 Years of SEO Excellence