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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011 at 7:30 am

The Measurement Yardstick of Web Data Accuracy

By Whitney Wilding
November 3rd, 2011

Since Halloween just past us by, I thought I would write about perhaps one of the scariest topics in web analysis, web data accuracy.  In the marketing world, we are fortunate to live in the day and age of the internet for many reasons. Perhaps the most important, is that we can track the success of marketing campaigns so precisely.

We now have the ability to track and measure how successful an adwords campaign is at persuading prospects to visit a site and convert.  We can see if our TV commercial is having a positive affect on our online sales.  This kind of virtual instant insight provides us with opportunities to improve our overall ROI.

However, all the benefits the web has to offer come with challenges. We can try come as close to possible as gathering accurate information but there will always be discrepancies. One way to understand why the information you are gathering is not 100% accurate is to first grasp how the data is being collected.

Methods for Data-Capture

Perhaps the most common method for capturing web data today is through the use of data-page tags. A data-page tag works by placing java-script code or tags on each page of your site. The data is collected by the visitor’s web browser and sent to a remote data-collection server such as Google Analytics.  A user then views the data collected through the remote server portal.

Google Analytics has access to the page tags implemented on a domain through the use of 1st party cookies. A cookie is used by the web server (Google, in this case) by transmitting messages to a web browser. The visitor’s browser then stores the cookie information on the local hard drive. Google uses these cookies to identify user-behavior in its reporting. For example, cookies enable us to track first-time vs. repeat visitors and how many times a return visitor comes back to the site for a certain period.

Why Web Data May Not Be Accurate

Although, the use of cookies and java-script is incredibly accurate, there are situations in which the information being reported through the remote server is not entirely clean. This can be due to a variety of reasons. Some of which are: a javascript setup error causing missing tags on the site, users owning and sharing multiple computers, users blocking or deleting cookies, or users blocking or deleting javascript.

Of course, it’s best to try to avoid as many discrepancies in data as possible by ensuring that all site tagging is complete and correct.  There are just some things we have little control over.  Although the information you collect may not be entirely accurate, you can still uncover actionable trends! Typically, error bars remain relatively constant on a weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis. As Brian Clifton states in his free whitepaper download ‘Understanding Web Analytics Accuracy,’ “As long as you use the same measurement ‘yard stick,’ visitor number trends will be accurate.

What This Means For You

We do not endorse ignoring the issue of web analytics accuracy.  We do encourage you not to lose sleep over it and certainly not to hinder yourself from finding the trends in your data that provide you with the actionable insights to improve your conversions and ultimately your bottom-line. If you still need help, feel free to reach out to us.

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Comments (16)

  1. Oct data that includes Googles Oct 13th algorithm change is very interesting. The old marketing and revenue models are gone.

  2. Great information and perspective of online marketing stats. “How do I know this is accurate”, is a question I ask all the time. I will follow your advice of making sure the site is set up correctly and will let go of the stuff I cannot control.

  3. We can track it precisely, yes, but accurately? There is still a lot of debate around what the different analytics tools measure.

  4. I agree, loosing sleep over which system is providing you with the most accurate information is silly. Google Analytics is providing me with plenty of information to help me make informed decisions about the direction my content should take in order to bring the the highest quality traffic. It’s not perfect, but neither is my site.

  5. What is scary is being left behind online especially that Google rolls out new update: the Freshness update. I’ve read it on their official blog.

  6. This is a great article. I think even though web data may not always be accurate, I find that many business owners still not measure any form of web traffic or use great applications such as Google Analytics.

  7. Wow, I thought this day in age they had accuracy pretty well perfect. But when you think about all those reasons you gave it makes sense.

  8. So this is all very interesting and I’m curious as to why data could be inaccurate for the users. Is it because they could all be on the same IP address via Internet connection, thus making data not register if more than (1) user clicks per household in the 24 hour period?

  9. Data accuracy is only as good as the person inputting that data. Its almots impossible to get a 100% accuracy rate. Data Page Tags using Java is a good option

  10. Some of which are: a javascript setup error causing missing tags on the site, users owning and sharing multiple computers, users blocking or deleting cookies, or users blocking or deleting javascript.

  11. We can track it precisely, yes, but accurately? There is still a lot of debate around what the different analytics tools measure.

  12. Google Analytics is also great for SEO, I don’t mind if I get or lose some % here and there: it’s cool, it’s free and it does it’s job!

  13. Web data may not be accurate but at least it provides us with an edge to measure and quantify data to give a better perspective on the trend! Awesome stuff here!

  14. I agree, the data is FAR from 100% accurate many times. I only use one paid (subscription) tool… I’ve used others on a trial basis but feel they just aren’t worth the big bucks they demand. I believe intuition and a lot of ‘customer focus’ is very important.

  15. This has been a huge debate but the most important thing here is how safe is our data? Accuracy of data plays an immense role but how can we be so sure that our data is protected?

  16. Web data may not be accurate but google analytics is a sure shot for increasing performance for your store

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