It’s online marketers’ dirty little secret: Web metrics are not very accurate. None of them.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
Users can block script and pixel based systems and proxy servers (servers that cache content to reduce bandwidth use on networks, like say, your ISP’s or corporate network) prevent your server’s weblog from recording every page view (I wrote in a little more detail on accuracy issues here). On top of network issues, there are some basic software limitations in browsers and metric packages that prevent every click and visit from being counted.
How bad is it? Somewhere between 4% and 12%. And it’s almost, almost always missing clicks, visits and page views.
So, do web analytics have value? Yes. But despite what you may think, their value isn’t counting every single click you get on your site. It’s for identifying trends. Knowing what is happening and what has happened in aggregate has great value. Even with a 6-12% margin of error.
The problem is, many web metrics solutions are on a time delay (like Google Analytics) that prevents you from seeing what is happening now. On the internet “NOW” means everything. And if you want to see what is happening minute to minute, your options are rather limited.
Here’s a situation that happened with one of my clients:
We had a client who had just started a $90,000, 48 hour advertising campaign for a major affiliate network. We didn’t realize it, but some bad code was preventing people coming to a landing page for step 3 in the registration process. A real-time analytics package allowed us to see the problem and fix it in about 15 minutes, but a once-a-day analytics package would have only pointed out the problem halfway through our 48 hour schedule.
Should we have tested the landing page better? Yes. Reality is that marketing sites are often done on much tighter deadlines than traditional software development and sometimes testing isn’t that great. That means real time metrics are critical.
If we had waited 12 hours for metrics to become available, my client would have lost 25% of sales and 25% of the money they had spent on the campaign.
Real time matters more than you think. If you’re not investing in it, you need to consider it.