Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Reasonable Start to an Analytics Glossary

People have a propensity to want to sound smart. Any time we can pick up some new jargon or buzz words we’re inclined to just toss them straight into our vocabulary and flaunt them like we’ve used it every day. After all, who doesn’t want to seem like they’re part of the ‘in crowd’ by using a term that nobody else had ever heard of?

Hajura, Will Robinson! Hajura!

Do all those words actually mean something? Absolutely! And not in the usual business school sense that makes everyone hate MBA prospects for thinking we sound like the smartest people in the room.

Nope, we actually need to understand what everything on the back end of analytics mean so we can talk with Developers. And we all know how hard it can be to relate to the IT department and not feel like a moron....

With no further ado, some actual helpful terms and conditions that go into analytics

These are individual people that come visit your site. It’s actually a measure of unique browser IDs that visit you, so one person could count as four unique visitors if they use FireFox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari from the exact same computer.

Returning Visitor:
It’s a stalker. Well, not really. It’s someone who came back to see your site again because you’re popular.
This is the reason why Visits and Unique Visitors are not the same thing. Cookies are a great way to track this.



Seriously, I have a video for everything.
When you look at a website, odds are your web browser stored something on your computer so they can watch what you’re doing. Ostensibly, this should be to serve you better but that’s probably not the case. It’s likely that they just want to know what you’re doing so they can make you buy more stuff. Ha. Seriously, there are a few different kinds so here are a few of them:
Session cookies should only last for this one time you’re on the site
Persistent cookies are how Amazon remembers that you really like clarified butter so they should recommend a bunch of different types to you next time you’re on the site. They’re also how VW knows to show me ads with Jetta TDIs in them because I stare at them ALL THE TIME.
Third-party cookies are probably the sketchiest one you’ll hear about. You can basically buy ad space on someone else’s site (maybe our blog?) and as the advertiser, drop a cookie for your own website on a user’s machine because they viewed your ad. Yup, it’s as sketchy as it sounds, and it’s probably why your computer keeps showing you ads for

Session ID:
Remember that session cookie we looked at earlier? This is the ‘tag’ in that cookie that lets the website know that you’re you, no matter how far you go on the site. Yeah, that stalker video seems pretty appropriate now, doesn’t it?

Why the hell does this even matter anyway? Who cares what web browser someone’s using to view your site? They all access the internet!
Actually, it’s a pretty important statistic. There are three primary ‘rendering engines’ that power web browsers:

But what does that even mean? Gecko is the stupid mascot from that insurance company, isn’t it? Don't worry, these actually correspond to something:
  • Internet Explorer = Trident
  • Safari, Chrome, Android’s Browser = WebKit
  • FireFox = Gecko
Soooooooo.... when’s it going to mean something? Believe it or not, your web developers need this information and it's going to impact your web budget. Big time. If they know what browsers your audience is using, developers can test to make sure it works. Websites don’t ‘just work’ everywhere, each one of these engines draws pages very differently and web developers usually have very strong feelings about them. Especially about old versions of Trident (namely IE 6).

Bounce Rate:
These are people who leave your site after only visiting one page. This could actually be a huge indicator of problems and you should pay careful attention to it. Why would someone leave a page after only seeing it once? Was your layout too confusing so people couldn’t find what they were looking for? Rather than groupthinking this one to death it could actually be worth doing some real live user studies to monitor what people are doing on this page that causes them to leave. A/B testing (ugh, a buzz word that hasn’t been explained!) could help resolve this.

Exit Rate:
Wait, didn’t we just say the bounce rate is from someone leaving? It is, but the difference here is that someone has been browsing through your website and happens to leave after this page. It can actually indicate success!
Let’s say someone looks at four pages. The fourth page is the ‘exit’ page, so you can check high exit rates to see if people are leaving on, say, a product information page because they’ve found what they’re looking for. This is much less alarming than someone leaving from the product selector page because they didn’t see anything they found enticing.

Don’t give me that blank stare. It’s an advertising campaign, only way more sophisticated. There are a lot of different options to run your ads online but the important thing here is to manage them. You can have tons of different things in a campaign, some of them are listed below.

Banner ads:
The big picture ads nobody likes clicking on. Want to know a trick the car insurance companies won’t tell you? Those banners sure hope you do.

Text ads
Google made ‘em famous, just look at the right side of your search window and they’re tailored to what you just searched for. And someone paid for it. Try searching for DUI lawyer, those tend to go for big bucks..

Speaking of DUI lawyer... this is when you actually buy ‘words’ or ‘terms’ from Google, Yahoo, or any other search engine. You can actually bid out for ad placement depending on what the search term is. Things that are potentially worth a lot of money, like someone searching DUI lawyer on a mobile phone, could sell for a hundred bucks a click (no joke), while a term like ‘best garbage bag’ could sell for 5 cents.

Oh boy, now we’re in analytics land. A conversion is when someone actually does what you want on your site. You can set it up when you build your campaign so that...

  1. A user clicks on a web banner
  2. A cookie (yeah! We used a term!) is placed on their machine
  3. You follow their session ID (oh man, another one?) across pages to get to the shopping cart
  4. They actually buy what they put in the cart!
  5. Profit! We’re rich! Richer than astronauts!
See, there should be something besides ??? before profit. That’s why conversion rate is so important, so you can see how effective a campaign is.

Search engine optimization. Oh man, that sounds about as rough as it is. You can actually build your website so that search engines have a way easier time indexing them. Remember all that nonsense about Flash when the iPhone couldn’t support it? That was actually a big deal because search engines couldn’t index flash. Wait, what’s indexing?

Google basically makes up an absolutely, unbelievably huge database/library of everything on the internet. They have a web crawler that does it for them.

Wait, what?

Web Crawler or Spider:
It’s a piece of software that is designed to look at every single thing on the web. If there’s a link on your website, it’s like an invisible person who clicks on it and writes down where it came from and where it goes to.

Back to SEO:
So sites like Google and Bing (ok, Bing steals from Google because they’re lazy. See last week’s post for that kick in the jaw because I’m not linking back) actually use Web Crawlers to Index your website. They see what words are close to links or widely used inside your content, then they actually record how popular your site is. It all balances out and combines with things like your Paid Search Keywords (saw that up higher) to dictate how high your page ranking is in a search engine, or how much you have to pay for that keyword.

Page rank:
It’s actually where you appear in Google or other search engines. You used to be able to screw with the system by linking to something a bunch of times, which is why Google Bombing became an expression. Where are those WMD’s again? And what’s a Miserable Failure? If only I knew of some Great French Military Victories...

Meta Data:
That’s so meta. Actually, it’s hidden data on the back end of a web page that describes what’s on the front end of a web page. People used to ‘cheat’ Google’s page rank by listing a word (like ‘awesome’) on the back side about 500 times so, which could help create Google bombs. Don’t worry, Google’s smarter than that now, but it’s still worth defining these in your commerce products to help broaden their search appeal.

A/B Test:
An A/B test is actually facilitated by those cookies we talked about earlier. We discussed it in class so it's not exciting to go into detail, but it basically means you can show some users one page, and other users a different version of the same page, and then you can look at the data to see what version is more successful (based on what you wanted people to be doing, of course).

Some Commerce buzz:

Abandonment Rate:
Someone didn’t want to buy your stuff; the user added an item to his or her shopping cart but didn’t finish checking out.
This can actually happen anywhere in the checkout process, you should probably be aware of what pages in your checkout are showing dramatic increases in abandonment or dropout, that way you have something to fix and it makes you look smart!

Abandoned carts:
Yeah, it's the same thing as above.

Average Shopping Cart. It’s an average of how much a shopping cart is worth in your store.

Alright, seriously, you made it that far? I should give you a sweet reward for diligence, but I really don’t have much in the way of prizes to give you. Here’s someone being excited to help bring you back to reality:


  1. Even being familiar with most of these terms I learned from going back through them all. Also, I'm now curious to learn more about the differences between Trident, WebKit, and Gecko.

  2. Interesting insight, even though I am familiar with these topics, I am surprised by how simple you were able to explain it without complicating anything.

  3. Very informative. Great beginner glossery

  4. Great post. Thanks for posting it. Like the previous comment said, it is definitely a beginner's glossary and a beginner like me can greatly benefit from your post.

  5. There's a lot of great content in this post! The videos were an excellent addition!

  6. Great post Jeff. This is a very nice summary and very easy to understand. You sir have just been bookmarked.

  7. Great post. There is a lot of jargon thrown around in the IT world and not everybody has an IT background. I'm glad you used a clip from Anchorman.

  8. Hilarious yet informative! Thanks for explaining the terms using words we all can understand. And I like your incorporation of videos and external links to make the information even more exciting.

  9. so if I repeatedly check a girl's facebook page, I'm a return visitor...not a stalker? Great!! Seriously though, great to take a step back and make sure everyone's clear on the definitions once in a while. Thanks!

  10. Great post. I think once people are more comfortable with the terminology that is used, they will be more willing to participate. nice job.

  11. This was great!. So useful when trying to understand analytics!