Web Analytics: Basic Terms and Definitions

September 10, 2012 at 9:28 am

This is part two in our introductory series about web analytics and digital analytics. You can find part one about data driven decision making here and part three about data accuracy and technology here.


Web analytics terms and definitions you should know

Even though this list is far from complete, you should definitely learn the following terms and definitions to get started.

Web analytics tag cloud


Every time the  javascript tracking code is executed, a Pageview – sometimes also referred to as Page Impression – is recorded. When you initially view aboutventures.com and click on a post or article, you trigger two Pageviews. Pageviews are only saved for your own website, which means that clicking an external link, thereby leaving the website, is not. Furthermore, clicks for which the page does not fully reload in the web browser are not accounted as Pageview in the statistics as well. In web analytics, it is common to consult “Pageviews per Visit” as metric for an idea about engagement and how much people interact with your site. This can be an issue when tracking modern websites full of javascript, which often do not reload it on regular basis. Instead, click trackings (“events”)  could be used for instance. One of several reasons why Pageviews should only be used for few purposes.

Developers can use a metric like “Pageviews per second” to express how much load a server can stand.


Client-side, small piece of information which is saved in a visitor’s web browser. Websites often use cookies to save data locally at the user’s computer. Some of the cookies get erased when you close the browser, some stay for days and some forever unless deleted. Many browsers offer extensions or pre-built-in features to block cookies, which leads to high tracking inaccuracies for these users in terms of web analytics. I will blog more about this issue in the future.


When you enter a website, you account for a Visit – sometimes also referred to as a Session. In contrast to a Pageview, your Visit gets only recorded once in a pre-specified timeframe (typically 30 minutes). If you click around that website, it will remain the same Visit, usually until you either do not show any activity for this timeframe or you re-enter from a different channel / campaign. Marketers use Visits as one of the most important metrics to determine how many traffic there is. Be careful, for most websites this does not express any real value. Instead of trying to focus on the sheer number of Visits, you should insist on highly relevant traffic.

A common performance indicator in web analytics related to Visits, is the “New vs. Returning Visitors” ratio (= ratio of first time visitors vs. returning visitors) as well as the “% of New Visits” (= percentage of Visits by first time visitors). Lastly, the “Visit Duration” is taken into account when talking about content quality or relevance. The assumption is, that the more relevant or better content fits, the longer someone stays.

Unique Visitors

Unique Visitors will be one of your most important metrics at all. A Unique Visitor represents the very same person in a given timeframe, e.g. a week. No matter how often (or not) this person came back in this period of time, it will only be counted once. There are different technical ways of identifying the same user, mostly based on a unique identifier in a first time visit cookie, an IP address and / or  a browser’s user agent.

From a marketing perspective, the Unique Visitors metric does express real people and is typically used to measure success of campaigns and activities. Generally, the Unique Visitors metric is little less accurate than pure Visits.


You really need to internalize this. It is one of the most commonly used words in web analytics and online-marketing in general. Simply spoken, a Conversion occurs when a prospective customer does what you want this person to do, e.g. buying a product, downloading a document or subscribing for a newsletter. It can be seen as synonym fulfilling a goal or objective and thereby complies with the marketer’s intention.

Web analytics: Google Analytics multi-channel conversion visualizer

Google Analytics multi-channel conversion visualizer, © Google, Inc.

Conversion Rate

The Conversion Rate is the number of Conversions divided by Unique Visitors. A marketer’s preferred choice to examine a relative, percentage-based success metric. The higher the Conversion Rate, the more outcomes were generated for the same input.

Although there is quite some discussion about using Visits or Unique Visitors in the Conversion Rate’s formular, I stick to the latter. I do not believe every Visit is a real, equally weighted chance to hit a Conversion if it is the same person. Depending on the business behind, a conversion may take several Visits (e.g. reading a product information in the morning and buying it in the evening). You can find further information about this idea here (Visit) and here (Unique Visitors).

Campaign tracking

Marketers tag different marketing campaigns with tracking information, so that once the visitor lands on your site, the web analytics tracking code recognizes a distinct campaign. Usually, you do not need to pre-generate this campaign data in advance, you will simply see what was tagged. Additionally, the tracking information is often saved in a cookie and eventually reused when a conversion occurs to match this conversion to a particular campaign. All web analytics tools offer several ways of filtering your data based on particular campaigns.

Bounce Rate

The percentage of single page visits. Therefore, a visitor “bounces” (= leaves the site) when only a single page is viewed during the visit. Generally it is true, that the more the actual content meets a prospect’s need and / or expectation, the lower the bounce rate becomes. Not to be confused with Exit Rate, which expresses a particular page’s percentage of people leaving the website through that page.


A referral occurs, when somebody reaches your site via an untagged link on another website. If a campaign tracking was present, you will see this information instead.

Direct traffic

Direct traffic is counted when somebody types the URL of your website directly in the browser. Untagged links from many email clients and usually (untagged) bookmarks do not generate referral information and go into the direct traffic bucket as well. If you do TV advertisings, those people will usually also be counted to direct traffic.

Paid traffic

When people visit your site through a search engine’s result listing page via a paid link / ad, the traffic is accounted as paid. This means, that the actual ranking of the link on the results page might be influenced by money.

Organic traffic

When people visit your site through a search engine’s result listing page via an unpaid link / ad, the traffic is accounted as organic. Consequently, the ranking is not influenced but characterized by relevance and the search engines algorithms.


With these web analytics terms, you will be ready to start.


Quick thoughts about what you should track in web analytics

Web analytics can help you to answer many questions related to your traffic, the usage of your website and the prospects journey’s along it, which marketing campaigns perform best and many more. Basically, it allows to quantitatively prove fundamental assumptions and waste less money.

Tracking visits is a no-brainer, but a simple number does not really help you along the way. In many business scenarios, prospects are meant to become real customers. So besides basics like visits and pageviews, analysts should set up targets, or goals, which get triggered once the visitor did what you want him to do, e.g. buying a product or downloading a document. Remember, this is called a conversion. By setting up these goals, you tell the web analytics software what you are trying to achieve. Sadly, most tools do not really do a great job in giving you automatic and intelligent recommendations. I predict this to change during the next few years.

Web analytics: mouse move heatmap

Mouse move heatmap, © ClickTale Ltd.

In web analytics, it is important, that different channels and marketing campaigns get annotated with an appropriate campaign tracking for being able to find out which channels and campaigns perform best and which do the trick to accomplish your targets.

Further insights in a user’s off- and on-page journey can be modeled via funnels. Such a funnel quantitatively visualizes the path of a prospect towards converting to a customer. A very common scenario is related to a web shop’s multi-step checkout to nail down drop-outs until purchase. For the sake of completeness, you might also consider advanced web analytics software which may track eye movements of people, tools which produce so called heatmaps of where visitors’ mouse pointers reside most of the time and so on.

Once you collected enough valuable data, you can start to dive into your analyses. You do not even need to make awesome changes to the default tracking codes. For some first steps you can have a look here.

Web analytics: KISSmetrics funnel analysis feature

KISSmetrics funnel analysis feature, © Space Pencil, Inc.



What’s next?

This was part two in our series about web analytics. Remember, you can find the start of the series here. The next part talks about the underlying technology and data accuracy for your analyses. Click here to continue reading part three.

If you liked what you read, subscribe to this blog via RSS or email (see below) to keep updated when the series continues. A comment below would be fantastic as well. Upcoming posts will include basic step-by-step setup-guides to well-known tools, information about advanced web analytics and marketing analytics topics like cohort analyses and KPI reporting automation. By following these posts, you will learn how to use analytics to improve your business, generate more conversions and make more profit. Additionally, we give away free tips and online-marketing secrets for you. Do not miss it!

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