Last Friday, Chris posed a question to the team regarding the traffic numbers that various analytics tools provide: why do we trust the numbers so much, regardless of their source? This got me thinking… why do we put so much faith into the numbers we’re looking at? Are we applying the correct context to these metrics?
I did some further research into two different tools we leverage at RD2, Inc. (AWstats and Google Analytics) to provide a reason as to why the numbers don’t line up.
AWstats (Awwww, stats!)
AWstats is a product of the late 90s as a solution to address the concerns of “how many people are visiting my website?”; I can only assume web hosting during that time wasn’t nearly as cheap as it is today and ROI was an even bigger focus than it is now. Getting people to the website then was a big deal; today, getting traffic could be viewed as a relatively easier task (given the social media technologies at our disposal.) AWstats has been updated several times over the years, but its base function has remained the same: present the data in access log files in a way that makes sense to the layman (read: graphs and tables.) This is where the question, “So it’s like Google Analytics?” comes up and my response is along the lines of, “Ehh… in a way, but not really.” AWstats provides a more easily read representation of the server access logs… so what does that mean when talking “traffic” and “visits” and “page views”? Well to be quite honest, it means nothing without an understanding of how the tool works and appropriate context is applied to what is being viewed (we’ll get to this in a bit.)
Google Analytics (or, cloud-computing crunching the numbers and giving you insane amounts of detail on your visitors behavior)
So why would I use both?
The take away from this shouldn’t be that AWstats is antiquated and shouldn’t be used; it should be understood that each tool has its strengths and opportunities (AWstats can track which pages are being crawled by search engines, Google Analytics can’t.)
So go forth, review the traffic metrics and make sure the data being presented is presented with the correct context applied