Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 2: Getting to Know Web Analytics

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 2: Getting to Know Web Analytics

Article excerpt


This chapter of Using Web Analytics in the Library provides guidelines for selecting and implementing web analytics tools in a library context. The author examines different variables that determine which tool might be appropriate and offers suggestions determining which tools meet different needs.


One of the first things you will need to do as you consider implementing web analytics is to select the appropriate tool for your library. In this report, I will focus specifically on Google Analytics (GA) to illustrate various aspects of web analytics. But before we get into the basics of any one program, it is useful to have some foundational knowledge of how the tools work, what programs are out there and how to choose one, and what the most used standard metrics are.

Web Tracking Basics: Data Collection Mechanisms

It's ALL clickstream data....

When we typically hear about collecting a Web user's clickstream data, this term can actually refer to different mechanisms used to track and store users' activities while on the Web. There are a variety of tools used to capture user information, with the two main approaches being log file data capture and page tagging.

Log File Data

Web log files were the original method of capturing and storing information about visitors to individual websites. Typically a request for your website comes to your server, and the server creates an electronic file entry in the log for that request. Web logs capture information such as the page name, IP address and browser of the visitor, and date and time stamps. (1) Web servers collect data and create logs as part of their regular activity, independent of the user's browser, which makes the data readily available.

Relying on this method of data collection for user analysis has several disadvantages. For one thing, the data may be hard to access. If your library contracts with an external web hosting service for your website, you must work with the service to access server log file information. If your server is controlled locally, log files will probably be maintained by the information technology (IT) department rather than the website design department. Analysis and use of this information would require close collaboration with IT. In addition, log files are primarily intended for the capture of technical information. While this information is useful in the overall analysis of information technology resources, web logs are not the most effective way to capture and analyze website visitor behaviors.

Ultimately, server log information can help you evaluate traffic numbers in regards to your server load and capacity, but it tells you very little about your users or the effectiveness of your site in relation to your goals.

Page Tagging

The other common method of web analytics used today is often referred to as page tagging. This method of collecting data involves inserting tags, or lines of JavaScript code provided by an analytics program, into the source code of a webpage ( The tag code collects data from the visitor's browser and sends it to the analytics program's remote host computer, where reports are available to the owners.

Page tagging has become quite popular, as both implementation and management of the analytics tool are much easier than through using the log file method. Many of the analytics tools available today are a service of a third-party vendor, which frees the owners from having to develop an internal technical analytics infrastructure.

Advantages of Page Tagging as An Analytics Tool

In his book Web Analytics: An Hour a Day, Avinash Kaushik points out a number of advantages to using page tagging: (2)

* Tagging is extremely easy to implement. Once you sign up with an analytics program vendor, you add a few lines of code to the section of each HTML page. …

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