23. Traffic analysis tools

To develop your site, you need to know your audience: who are they? When do they visit the site? Which are their favourite pages? These are all questions for which various software packages are now able to provide very comprehensive answers.

The tools

There are several measuring tools that are able to analyse the audience of a website, in both quantitative and qualitative terms. The best known tools include:

Chartbeat offers real-time measurement of the traffic of a site, from the home page to specific pages. Some newsrooms use it to determine the subjects that generate views… As well as where users come from and where they go after viewing your pages. The downside is that this software is not free.

Google Analytics offers more or less the same functions, but from one day to the next and in a version that is divided into different tables (audience, content, traffic sources and advertising). The downside is that Google Analytics does not distinguish between users and instead only counts connections (if you visit the same site at work and at home, you will be counted as two visitors) and therefore tends to overestimate site traffic.

Nielsen is a private group that provides audience measurement based on a panel of internet users (and not on actual site traffic). This method gives a more accurate picture of traffic and is the only method used by advertisers to determine the ranking of sites. The downside is that by using good referencing and the aggregation of “pirate” sites (gaming sites for example), it is very easy to artificially inflate a site’s traffic on Nielsen.

Two standard approaches

The so-called “site-centric” approach has the advantage of properly analysing essential site traffic data, as it counts the number of times a page is “called” by a browser. This measurement makes it possible to determine the number of visits and page views. It is applied to both fixed and mobile internet.

The so-called “user-centric” approach records all internet use by a limited number of users (Nielsen’s panel, around 25,000 internet users). This measurement makes it possible to obtain very detailed knowledge of the profile of internet users and allows comparison of the penetration rates of different websites; however, it does not take into account internet users connecting from a public place or from abroad.

The main measurements

Currently, the first quantitative criterion for evaluating sites is unique visitors (UVs), i.e. the number of internet users who have viewed one of the site’s pages at least once in the past month. The top twenty British sites have traffic of 2 to 10 million UVs per month whereas, in China, the same figures apply for… one day. The number of visits is also calculated by traffic analysis software.

The second criterion is page views, i.e. the number of pages called each month. It measures the level of traffic on the site and, therefore, the level of interest generated by the news content. Strangely enough, the duration of each visit is not yet really taken into account by the various traffic measurement organisations used by advertisers, even though this criterion is a reliable indicator of the quality of the editorial content and interest shown by users.

Finally, the traffic curves for news sites share a characteristic as they are all structured around two M-shaped audience peaks, one in the morning (08:00 – 10:00) and one in the evening (17:00 – 19:00), during the time that people commute to and from work.