Key website tracking terms to know

Website tracking is used to determine how a particular website is performing. To better understand whether the website is performing well or poorly, one need to understand the key terms used in the web tracking analysis.

Briefly, website tracking is about analyzing web traffic to a website. When a visitor comes to view a website, the web server (or a web analytic tool) records some piece of data from what the browser sent. For instance, when you requested to view this page, our web server recorded (other website servers may collect more information):

  • the time of the request,
  • the page that you requested (the URL of this page),
  • the referral page (if any, for instance, if you found this page via Google, Google’s URL is recorded. Google’s URL included the keywords you used to find this page, so our server records the keyword you used.),
  • the browser name and the version,
  • operating system, Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2003, etc.
  • Each time you request a page from our blog, this process of data collection will continue.

If you had only one or two requests for a website per a month, it would be very easy to determine the website performance without any detailed analysis but the site is performing very poorly. Typically, websites have hundreds and even thousands of such requests per month. Many websites have millions of requests a day. Analyzing vast amount of data is only possible by using automated tools, which we are calling web analytics tools.

When you use a web analytics tool to measure the performance of your website, you are likely to see the terms we attempt to explain below.


404 error
This is probably the most common error on the web. It indicates a web page, file, or some other resource does not exist on the website (or server). If you have the 404 error information available for your website (almost all websites have 404 errors), investigate what it is that the users cannot find on your website. Typically the common cause of 404 errors is misspelled URLs.


Average time on site
This is the average amount of time web users spend on a web site. If this number is 3 minutes, then, people are reading or using the web site for three minutes, on average. If people are spending only 10 seconds on average, this indicates people leave immediately from the website (perhaps they entered the website by mistake.).
Average time on page
This is the average amount of time web users spend on each page. If this number is 3 minutes, then, people are reading or using the webpage for three (3) minutes, on average.


A bandwidth is a measure of how much traffic (or data) was transmitted from your website. If you have a PDF (Portable Document Format from Adobe) file on your website with file size 10 MB, your web server will count 10 MB toward the bandwidth each time the file is requested. This type of measurement is useful, for instance, to determine if your website is exceeding the total bandwidth limit set by your web hosting company.
Bounce rate
This should not be confused with exit rate. Bounce rate measures the percent of web users who enter and leave (exit) on the same page without seeing or visiting other pages from the site. A bounce rate of 90% for a website’s home page indicates 90 of the web users exit the website without visiting any other pages from the website.


Cached request
This is a special type of request to the web server from a browser. If a browser has a cached (or previous) copy of the web page, it sends a special request to the server to send the file only if it has not been modified. If the server determines the file is not modified, the server records this as a cached request. Caching eliminates the need for carrying of the extra or unnecessary bandwidth.
It represents a web user clicking on a link on the same website. If this click goes to the server, the click is captured for analysis. Think of ads from third party vendors (such Google) on a web page, they may not be captured for web analysis by your web sever because the link is pointing to Google’s server not yours.


Entry page
This is the first page visited by a web user. If you entered this blog via this page, this is your entry page.
Exit page
Opposed to the entry page, an exit page indicates the last page a used visited.
Exit rate
This indicates the percentage of web users who exit from a particular web page. A page with 90 % exit rate indicates 90 % of the web visitors exited that page. If this rate is for a website’s home page, it means 90% of the people are exiting from the home page.


Failed request
This means there was an error in processing of a request. In other words, suppose you requested a web page, and in the process of getting that web page the server encountered a problem. Failed requests should be investigated by your web agency to find the cause and a fix. Errors are not user or customer friendly.


An impression is a single display of an advertisement. If your ad has ten (10) impressions per day, it means it is display 10 times that day.


Navigation path or click path
This is the sequence of clicks that a website user follows on a website. Suppose a user first visits the home page, then the products page, then the home page, then the services page, and then the contact page, our navigation path analysis will construct the sequence of visit of the pages.
New visitor
A new visitor is new to the website, specifically, a web user who has not visited the website previously.


Pages per visit, page depth, or pageviews per session
Pages per visit indicate the average number of pages a visitor sees from a website. It is computed by dividing the total number of pageviews by total number of visits or sessions. If a website has 1000 pageviews and 400 user sessions per month, then pages/visit is 2.5.
A pageview represents a display of a web page. For instance, your request to read this page resulted in one pageview. If you were to refresh this page, the pageview counter will be up by 1, if you refresh the page again, the counter will be up by 1 again, and so on. Note: a page must download completely and error-free before it is counted as pageview.


Repeat or returning visitor
A retuning visitor is someone who has made at least one previous visit to the website. As an example, if you visit this blog today, and come back (we hope) a week later, you will be a repeat visitor, not a new visitor.


Session or user session
A session represents the activity of a web user during a certain time interval (such as 20 or 30 minutes). Let say our web server sets the session time interval to 20 minutes. As long you request your pages from our server within 20 minutes of your last request, only one session will be counted. On other hand, if you request a page (or even refresh the page) from our blog 30 minutes later, a new session will be created because the last session expired 10 minutes ago. So a session is only counted once per visitor during the session time interval, regardless of whether the visitors requests 2 page or 20.
Spider or robot
A spider is special program designed to extract (or gather) information from a website. Companies such as Google, Yahoo, and other others send robots to websites to gather information.


Unique user
A unique web user is counted only once in web analytic reporting regardless of how many times he/she has visited the website within a given timeframe. Some analytic tools use each IP address (internet address of the computer) of the user as one unique web users. So if a website has 50 IP addresses in its logs, the tool will report 50 unique visitors regardless of whether these visitors accessed the website only once or ten thousand times. A unique visit is not necessarily the same as a session (restricted by minutes; i.e., 30 minutes). While the number of sessions may be higher if the users accessed the website ten thousands times on different days, the unique visitor count will still remain the same: 50. If you want to know how many people access a website within a month, use of unique visitor is the closet match to the answer.


Web user
A web user is someone who views or visits your website.
Posted on 10/13/2011 9:49:36 PM