Having a Web site is no longer a competitive advantage—you know that. Managers are expected to quantify the impact of their Web properties on the bottom line of their businesses. As a result, the Web analytics industry is booming and is predicted to grow to $1 billion by 2006.

In my view, Web analytics will never be an exact science, even though its influence in the decision-making process is growing.

Issues inherent in Web data analysis make it difficult to get accurate, insightful data. This article's purpose is to make you aware of the pitfalls associated with Web data analysis so you can plan for or avoid them.

Here are five ways your data can be skewed by the very technology you seek to leverage.

1. AOL Proxy Servers

AOL proxy servers are a killer to traditional Web site analytics programs. If you want to learn more about them, go here, but here is a summary from AOL (my explanations italicized):

When a member [AOL user] requests multiple documents for multiple URLs [Web pages, PDFs, etc.], each request may come from a different proxy server [a different IP address]. Since one proxy server can have multiple members going to one site, Webmasters should not make assumptions about the relationship between members and proxy servers when designing their Web site.

Implication for your business:

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Wil Reynolds is the founder and head marketing strategist of SEER Interactive (www.thinkseer.com), a search optimization and Web marketing firm located in Philadelphia.