Ask for a definition of “Web metrics,” and those in the know will not hesitate to explain. But be prepared to hear different stories.

While there's no end of things to measure, there are two distinct factions when it comes to measuring the Web.

So, for purposes of clarification and elucidation, allow me to set the record straight and make life just a little easier for those of us trying to explain ourselves to colleagues, clients, friends, family, neighbors, pets, ceramics classmates and carpool members.


Web metrics is the measurement of what's happening on the Internet itself. Had I only known that way back in 2002, when I wrote a book called Metrics (John Wiley & Sons). Fortunately, I was allowed to add a subtitle: Proven Methods for Measuring Web Site Success. That, in a nutshell, is a wonderful definition for Web analytics.

Web metrics focuses on the number and types of people online, the number of broadband versus dial-up connections, advertisers, advertisements (shapes, sizes, level of annoyance) and all things related to the Internet as a whole.

How many Web sites are there? How many searches? How many emails? How many are spam? Does it make sense to promote items online for sale to certain countries or to seniors?

Web metrics are studied by companies with large panels of surfers whom they follow around online. These are the firms that report which Web sites are the most popular and can ask their panel members to run comparative tests of your competitors' sites.

Other Web metrics firms track the hits and clicks at Internet nodes: the ISPs. They watch how the great unwashed and unidentified masses surf from site to site, reporting how people research cars, get dates and track news stories.

A third sector measures the responsiveness of popular Web sites. Can the entertainment sites stand up to the demand for information on Oscar night? Which presidential site is the fastest, and which gets bogged down by demand?

A final group tracks online commerce. How much is being spent on advertising? What percent of consumer spending is happening on the Internet? Is B2B growing faster than B2C?

These are the study of the Internet as a whole—the Internet from the outside.


On the other side of the thesaurus, Web analytics concerns itself with what goes on inside a particular Web site.

How successful are you at attracting visitors? Once an individual becomes a visitor, what do they do? Where do they go? How easily can they accomplish what they want and what you want them to?

Companies that spend and spend to make their sites as valuable as possible need some way to measure whether their efforts are worth the trouble.

Are we getting the right kind of people at our site? Do they drill down to the product information? Do they put things in their shopping carts? Are we saving money by providing online customer care?

This arena is governed by software for sale and systems for use (Application Service Providers—ASPs) that gather, crunch and report out data from server logs, cookie data, JavaScript, e-commerce information, etc. When you troll the search engines for Web analytics, these are the measurement tools you'll find. The tools that help you determine the success of your own site.

Web metrics and Web analytics: two very different areas of inquiry, but they are both of vital interest to those trying to make a go of it in an online world.

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image of Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne founded the Marketing Analytics Summit in 2002 and co-founded the Digital Analytics Association in 2004. He now advises companies on analytics strategy planning at Data Driven Leaders Studio and teaches AI and machine-learning to marketers.