Things you need to know about online traffic after all the “blog wars”

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With the recent “blog wars” between Xiaxue and several other parties, many technical details about online marketing has been revealed: phrases like “unique visitors”, “fake Likes” or “Google Analytics”, which were once pretty much unheard of by some, became the talking point in coffeeshops. One cannot deny that a marketing executive in a company usually just take everything mentioned by social marketing companies at face value: after all, technology and algorithm change at such fast pace that what used to be relevant yesterday might not be so today.

To rub salt into the wound, a marketing executive focuses more on ROI (returns on investment: how well an ad is working) while it is only the IT crew who knows exactly how important a “unique visitor” is compared to a “visitor”. In fact, there are people who thinks that “high bounce rate” is good just because “high” = “good”.

As the Goody Books website has been established since 2006 and the primary metrics to measure ROI is from online traffic to sales (now, that doesn’t make sense to readers who just want to read a cat fight, doesn’t it?), let me explain them in a way that is easily comprehensible so that we can enjoy reading those blogs without pulling our hairs.

A website = A home with an open door
Imagine that a website like goodyfeed.com is a house. People like you and me go to this house to visit and read what it has to say. The door is always open, and depending on how many visitors it receives, it either is a big house or a small house. Low-traffic websites are usually housed in a “HDB” as there are not many visitors, and high-traffic websites are usually in a “bungalow”. Each house has a room, and we usually visit a room in a house instead of staying at the living room.
And we as visitors can only enter and visit the house, but not change anything in it. As visitors, we cannot know how many people visited the house.

Google analytics = a people counter
If the house owner puts a counter inside the house to count how many visitors enter the house, that is an web analytics program. The most popular one is Google Analytics, as it is free and powerful. As this is placed by the owner, only the owner has access to the data. Other people cannot put the counter in—you don’t put a device into someone’s house without permission, right?
But how accurate is it? You can go on to debate about that forever, but Google Analytics the most-used program everywhere.

Unique Visitors
Here’s when it gets complicated: Unique visitors are people who come into the house and recorded by the counter at the main entrance. If they visited several rooms in the house, they’re still considered one unique visitor. This is important as some companies focus on unique visitors: you can go into as many rooms as you want, but if you never have the intention to buy anything from your visit, going into all the rooms isn’t the company’s goals.
P.S. However, some websites’ objectives get people to stay in the website for as long as possible, as their revenue is generated from advertisements.

Visitors
Now, this can get confusing. A visitor is one who has entered the house, go out and then come back. In other words, it’s the same person. For example, in a month, you can have one unique visitor who enter your house, go out and come back twenty times. It’s logged as one unique visitor and twenty visitors. As mentioned earlier, companies want unique visitors and not visitors; so a website can claim to have many visitors but in fact, it’s just the few people who visit often. They can also be known as “Sessions” in Google Analytics.
Think of them as your relatives or friends; they come and go every weekend.

Pageviews
Each room is a “page”, and each visitor that enters the room is considered a “pageview”. Therefore, to show the highest numbers, many websites like to use “pageviews” to misrepresent their actual numbers. One unique visitor can be twenty visitors and can be one hundred pageviews. Between 100 and 1, they’ll use 100.

Hits
Each room has MANY things like paintings, tables, computers, etc. When someone enters a room, he or she has seen all these things. One view of them = one hit. It’s almost the same as a pageview: but if you view a page, you load things like the images, the script, the text…etc. Therefore, one pageview can have tens or hundreds of hits. Now, can you imagine how many hits one unique visitor can contribute to?
You’ll be surprised to know that websites do tell companies that they have millions of hits per month—and they’re not exactly lying. It’s true. But a lie of omission is still a lie.

So you can see that one can just say that he doesn’t know these and gets the information from their analytics program, claiming that they have “thousands of views” per day, when all they have are merely ten unique visitors per day. All you need is a fancy website to misrepresent your traffic. If you think this is not happening, I can assure you that it is definitely occurring.

Hence, if you intend to pay for any banner ads, do ask for the average number of unique visitors per month as this is the best representation. If you want to be more precise, just get data from their GA. If they doctor the image, you’re not working with a company that has misinformation, but one that is completely unethical.

One of the ways to check a website’s traffic is through third-party analytics websites like alexa.com (think of them as computers outside a house and manually recording the number of people going in). The other way is to know what “house” they live in: if it’s an HDB, the traffic is usually lower, while a “bungalow” is higher. After all, webhosting for an HDB can be as low as $10 per month while a bungalow can be more than $300 per month. Still, that needs a little technical skill but at least it’s still doable from a third party. These are not as precise as Google Analytics, but at the very least they differentiate a high-traffic website from a low-traffic one.

The ugly truth is that some online marketing companies focus more on getting new clients instead of learning the latest technology. I do know of certain SEO companies (companies that promise you good Google rank) that practically used old practices that no longer work at all and still charge outrageous prices.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when we talk about basic website traffic. Regarding Facebook Likes and whatnot, there’re still more advanced ones like why some Facebook posts receive only 10 Likes when they’ve got millions of fans while some receive 1,000,000 Likes when they’ve got only thousands of fans, and why Facebook Pages have so many fans from countries like Cambodia or Bangladesh even when they have not bought any fans (the last I understand, these “click farms” have spread to Singapore!). Post reach fluctuations are due to something known as “EdgeRank” and fake fans that are not purchased are usually due to “click farms”—if you want to know more about those, do comment and I may write something about them!