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Tracking vs log analyzers

Summarized overview

In this article you will find technical definitions of:

  • Unique visitor tracking
  • Log analysis
  • Human events

You will also find information about:

  • The difference between unique visitor tracking and log analysis
  • Why log analyzers show higher numbers
  • The difference between browser events and server events
  • Tracking unique visitors from behind corporate firewalls and ISPs
  • Advantages of using cookies to track unique visitors
  • Measuring page views instead of hits
  • Tracking spiders and bots
  • Opentracker specialization in human events and unique visitor behavior

Human events versus server activity

Why do tracking services show a lower number of visitors than statistics recorded by log analyzers? The answer lies in the difference between unique visitor tracking and log analyzing. Log analyzers record all measurable activity, whereas tracking services distinguish between human activity and server activity.

Tracking service stats will show lower numbers than log analyzer stats. This is not because tracking services record fewer visitors. The reason is that tracking services are stricter in their definitions of a visitor. A tracking service should do its best to ensure that no visitor is recorded twice, and that only human clicks are counted as visits.

The reason that tracking services will report lower traffic numbers than log files is because good tracking services do not recognize the following factors as unique visits or human events:

  • repeat unique visitors (after 24 hours)
  • hits
  • robot and spider traffic
  • rotating IP numbers (i.e. AOL)

Equally important is the ability to distinguish how many unique visitors are visiting from either:

  • the same ISP (Earthlink, At&t, Comcast, Cox, etc.)
  • corporate firewalls, large organizations (Microsoft, IBM, Apple, etc.)

Otherwise all these users will be counted as the same visitor. This is a differentiation which can only be made by tracking cookies.

Where possible, tracking systems should only measure human events.

For years now, the standard measurement of website traffic on the internet has been ‘hits’. Hits are not a reliable indicator of website traffic. A hit is a single request from a browser to a server. When a visitor looks at a single page, many hits can be generated, both for the request itself, and for each component of the page.

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Opentracker measures page views, not hits

Opentracker tracks page views. A page view is a single human event. A page view is also known as an impression. Each impression, or page view, represents an actual person who has viewed a specific web page. In this way, Opentracker differentiates between human events, and server-browser dialogues.

Opentracker specializes in human events and visitor behavior.

Opentracker tracks visitors over the long-term, and has the ability to recognize if a visitor has been at a site before. Opentracker uses browser cookies to track unique visitors over long periods of time. Examining a unique visitor’s clickstream, for example, can tell you how quickly new users adjust to site layout.

Drawbacks: we can miss visitors, in the event that a visitor clicks too quickly, i.e. does not wait for a page to load.

Case study

Example of a discrepancy between Opentracker and log analyzer

Log analyzers do not distinguish between humans, and spiders or bots. Spiders and bots are the devices sent out by search engines to scour and document all pages on the internet. This means that a log analyzer might record an extra several hundred visits for a given period, depending on the popularity of your site. The more popular that your site is, the more often it will be visited by search engine robots. This is especially true if your content is frequently updated.

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