Reliable Metrics

Reliable Metrics

Gauge the amount of time users spend online.

Question 1.  Can any product measure time spent on the Web?

Answer.  No they can't. The reason is simple. The fact that a user downloaded a Web page to a browser doesn't necessarily mean that he or she was actually looking at that page while it was open. After all, the user could have received a phone call, gone to lunch, attended a short-notice meeting, or been interrupted by a colleague. Also, users typically have more than one page open at a time, but only one is truly viewable, and there is no technical way to know which one. Lastly, downloading a Web page is not like establishing a telephone connection. With telephones, the beginning and end of the call are logged (making the duration measurable), and it's safe to assume that a "session" was taking place. Conversely, when a computer user clicks a URL, that action merely constitutes a one-time request for a document, and the "connection" with the server is immediately broken. There is no session, no end-of-session, and no possibility of measuring duration.

It's true that some products claim to measure time spent on the Web. This is an appealing but unachievable and misleading assertion. And the use of such products can lead managers to take ill-considered and unjustifiable actions against users.

Question 2.  If time spent can't be measured, what then is the best way to gauge the level of Web-visit activity by user or by category?

Answer.  The best way is to count and report the number of times the user actually clicked on (i.e., visited or viewed the page) specific Web sites and Web pages. To do this accurately though, the software must clearly distinguish true visits from other types of hits, e.g., graphics, banners, ads, background audio, and video images. To our knowledge, we are the only vendor that uses the visit-count approach. Other vendors' products typically mix true visits with all other types of hits, seriously distorting the true nature and level of the user's activity.

Question 3.  How does "Download Time" relate to this issue?

Answer.  Only indirectly. Download time is an estimate of the amount of time required, per visit, for the average Web page to load in the browser. It only represents the absolute minimum time the user was active with respect to the visited site (or page). As for gauging level of activity, download time can be used to supplement visit-counts or to make relative comparisons between users or between categories of activity. In our products, the numerical average is configurable because the actual average may vary from one organization to another.

For additional information on this subject, see the following white papers:

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