Web analytics: A primer for the busy urologist

Web analytics refers to collecting, analyzing, and using data about how users interact with your website to optimize that interaction for the benefit of your business. Here is what you need to know.

Robert A. Dowling, MD
Dr. Dowling

Like over half of your urology colleagues in the United States, your practice has a website, according to a recent survey of urologists in three cities. But if you have invested in an online presence, can you answer some fundamental questions: Are you reaching your target audience? Does the site need to be updated? Which pages are viewed most often and by whom? Does the site generate a return on your investment?

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Fortunately, there are some free or inexpensive tools and solutions that can help you answer these and other questions. Web analytics refers to collecting, analyzing, and using data about how users interact with your website to optimize that interaction for the benefit of your business. Web analytics is a big business in almost every economic sector, but-like information technology in general-somewhat new to health care and probably foreign to many practicing urologists. Here is what you need to know.

Different technologies used

There are different technologies employed in web analytics: Some solutions employ a method called log file analysis and read data directly off of the web server (the host server). Others collect information using web page tags and embedded programs that send out information; these do not require access to files on the host server.

Each method has its pros and cons, and some vendors actually use a combination of these and other methods to improve accuracy. Examples of elements that can be measured include third-party cookies, page views, sessions, new visitors, repeat visitors, unique visitors, bounce rates (single-page visits), average view duration, clicks, click paths, and even geographic information. This raw data can then be transformed into insights using analytics tools: dashboards, trending graphs, geospatial heat maps, visual graphics, and more. This is the same technology used by big online advertisers to target you, and it is literally at your fingertips for your own small business.

To get an idea of how this works, go to www.sitetrail.com. Type the URL of your website, or any website, into the search box. At the bottom of the page, you will see some statistics on search engine optimization, traffic analysis, visitor analysis, and content analysis.


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Many free solutions available

While web analytics means big money for companies like IBM (formerly Coremetrics) and Adobe (formerly Omniture), there are many free products available to small businesses. Start with your website host, which may already have a free solution that meets your needs and may even be included in your hosting subscription. Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics) is probably the most widely known free web analytics application. The technology requires embedding a small Java program on the pages of your website you want to monitor, so you will need to engage your website vendor or developer for the technical work.

Other popular free solutions include Piwik (www.piwik.org), StatCounter (www.statcounter.com), AWStats (www.awstats.org), and Clicky (www.clicky.com). All use one or both of the methods described above. Setup is beyond the scope of a practicing urologist but easily available from the person who hosts your website.

Bottom line: Web analytics can be used to reach your existing audience more effectively, target new audiences for marketing efforts, manage your website content efficiently, and much more. If you are just investing in your online presence, be sure to include web analytics in the scope of your project; if you already have a website, consider using analytics to improve the return on that investment. Your online presence is growing in importance, and these tools can help you use your website to full advantage.UT

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