20. Traffic analysis tools

To develop a website you need to know your users: who are they? When do they visit? What are their favorite pages ? Nowadays different types of software can answer in-depth those questions.


Various tools allow you to determine your audience, qualitatively and quantitatively. Among the most famous:

  • Chartbeat tracks in real time incoming traffic to your webpage, from the homepage to the contact page. Some newsrooms use it to see which stories are popular… but also where web users are coming from and where they go when they leave the website. You need to pay for it though.
  • Google Analytics offers more or less the same services, but from one day to another and is segmented in tables (audience, content, incoming traffic, ads). An inconvenient : Google Analytics doesn’t differentiate between user, it only tracks connections (if you check the same website at work and then at home, you’ll be listed as two different visitors)… therefore it has a tendency to overrate website traffic.
  • Nielsen is a private American company (that has a partnership with France’s Meédiamétrie). It delivers traffic figures by using a sample of web users (and not real website traffic). This method paints a picture truer to actual traffic, it’s actually the one most used by advertisers to rank websites. An inconvenient : thanks to good referencing and the aggregation of pirate websites (games websites for example), it’s quite easy to artificially blow up your Nielsen traffic figures.

Two typical approaches

The site centric approach. It’s helpful in that it gives you a good overview of data essential to tracking website activity. It counts the amount of time a webpage is “called” by a browser. This measure helps to know the amount of visits and page seen. It applies both to regular browsing and mobile browsing.

The user centric approach. It saves all Internet usages from a restricted amount of web users (the Nielsen sample, around 25.000 web users in France). The user centric approach helps you paint a very precise picture of web users and compare the penetration rate of various websites, but it doesn’t take into account web users going online from a public place or from abroad.

Major metrics

These days the first quantitative rating criteria for website is the unique user, that is to say the amount of web users who have browsed one of the website’s pages at least once over the past month. The first twenty French websites get between 2 and 10 millions unique users. In China they get the same figures in a day. The amount of visits can also be calculated by traffic analysis software.

The second criteria is page views, that is to say the number of pages called each month. It tracks the website’s traffic level, that is to say how appealing the actual content is. Strangely enough, the amount of time web users spend browsing a webpage during each visit is not taken into account by traffic measuring software advertisers use… even though this criteria is an accurate depiction of the – editorial content’s quality and of how interesting it is to users.

Finally, news websites’ traffic graphs are centered around two M-shaped spikes: the morning (between 8 and 10 AM) and the night (between 5 and 7 PM), when people are commuting.