A Brief History of Web Analytics

As this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web, we thought it fitting to reflect on the pioneering efforts of web optimization and the building blocks of our present day web analytics solutions. Here, we unravel a brief timeline of key events in the web analytics industry. These developmental milestones are part of an ongoing collective effort to make the internet a better place for a global community of users.

evolution A Brief History of Web Analytics

1990 – The Birth of the World Wide Web

The internet is essentially a constant dialogue of HTML code, flowing back and forth between a web user and a web server. On Christmas Day 1990, Sir Tim Berners-Lee successfully implemented the first dialogue of this kind, creating the internet as we experience it today.

1993 – Log Files, Creation of WebTrends

Each time a certain HTML element is requested by a visitor, it is called a “hit” and is recorded into a log file. A hit may include text on a webpage, an image, sound or video file. However, from its modest beginnings, the internet was comprised of mostly static pages limited to text and links. Therefore, when a page received a hit by a visitor, it was assumed that they were engaging with the entire contents of the page. As web usage increased, website owners became preoccupied with this number of hits.

The development of log file analysis led to the start of commercial web analytics with the founding of WebTrends in 1993.

1995 – Creation of Analog

Dr. Stephen Turner created Analog, the first log file analysis program to be completely free of charge. Analog made the reports generated through log files more comprehensible to online businesses with clear documentation and visual graphs. Finally web analytics, until now understood only by tech teams, could now be used by marketing professionals as well.

magnifying glass A Brief History of Web Analytics

1996 – Hit Counters

The first widely used hosted hit counter service, Web-Counter, was born, sparking the trend of odometer-style hit counters displayed on each website landing page.

Accrue, Omniture, and WebSideStory were founded.

1997 – Javascript Tags

As webpages began to include images and other elements besides text, it became clear that the number of hits a server accumulated no longer represented the number of pages requested.

Javascript tagging became the new method of data collection to accurately report on diverse web traffic and trends. This is still the most widespread method of data collection today.

2004 – The Creation of the Web Analytics Association (WAA)

Web analytics was well established as an essential tool for web optimization, providing increasingly complex solutions that reported massive amounts of data.

2005 – Google buys Urchin & launches Google Analytics

Google Analytics quickly became the most widely used web analytics service available. Focusing heavily on quantitative analysis, it tied in directly with Google’s other web marketing offerings.

2006 – The birth of ClickTale & In-Page analytics

The launch of In-Page analytics allowed website owners to see everything their visitors do inside a webpage. Video session playbacks of visitor behavior deliver qualitative usability and conversion based data, while heatmaps and form analytics provide online businesses with both quantitative statistics and qualitative behavioral data about website visitors.

pngtimeline small A Brief History of Web Analytics

Click on the above timeline to enlarge

What’s Next?

The Web analytics industry is constantly being challenged to offer web usability solutions for evolving computer technology and eclectic visitor behavior. Next on the roadmap is mobile analytics, set to optimize the web browsing experience for mobile phone users. We at ClickTale are proud to be a part of this ever-evolving industry, and will continue to expand the role of web analytics in the 21st century.

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