Individual Visitors Tracking or Aggregate Data – Which One Is The Right Method?

Should web analytics tool track visitors as unique individuals or at the aggregate level? John Squire, Chief Strategy Office of Coremetrics says that tracking at Individual level is the way to go and this is how his company is differentiating itself (from Google analytics). Brian Clifton, former heard of Google Analytics in EMEA, responded by saying that aggregation is the way to go.

In my opinion both of them are right. Which route to go really depends on what you want from the web analytics tool?

Aggregate Data

If you are new to web analytics or you just want to track and analyze the overall health of your website, aggregated data will work for you. If you want to know how your marketing efforts are performing in terms of driving traffic or online conversions than aggregate data will just work fine for you. If you want to know which pages of your site are bleeding and then conduct A/B testing or Multivariate testing to improve them then aggregate data will work for you.
Individual Visitor Tracking

However as companies mature in their use of web analytics data they will need individual level tracking.

A company which is ready to do personalization will need to understand each individual browsing/purchase behavior to put the right offers/products in front of her. That is not possible with aggregated data.

It sounds perfectly ok to know that 75% of visitors abandoned the shopping cart but won’t it be nice to know who those 75% are or a way to convert at least some of those 75%? This is where individual tracking will come in handy. If visitors, who abandoned the shopping cart, leave an email during the process then you can send them a targeted email based on how far along they were in the shopping process, what products they had looked at, what product they had in shopping cart, etc. You don’t need to analyze every single data point but you can have business rules that can trigger those emails. However, to do so you will need to track at individual level. Even if you don’t want to send an email if you know the cookie id of the visitors you can put a personalized offer in front of them when they return back to your site and this will require tracking at individual level.

Individual tracking also comes in handy when the sales people call the lead that they just got from the website. Knowing what the person, who filled the contact us form, did on the website could provide a lot of information to sales person who can then tailor their conversation based on this information.

There are several more scenarios where aggregate data just won’t work. You will need individual level tracking.

I agree that tracking individual has privacy implication that need be properly addressed before tracking each person. However privacy issues also exist when you anonymously track visitors at aggregate level and those need to be addressed too.

So should you choose a tool that aggregates the visitor data or the one that tracks them individually? It all depends on what you want to do with that data. If you need help in figuring out what tool will work best for you feel free to email me at batraonline at


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Originally Posted at : Individual Visitors Tracking v/s Aggregate Data – Web Analytics, Behavioral Targeting and Optimization by Anil Batra

4 thoughts on “Individual Visitors Tracking or Aggregate Data – Which One Is The Right Method?

  1. You are right Anil. Aggregated data is perfectly fine if your web analytics solution is stand alone and purely to fulfill the business need of analyzing customer behavior on the website. However, if you need to take these behavioral data away from web analytics and make them actionable in an automated fashion, you’ll need to segment and score them, put them back into marketing system such as email, or BT engine, can’t do it without visitor level tracking. Another advantage of having visitor level web analytics tools is that you can use them to conduct longitudinal study to develop engagement model for your specific business to move customers along their maturity cycle. You can tie these behavioral data to qualitative survey in you want to understand loyalty. E.g If I wanted to understand Bing Cashback customer having an impact on our search engine usage. If I have visitor level data, I can conduct a cohort analysis over a period of time to see their search behavior comparing to those who aren’t. I can segment and score them, and I can then put together newsletter program to reach out. I would think this is something you can’t do without if you have ecommerce or advertising business models. Aggregated data is just so web 1.0.

  2. Anil,

    Hi there – I do a lot of work on funnels, as well as MVT testing and the whole funnel from SERP basically through to the business as well.

    My observation is that most companies have such poor experiences in their funnels, that segmentation will optimise only a subset of the potential lift out of a process without core UX.

    Forms processes, in particular, suck so badly on most sites that attempting to optimise segments isn’t the low hanging fruit – the poor validation, copy, error messages and information usually has a higher impact.

    I agree with you that individual personalisation and targeting is the way forward – for most companies they have work to do first, before they even try to optimise. The risk they run is of implementing a segmentation strategy that merely polishes a turd!

    What I’d like is a machine learning system I can fill like a big hopper. It will test out creatives I input (feeding the hopper) and understand the patterns, allowing me to execute judgement on how to tweak them. For example, if I find that a ‘hurry up’ message works on saturday evenings, I’d like to know, so I can set the system to use this every saturday and monitor progress.

    I’m 9 months down the line with a funnel, and still finding tunable stuff that gives good return. Now I’m ready for segmentation (laughs).

  3. Hi Anil,

    I am in favor of individual visitor level tracking. But it requires lot of workaround. Could you please suggest some of the tools which can make my work easier in individual visitor level tracking.

    1. Gunjan, what web analytics tool are you using? Google Analytics does not allow that but there are way’s to work around that. Send me the name of the tool before I go deeper into this subject.

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