Web Tracking – Why is it done?

Web tracking is the ability of a website to keep tab on website visitor. [1] Well you search for a flight lets assume from Chicago to Pittsburgh (something I do very often!). You are done with your search you don’t buy a ticket and you go on to Facebook. While you are surfing through Facebook, you see an advertisement for flights from Chicago to Pittsburgh from the website you were viewing your tickets earlier. All this and much more is possible due to web tracking.

 

Some people argue that this is against personal privacy, some may argue this is unethical but companies on the other end advocate that they do web tracking to improve the online experience for users. We as users get better online experience and companies get better sales. WIN – WIN situation is what it sounds like. Let us look at few reasons as to why web tracking is done:[2]

  1. Web tracking for advertisements – Tracking individual web surfing patterns enables companies to provide better advertisements.
    1. Personalized Advertisements: In the above example, I much more likely to be interested in the Chicago to Pittsburgh flight ticket ad than an advertisement for some body deodorant. As a user, I get better experience and the airline website is more likely to increase its sales.
    2. Contextual Advertisements: In contextual advertisements, advertisements are displayed on a page depending on certain words. If the page does contain certain keywords then certain advertisements are displayed on the page.
    3. Behavioral advertisements: Advertisements displayed can also vary depending on the age, gender and geographic location of the user.
    4. Semantic advertisements: While contextual advertisements depend on certain keywords, semantic keywords understand the context in the page and then provide relevant advertisements. This is a very sophisticated form of advertising.
  2. Web Analytics – Web tracking can also be used to get a sense of the overall performance of a website. It can be used to track the number of visitors to a page over a period of time. Companies and web owners can track the source that is diverting traffic to their website. They can analyze from where their users landed and can also customize their website depending on the results. This can track the geographic dispersion of the visitors.
  3.  Clickstream Analytics[3] – Clickstream analytics is used to analyze which pages the visitors visit in what order and also result of successive mouse clicks that each visitor makes. There are 2 types of clickstream analysis – Traffic analysis and e-commerce analysis.
    1. Traffic analysis is performed at the server level where the path taken by the users through the site is examined. It also determined how many pages were served to a user, time taken to serve each page and also activities such as how many times user pressed back button, how many users refreshed a page and so on.
    2. E-commerce based analysis is used to determine the pages that a user lingers on, the items user puts into a cart and removes. It tracks all the way up to final purchase made by the user.

References:

  1. http://whatismyipaddress.com/web-tracking
  2. http://resources.infosecinstitute.com/means-and-methods-of-web-tracking-its-effects-on-privacy-and-ways-to-avoid-getting-tracked/
  3. http://searchcrm.techtarget.com/definition/clickstream-analysis
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