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Long Time Visitors in Woopra Are Not Really “Stuck”, They’re Just Idle

Using Woopra - August 19th, 2009 by .

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A few people have pointed out a little anomaly in their statistics that we’re going to call “stuck users” for lack of a better term. This perplexing behavior can be quite confusing, so I thought it would be useful to explain exactly what we are seeing, as its not exactly intuitive.

The Bug is NOT a Bug!

How many of you have noticed that sometimes you might have a visitor who appears to have been on your site for hours, or sometimes even days? I know I have. At first I could not understand what was going on.

No other web analytics provider shows you this behavior (mostly because they aren’t really LIVE, but that’s another story) for two reasons:

  1. They have decided, for you, that this information is irrelevant. They figure if a visitor is idle, then they are not really a visitor any more. I heartily disagree! But we’ll get to that in a minute.
  2. It uses valuable system resources on the tracking servers to keep track of long time visitors.

The reality is that every visitor that Woopra is reporting as being on a page is absolutely still viewing that page.

Let’s be more specific. What I mean is, in order for Woopra to report that a visitor is on a specific page, their Web browser must still be executing our JavaScript. When it does so, it pings the Woopra server every 10 seconds to basically say “I’m still here.” When the pinging stops, the visitor disappears from your view.

For example, if I’m visiting your Web site in one tab in Firefox, but happen to be reading another page at the moment in another tab, Woopra still reports that I’m on your page. We can have a healthy debate about whether this is philosophically accurate, but technically speaking this is 100% true.

Let’s look at an example case with one of our Woopra Members.

The Stuck Visitor Issues

Mitch over at Planet5D, one of the most awesome sites I’ve ever seen about Canon 5D cameras (which I personally use), has been kind enough to document the issue he’s experiencing. He shared the following opinions with me on the subject:

Now maybe you’re right in that they’re still on the page with the browser open, but you and I both know that they’re not actively on that one page for hours and hours. But leaving them on my list does nothing but confuse me…

And not to mention, that just because they’ve been on one page for 8-10 hours doesn’t mean I want them counted in my stats of length of time on site – we know they’re gone and they shouldn’t be counted in the time calcs! I’m looking at one person who has 11 visits and 35 hours on site – this is just wrong.

Mitch also shared a screen shot (and even made a video capture) to illustrate the point:

woopra

As we can see, he has captured a visitor who reports to have been on only a couple of pages for over three hours. Furthermore, they even followed an outgoing link! So why the heck are they still being reported by Woopra? Well, its simple. They followed the outgoing link in a new browser window (or tab). Meanwhile, they left the Planet5D site open to the page they were interested in so they could come back to it later.

The Good News about Stuck Visitors

A few points I’d like to make about this issue of “stuck visitors” and how it might impact your Woopra experience:

  • Mitch is seeing a lot more of this behavior than many of us because his site is so authoritative, magnetic and information rich. People want to come back! So if you’re seeing it too, this is something you should take into consideration. It is a unique browsing habit that is rare, though with the adoption of multiple tabbed browsing, may occur more frequently.
  • Even if your server is down, as long as the visitor still has the page open Woopra reports them as being on the site. To the reader, they are still looking at your content, and their browser is still pinging our server. Your server does not need to be up for this. If they leave the page (or refresh) however, it stops.
  • While you, the Webmaster, may not think of the visitor as still “being on your site,” I bet your visitor still thinks of themself that way! I know that if you asked me if I was still on Mitch’s site right now, I’d say yes. It’s open in another tab as I write this. (Has been for hours.)
  • The fact that you are aware that the end user’s browser is still on your page represents opportunity. You could still tag them, open a chat with them, or even force page reloads on them with new advertising or other content in it. You have to think outside the box to determine what to do about it!

Frankly, as long as we’re crazy enough to use our resources to tell you that visitors remain on your page, I don’t understand why anyone would want to ignore that information.

What Woopra is Going to Do About It

Although I would argue passionately that everyone embrace their “stuck users” as being as valuable as active users, I realize that it’s not going to suit everyone. So we are going to work on the following changes to the service to accommodate different preferences:

  • Time Out Option: We are going to implement an option soon to set a user selectable “timeout” value. When it’s ready it will appear in your site’s administration area and you will be able to choose the length of time a user is idle to begin excluding them.
  • Track Multiple Open Pages: We are looking into being able to track multiple open pages simultaneously, preferably with the ability to denote which pages are idle or in the background.
  • Improve Accuracy: We’re also looking into some other enhancements that might further improve the accuracy, though they would likely only be available to paying clients because of resources they would consume.

It will be at least a few weeks before we get these changes made because of the number of projects lined up, but rest assured that they are coming.

Cheers! @Johnpoz

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