Website Statistics
Vital Feedback for CPA Firms

By Kristi Stangeland

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AUGUST 2007 - Having a website and not looking at its usage statistics is like running a company without ever reconciling the cash account. The statistics are an opportunity to reconcile a website. With the data, an accounting firm owner can tell how well the site is working, which pages need help, whether lead generation is on track, and more. One can tell whether a website is doing what is intended, or whether it’s just sitting out there in cyberspace looking nice but wasting money.

‘Who’s There?’

Are people finding the website? More specifically, are they clicking through from search engine results pages? Once there, do they find the information useful and stay awhile, or do they take one look and click away? A firm owner would know by checking the website statistics.

In the most basic form, the information that even simple website statistics programs provide includes the following:

  • Number of unique visitors;
  • Length of the visit;
  • Keywords used to find the site;
  • Top search engines that referred visitors to the site;
  • A list of other websites that referred visitors to the site;
  • Top entry pages for the site; and
  • Top exit pages for the site.

Deciphering the Data

Knowing what each of the above statistics is and why the data are important can help business owners better understand whether the website is working in the ways they want.

Unique visitors. In the mid-1990s, “hits” were the most-used gauge of how much traffic a site received. It was soon understood, however, that hits represented every file the visitor opened while on the site. In other words, when a visitor enters a site’s homepage, the homepage file opens, but so does a file for each graphic on that page. So, if there is a top page banner, a side banner, a bottom banner, four photographs, and the page itself, one visitor could be counted as eight hits. That same visitor returning to the website an hour later could rack up eight or more additional hits just from clicking to the homepage. Not a very reliable measurement.

Unique visitors, however, is a measurement that is exactly what it says. It calculates one visit for each unique person who comes to a website. This gives a more accurate description of how much traffic the website actually has.

Keywords used to find the website. If search engine optimization (SEO) is part of the firm’s overall website marketing strategy (and it should be), one must know which keywords and phrases visitors are actually typing into the engines. That will optimize the copy (text) and other page elements to include the keywords visitors are using and improve the site’s rankings on search engines. Knowing which words and phrases to include requires research. Never guess about which key phrases website visitors might use. More often than not, you’ll be wrong.

Even the simplest statistics programs that come built into a web-hosting account usually offer a list of the top keywords others have used to find the website. While certainly not the definitive source of keyword research, this is an excellent starting point. From there, tools such as and Keyword can also help.

Top search engines that referred visitors to the website. While anyone can quickly go to Google, Yahoo, or other search engines to see if their site has been indexed and ranked for certain search terms, how does one know if people are clicking from the search engine listing to a website? Although being ranked is great, unless those high rankings convert lookers into visitors, they don’t do much good.

Scanning the top search engines that referred visitors to a website helps an owner determine whether the site is getting any traffic for high-ranking words and phrases.

List of top referrers. Compiling information about other sites that have included a link to a firm’s website could be part of the data gathering. When a visitor leaves one website and clicks to another URL, the site the visitor left will be recorded in the tally for the incoming website. The visitor could have clicked a link, but the visitor also could have typed the address directly into the browser. So while this list can offer good insights into how people locate a site, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

The value of a list of top referrers is that it helps validate traffic from pay-per-click ads and from other paid sources of traffic. If a firm pays for listings on directory sites, then checking the list of top referrers can allow the firm to see whether it’s getting what it paid for. If the traffic from the directory site doesn’t meet expectations, consider adjusting by either upgrading or dropping the listing altogether.

Investing in Statistics Software

Heavyweight statistics programs that can be purchased and installed on a web server can help a business owner glean extremely detailed information about visitor traffic patterns from the time visitors enter the website until the moment they leave. While most cost several hundred dollars, a company that is serious about accounting for the return on investment in its website will find such software a worthwhile investment.

Whether using the standard statistics that come with a hosting account or buying software from an independent source, any website owner should take time to evaluate the information these tools provide. They can provide excellent feedback to help tweak a website to be more productive and efficient.

Kristi Stangeland, CPA, is the author of Effective Websites for CPAs: Grow Your Practice and Profits (RJ Thompson Publishing Co., 2006; CPA Journal Book Review, July 2007). Stangeland can be contacted at 914-478-8480 or




















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