When I was in college, I majored in Economics…well, technically I majored in both Economics and German – but that’s beside the point. I always found Economics fascinating because it seemed to provide the tools to explain behaviors and predict outcomes. In other words, it was powerful discpline for predicting (and profiting from) the future.

But I also found Economics frustrating. I was frustrated because Economics was often too conceptual and theoretical. One of the core principles in my Economic studies was the notion of ceteris perebus. For those not familiar with this term, it means “all else being equal”. If the price of product X increases, demand will decrease – ceteris perebus. The problem I had was that all in the real world, ceteris perebus doesn’t exist. It’s a pipe dream. Rather, at any given point “demand’ can be affected by several if not dozens of factors that skew the actual results. In fact, if the price of product X increased, demand could actually increase as well. Go figure.

I thought of this Economics frustration when I read some responses to my blog entry on Visits and Unique Visitors. One response suggested that my recommendation to use Visits over Unique Visitors was simplistic, superficial, and that “you do not want to subscribe to these theories if your job, your company, or your family?s income is on the line.”

While some readers of my blog wrote me and said they found this offensive, I actually didn’t. Rather, it only underscores my point. There is a tremendous amount of misperception in the web analytics industry today, and there is a lingering belief that Unique Visitors represent a truly unique prospect or customer. To illustrate just how pervasive this misunderstanding actually is, the blogger continued with “By focusing on Unique Visitors we keep our focus on the thing that matters most: a single, unique, prepared-to-part-with-money customer.”

Now bear in mind this blog is coming from one of the most respected outfits in web analytics today. But take a look at my other recent blog posting 15 Reasons why all Unique Visitors are not created equal.

Now, do you truly believe that Unique Visitors represent a single, unique, prepared-to-part-with money customer? Of course not…because Unique Visitors are fundamentally flawed. It is simply inaccurate and unreliable.

So what does this have to do with Economics? Because in theory if we could truly measure Unique Visitors as “single, unique customers”, it would be a fantastic metric. I’d love nothing more than to have such a metric. But in reality, we don’t. There is no ceteris perebus. There is little to no ability to account and correct for the 15 issues I highlighted that affect Unique Visitors. And in truth, there are actually many more that can further distort your unique visitor counts.

So I’d suggest a slightly different take on a recent comment I received, do *not* subscribe to Unique Visitors if your job, your company, or family’s income is on the line.

Rather, as I suggested in my last post, I would suggest focusing on Unique Customers as your proxy for “single, unique customers”. So what is a Unique Customer? I’ll get to that in my next post as this was just a quick entry to highlight just how much more we have to grow as a collective industry. In the meantime I welcome your feedback and as always, if you’d like assistance understanding how to leverage web analytics to maximize ROI, please do not hesitate to contact me and the Omniture Best Practices Group.

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