Understanding what chartbeat is measuring

When people initially think about “real-time analytics” they often think of it as “like traditional analytics, only faster.” But what’s often missed is the transformative way chartbeat measures visitor activity: it gives you the data you need faster, but it also makes that data much richer.

With a traditional service like Google Analytics, a user sends a “ping” to the service when they first arrive on the page, and, sometimes, whey they click on links. From this data, it’s possible to count the number of page views in a period of time. But measures of how long users remain on the page are just guesses.

In contrast, with chartbeat, one user sends repeated pings, as frequently as every 15 seconds, to say “I’m still here, and this is what I’m doing.” Are they actively reading your site, or do they have it open in a browser tab for later? Are they writing something, maybe a comment or search? Are they scrolling down and engaging with the content or not getting much further than the headline?

The chartbeat method of counting provides a richer sense of how many qualified and retained views you’re getting, rather just raw visits to your web site. Our data gives a more accurate accounting of time on page and a better sense of how much of that time was actually spent looking at and interacting with your page. This is information that that can be valuable in optimizing your website, improving your marketing, or selling more advertising.

Why your chartbeat numbers don’t match your traditional analytics numbers

All analytics services measure data in different ways and reconciling them can be difficult, but doing so can be even more difficult when trying to reconcile real-time analytics with traditional analytics. Knowing how many users are on your site at any given time is qualitatively different from knowing how many page loads occurred during a given period of time. The same 5 page views in an hour could be 1 concurrent view if users do not remain engaged and leave your site, or 5 concurrent views if those users remain engaged and stick around.

This is illustrated in the diagram above. While traditional measurement only knows that there were 5 visits between 10:00 and 11:00, chartbeat knows which sessions are active at any given moment and what they’re doing. When you load the dashboard or view your history, you see slices in time, some with 2 users present at once (10:05), some with 4 users present (10:00).

So what’s better, page views or concurrent views? We think they both have their place. But it’s important to understand that these are two very different perspectives on visitor behavior, and there can be valuable insight in the differences. If chartbeat shows a larger percent of traffic on some page than Google does, that page may be holding users’ attention for longer. If chartbeat shows more traffic coming from direct than search, it may mean that users coming via Twitter are more likely to linger than hits from web search. Viewing this behavior from the angles of both traditional and real-time analytics will give you far greater insight into what’s really happening on your site and how to improve it than any one tool alone.

14 thoughts on “Understanding what chartbeat is measuring

  1. Great post guys – love the diagrams of the differences of traditional vs. real-time analytics.

    Maybe this comment is not ideally fit for a blog comment, but wanted your take on when you see the traditional analytics vendors moving into the real-time world? Omniture, Coremetrics and others are not going to give up their position without fighting. Assumption is that their data systems are not built with real-time in mind (i.e. legacy systems) but they will need to upgrade. Curious to hear how you guys see the next 12-18 mos shaping out.

    Darren Herman

  2. Your FAQ says…

    “It has no impact on your page load time or the browsing experience of your visitors”

    This is incorrect… as a visitor of a site that recently switched to using chartbeat I started seeing every 15 seconds my cursor change to an hour glass and the loading popup at the bottom of my browser window pop up and down. It’s very annoying and so does impact my browsing experience :(

    • WOW! Jeff, your observation/accusation is an extremely significant concern, and one that I’m surprised hasn’t been met with any sort of answer or response whatsoever by an employee at chartbeat or someone in the know. This is especially true given the fact that all other questions or open-ended statements in this blog’s comment-string have been answered. Yours Jeff is the only exception.

      So I’d like to reiterate the above statement and ask: “Does Chartbeat’s analytics code cause ANY disturbance such as the hourglass and the loading popup in direct contradiction with your FAQ statement?” Please let me know.

      Thank you,
      Christian Hunter
      Austin, TX

      • We just tested load times on various items on our pages. Google Analytics weighed in at 0.458s and Chartbeat came in at only 0.033s. This was on Chrome/Windows. We’d like to remove Google completely, but we’ll need a few more features from Chartbeat first.

    • Hey Jeff & Christian,

      Sorry about the delay in response here, but I’d love to delve into the issue and sort out what the problem is. This definitely shouldn’t be the case. Which browser are you using and on what pages are you seeing this? Please hit me up at bens@chartbeat.com. Thanks and sorry for the temporary convenience!

      • Hey Ben,

        Thanks for your reply. I want to make clear that I myself haven’t measured any perceptible difference or drag like that which Jeff mentioned; I was merely looking for reasons not to by what seemed to be a novel and interesting service. I’ve since become a member and have had no issues with speed or any indicators that Chartbeat.com is doing anything to slow performance in the slightest.

        My post was simply an alert that an un-replied-to accusation like Jeff’s was a concern I’d expect you to notice and take interest in. It’s nice to see that you did just that.

        Christian Hunter
        Austin, TX

  3. Not to sounds old fashioned and yes I love your real time stats….but I’m going to need total unique visits and page views…that’s where my $$ come from…any way to get that info on a daily basis?


  4. When you look at the real time graph (that also has the option of a 7 day or 30 day range comparison) what are you comparing it to with that gray graph line underneath. The same day a month ago or something?

  5. I wonder, if I open a page and keep it opened whole day, will Chartbeat script send the pings whole day? Or is there a limit on how long user is considered “on the site”?

    • There is a limit indeed. Our maximum session length is 2 hours. Also, if you just have the page open in the background but aren’t using it, we’ll count you as idle for however long that is.

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