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What Is Clickstream? How Does Clickstream Analysis Help Ecommerce Businesses


It sounds like a stream of clicks, and that is exactly what "clickstream" is. More formally, you could define clickstream as data about which links a user clicked, and at what point of time.

Come to think of it, of the billions of hours that all of us cumulatively spend on the Internet, we primarily perform 3 tasks: read, type, and click. So if businesses could access information about what you click and when, they could pretty much unravel the great mystery that is you -- the customer.

How do Businesses Get Access to Your Clickstream?
Most surfers do not know this, but there are many places that your clickstream gets stored. If you access a website, the server that hosts the website keeps track of the links you click. In addition, your own web browser stores your clickstream, not to forget your ISP's routers, and servers of ad networks that have code placed on multiple websites.

While on the one hand ecommerce businesses could mine and analyze clickstream data on their own websites, on the other clickstream data can be purchased.

Clickstream Data
Some of the information that clickstream data seeks to capture is:
  • Where was the visitor before she reached my website?

  • If a visitor came in from a search engine, what search term did she use?

  • What webpage did the visitor first access on my website?

  • What pages did the visitor access on my website? In what sequence?

  • How much time did the visitor spend on each page?

  • When and where did the visitor click the "back" button on the web browser?

  • What items did the visitor add to (or remove from) her shopping cart?

  • What was the page at which the visitor exited my website?
Isn't it interesting that businesses have all that information about you. Does that leave you feeling concerned? You are not alone. Privacy concerns accompany any discussion on clickstream data and analysis. In fact there have been many landmark court cases related to behavioral targeting based on clickstream data.

Examples of Clickstream Analysis
The application of clickstream data is only limited by your imagination. Here are some ideas:
  • If you find that many people are visiting your website from a certain set of websites, you could consider catalyzing the process by advertising on those sites.

  • You could analyze the top exit-pages on your website to figure out whether there is something about those pages that is turning people away. Maybe you are asking for some information that visitors do not want to provide.

  • Are some of the search terms that visitors are using to get to your website converting exceptionally well? If yes, you could consider bidding on those search terms using advertising programs such as Google Adwords.

  • If a visitor is a registered user of your ecommerce website, you can correlate their clickstream with the demographic information your registration form has already captured. This could trigger email communication with highly targeted offers.

    Clickstream Data Analysis Privacy Concerns
    Without meaning to sound alarmist, you should know that every time you navigate around the Internet, you are leaving behind a trail of data. But it is tough to not be alarmist. While the data in the clickstream may not contain personally identifiable information, it is possible that further analysis could generate personal data.

    An interesting case in point is the historic AOL search data leak of 2006. AOL released anonymous search data for research purposes. But the New York Times was able to identify a specific person named Thelma Arnold, as one of the persons whose searches were in the released data. So your clickstream may not really be anonymous after all.
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