How to Analyze Your Web Site Traffic
by Herman Drost


Getting traffic to your web site without analyzing it is like
being blindfolded in a crowd. You hear voices, but you donít 
know which direction they are coming from or who they are.
Without analyzing your web site traffic, itís difficult to
improve your web site marketing. 

Know Your Traffic Language
You should be aware of the different terms used to describe web 
site traffic, so as not to be confused about your web site 
visitors. Here are the main terms used: 

Visit - these are all requests made by a specific user to the
site during a set period of time. The visit is ended if a set
period of time (say 30 minutes) goes by with no further 
accesses. Users are identified by cookies, username or
hostnames/IP addresses .

Hit - this is a request to the server for a file not a page.
Your page can be made up of different files, such as graphic
files, audio files or CSS and javascript files, resulting in a
number of hits for that page. Each of these requests is called 
a hit. 

Counting hits is not the same as tracking pageviews. It takes
multiple hits to view a page. 

Pageview/Impression - this is the number of times a page is
accessed as a whole. 

Unique View - A page view by a unique person within a 24 hour
period. 

Referrer - A page that links to your site. Looking at your
referrers will tell you who's linked to your site. This can 
be particularly valuable for seeing where your search engine
traffic is coming from. 

User Agent - This refers to the software used to access your 
site. Sometimes known as a "browser" or "client", the term user
agent can describe a PHP script, a browser like Internet 
Explorer, or a search engine spider like GoogleBot. If you can
identify what software is being used to access your site, you'll
be able to tell if users are abusing it, and when the search
engines last crawled your pages.

Ways to Track Your Visitors 

1. Counters
These are heavily used on web sites by newbies but appear 
unprofessional. It is very common to go to a page and see 
something like "You are visitor number 12345 to this page". 
These numbers cannot be trusted as the page designer has the
ability to seed the base number or to alter the counter such
that it adds more than 1 each time. 

2. Trackers
Tracking software details the path a visitor takes through your 
Website, so they do more than just count your traffic: they track 
it. Tracking software tells you more than just the number of 
visitors -- it can break visitor statistics down by date, time, 
browser, page viewed, referrer, and countless other values.

Examples: 
Hitbox (http://www.hitbox.com/)
Sitemeter (http://www.sitemeter.com/)
Extreme-DM (http://www.extreme-dm.com/)

Counters and Trackers often require you to place a button or
graphic on your site in exchange for the free use of their 
service, which is not ideal for most site owners. So try to 
avoid using these services unless you don't have the ability 
or expertise to execute tracking scripts of any kind on your 
own server. 

3. Using Your ISPís Statistical Package 
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) keeps log files which 
record every single "hit" (request for a Web page or graphic) 
on your Web site. 

Analyzing log data can give you a good idea of where your site
visitors are coming from, which pages they are visiting, how 
long they stay, and which browsers they are using. Before
signing on with a hosting company, make sure they offer access
to raw log files. Even if you don't need them immediately,
sooner or later you'll be glad to have them. 

There are also different types of log files - access, referrer,
error, and agent are the primary ones. 

Access Log
Analyzing the access log will give you information about who 
visited your site, which pages they visited, and how long they 
stayed on the site. This is useful information in determining 
whether or not your site is working as you intend.

The record below shows the visitor's IP number or hostname, date
and time of the request, the command received from the client,
the status code returned, the size of the document transferred,
and the browser and operating system the visitor was using. 

nas-112-52.slc.navinet.net - - [29/Jan/2000:17:17:12 -0500] "GET
page.html HTTP/1.1" 200 23443
"http://www.mydomain.com/page.html" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible;
MSIE 5.01; Windows 98)" 

Referrer Log
The referrer log contains referral information - the source that
referred the visitor to your site. If the referrer was a search 
engine, you will also find the keywords that were entered to 
find your site - very useful information. Here are some example 
records. The record below shows that the visitor followed a link 
from somedomain.com to the index page of the site.

http://www.somedomain.com/page.html -> /

This record shows that the visitor came to my site from a search
engine link. Notice the keyword data is included in the record.

http://search.yahoo.com/bin/search?p=design+tips -> / 

Agent Log 
This log provides information on which browser and operating
system was used to access your site.

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible;MSIE 5.01; Windows 98) 

Error Log 
The error log obviously provides a record of errors generated 
by the server and sent back to the client. The record below 
shows the type of server, date and time of the error, client 
identification, explanation of the error code generated by the 
server, and the path to the file that caused the error.

apache: [Sun Jan 30 10:09:57 2000][error] [client 195.238.2.162]
File does not exist:/u/web/mydomain/favicon.ico 

As you can see, log files contain a wealth of information about
how your visitors are using your site. Now we will talk about 
how you get the relevant data extracted from the log files and 
compiled into a useable format.

4. Web Traffic Analysis Software
These are programs that analyze your server logs and then create
traffic reports accordingly. The quality of the reports generated 
will depend on what software you actually use. Some log analyzers 
are free and come preinstalled on many hosting accounts, while 
others can cost a good deal of money. 

Examples:
 
Webalizer (http://www.webalizer.com)
WebTrends (http://www.webtrends.com)

Webalizer (free)
The Webalizer is a fast, FREE, web server log file analysis 
program which produces usage statistics in HTML format for 
viewing with a standard web browser. The results are presented 
in both columnar and graphical format, which facilitates 
interpretation. Yearly, monthly, daily and hourly usage 
statistics are presented, along with the ability to display 
usage by site, URL, referrer, user agent (browser), search 
string, entry/exit page, username and country. 

Here's an example of the Web Usage Statistics:
http://www.webalizer.com/sample/index.html 

WebTrends ($499) 
The Web Trends Log Analyzer produces essential reports on web 
site visitor patterns, referring sites, visitor paths and 
demographics. You can learn, for example, which sites and 
keyword searches have referred the largest number of visitors 
to your site. 

It presents data, detailed and in-depth, in an organized and
concise tabular format with full-color graphs. 

This Log Analyzer is priced at $499 and is licensed for a single
web server hosting content with a maximum of 50 domains. 

Conclusion
Web traffic statistics provide very valuable information about 
your web site. You can make better marketing decisions through 
them telling you: 

* Which Web pages are most popular and which are least used. 
* Who is visiting your Web site. 
* Which Web browsers to optimize your Web pages for. 
* Which Web search engines are most useful to you, and which are 
  the least useful.  
* Where errors or bad links may be occurring in your Web pages.  

Web traffic analysis allows you to determine what marketing
strategies are successful, then to change them accordingly, to
boost your web traffic and sales.  
 

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Herman Drost is a Certified Web Site Designer (CIW), owner 
and author of iSiteBuild.com  Affordable Hosting, Site Design 
and Promotion Packages (http://www.isitebuild.com) 

Subscribe to his "Marketing Tips" newsletter for more original
articles. mailto:subscribe@isitebuild.com. Read more of his
in-depth articles at: www.isitebuild.com/articles 
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