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How to Understand Your Website's statistics

Courtesy Donald Nelson
Contributing Writer, iEntry, Inc
© iEntry, Inc

In the early days of the Internet it was common to visit a web site and see a counter informing you that "you are the 118,456th visitor to this site", and various webmasters would proudly talk of how many "hits" their sites were getting. Now, things have changed and you will mostly find counters on amateur sites, and wiser webmasters now know that the term "hits" doesn't really mean much.

The term hit refers to a request for a file on your web site. When someone visits your web page, they request your URL, but in order to see the page, they also have to get all the graphic files that are located on your page. So, one visitor to your page may be requesting 25 different files, and thus you have 25 hits.

The counters of the Internets early days only measured whether someone requested a particular page where the counter was located. They did not give any indication of what the visitor activity was like on the other pages of the site. Those counters often did not differentiate between a "unique visitor" and total visitors. The number of unique visitors is the number of different people (as measured by their computer's distinct IP number) as opposed to total visitors, which could even be only one person visiting the page many times. (I used to visit my first site a few times a day to see how I was doing!)

So what then is the professional and up-to-date way of gathering statistics and what are the statistics that really count? Web servers keep logs of all visitor activity. When someone visits your site, he or she requests the various files on the site. The log records all of these requests and records other vital information as well including: the referrer page (or the last page where the surfer was prior to entering your site), what operating system the surfer is using, what screen resolution he or she is using, what search terms he or she made to request your site and a lot of other vital data that could be crucial to your ability to have Internet success or failure.

If you would look a the raw logs of your site you will see a long text file with the date of each entry and would see a few interesting items but you would not be able to put them together very well due to the volume of information. (a line of text for each file requested). There are log analysis programs that do this work for you. One way of using them is to download the log file from your server. Your host should be able to tell you where the file is located, and you can retrieve it using an FTP program. The log file is then fed into the analysis program and the results are generated. There are many programs that do this work. I got started with a simple program (Open Web Scope -and there is free version available). Alternatively, your host may have an analysis program preinstalled on the server, and the results may be able to be seen online (some hosts have the Webalizer program installed for their client's use)

So what are the things to look for when analyzing the logs? You should look for the number of unique visitors per day. This will give you an idea of how many people are viewing your site and will give you a broad overview of how you are doing.

Another indication of overall activity on the site is the number of "page views" per day.. Unlike hits, page-views refers to distinct html files or pages that were requested. Suppose you get 200 unique visitors per day, and there are about 2000 page views per day, then you can infer that your average visitor is viewing 10 pages of your site.

Another indication of overall activity is the amount of band- width used, or to put it another way, the total of the amount of data that has been transferred per day. This will vary according to how many visitors you have, how many files they view, and of course the type of site you have. If your site is heavy with graphics, or if there are e-books and mp3s to download then the data transfer on your site will be higher than on a site with plain text. This is an important statistic to look at if you have bandwidth restrictions. If you are not worried about this, it is also a good figure to look at just to see the overall activity of the site.

After you have seen the overall activity, it is good to look at the specifics and find more about how your visitors are using your site and how they got to your site.

One of the things I am most interested to see is what are the most accessed pages, and least accessed pages on the site. There are many ways to use this particular piece of information. For example, hopefully your order page will show up in the top ten. If no one is making it to your order page then maybe that is the reason why you are not making any money from the site. Or by looking at this list you may find some pages that are unexpectedly popular, and then you can add more content of the same type.

Related to the popularity of pages is the "click path" through the site. You can see the order in which people visit the various pages of the site and this information may help you to set up your site in a better way. Related to this are the "entry" and "exit" pages. Where do people enter your website? You will be surprised to learn that many people do not enter through your main page. Your inner pages may be attracting much of your traffic, and by learning which pages are popular entry points, you can set up other pages, optimize them and use them to attract more visitors. People have to leave your site some- times, but it is important to know where the exit points are, and the "exit pages" stat will show you where these pages are.

How did the visitors get to your site in the first place? The referrers list will tell you this information. A referrer is a web site where a visitor was just prior to reaching your site. You can see, first of all, that if you have 100 unique visitors in a day, and if 50 of them were referred, this means that 50 of them probably typed in your URL directly or clicked on an e-mail link or used a bookmark, while 50 of them came from search engines or links on other web sites. Here you will find out which search engines are sending you traffic. You will find out which of your links on other sites are performing well. By carefully looking at your referrers you can go to work on improving your overall promotion strategy.

Another interesting piece of information related to the referrers are the search terms that were used in the various searches. This statistic gives you an idea of what people are looking for when they visit your site. This information can give you an idea of whether you are getting the right kind of audience for your particular product or service.

Finally there is also technical information about your visitors. What type of browser are they using, what operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux) are they using? What screen resolution do they use? You have to make sure that your site can display well to fit the needs of the majority of your visitors.

This information can be obtained using many of the log analysis programs, and also some of the trackers which you can put on your site (for example www.extremetracking.com ) give some of this information. But remember that trackers often only give you the information about one page (where the tracker has been pasted in) If you want to get the total picture, the best way is to analyze the logs. By gathering and understanding this information and making changes to your site based on it, you may be able to increase the profitability and success of your web site.

About the Author:
Donald Nelson is a web developer, editor and social worker. He has been promoting web sites since 1995 and now runs A1-Optimization (http://www.a1-optimization.com) a company that provides low-cost search engine optimization and submission services. He can be reached at support@a1-optimization.com

-- This is an iEntry, Inc. publication --
Article Date: 10.30.02

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