Understanding web site statistics

Oliver Thylmann

 

(Originally published on Clickz.com) Did you know you can get a lot of statistics about your web site visitors? This data can be vital in helping you market your products and services. Keeping track of web traffic information helps optimize your site’s functioning, which in turn will improve sales.

Web site statistics can be obtained from a log analyzer or a third-party statistics service. One might be better than the other, but this pointer applies to both: You need to know how these tools work and how to understand the statistics they give you. Otherwise, you might just be marketing into nowhere.

Counters

Counters (or trackers) are normally run with proprietary third-party software on a remote server. You will have to include a short HTML/JavaScript code on your page, which gives you a small image from the remote server, and with the help of that image, statistics about your visitors will be collected. Due to the use of JavaScript, counters normally log more statistics than are possible with a log analyzer. Counter services are available for free or for a fee.

Log Analyzers

A log analyzer will parse the log file of your web server. Web servers can be configured to output specific information on each visitor to your site. This can be simple information, such as the time and the file that was requested, or it can include details, such as the host name of the visitor, the browser used, the operating system, and more. Log analyzers normally run on your server, and with large sites, your server load will go up when you parse the log file or even when it is written, depending upon what information you want to capture. If you are looking for web development for your company Check Vivid Designs

Do You Need a Statistics Service?

There are always things going on that can affect your web site performance, and they might just go by unnoticed without web site stats. Maybe you sent out a press release but have no idea how many web sites published it and linked to your site. Maybe there is an article somewhere that is producing a lot of leads, but people can’t find the product because it’s hidden somewhere on your site but should be promoted on the front page. You might suddenly get a lot of visitors via WebTV, but your site doesn’t work for them because it wasn’t high on your priority list until now. You can learn a lot about your visitors. It’s just a matter of paying attention to your web site traffic to fine-tune your marketing efforts.

The Most Bang for the Buck: Free

One of the most widely used free log analyzers is probably Analog. While it works marvelously, and a lot of geeks swear by it, your marketing department is the one that has to look at those stats, not the system administrators. Keep in mind that the statistics have to mean something to you and your marketing people if they’re going to help you get more sales from your web site. Taking a look at sample reports is always helpful.

A free counter can be your best option if you don’t have the budget for a log analyzer. The counter services have invested a lot of time and energy to give their members valuable statistics to help optimize their business. If you use a free service, you will normally have to put a button linked to that service on your web site. Many services give you a good choice of buttons, which means that you can put one on your site that will fit in with your design. So it shouldn’t be a problem, and you can get a great statistics service at no cost. If you are looking for website design in Mumbai for your company visit Vivid Designs

Paid Services

If you buy a log analyzer or subscribe to a counter service, you have a lot more options, which is nice if there’s a lot more money at stake. I’ll be giving you some examples of what to watch out for, but it’s sufficient to say that you have to know what you want and how to choose the right service. Knowing that yesterday produced a lot more hits than today will not tell you why. And the why is what you want and can get.

There are a lot of counters and log analyzers out there, and you can find many of them via dmoz.org. You should probably try out several to see what fits your needs. There are many statistics available, such as the daily average web page hits, visitor information (browser, OS), referrers, country statistics, etc. The sample reports can give you an idea of what’s available. Then, you want to relate the statistics to your business and see what data might be helpful in optimizing your site for better functionality. Next week, you will see if you picked the right one, as I tell you more about features and maintenance.

Defining Unique Visitors

Log analyzers and counters define a unique visitor in different ways. Counters normally use cookies, which define a unique visitor over a 24-hour period. Log analyzers log a user’s IP address, using that data to identify the user for six hours. Both systems have their weaknesses, but the important thing to remember is that you have to understand how each system defines a unique visitor to understand the information each system gives you.

If you use counters, cookies are sometimes not accepted; IPs can change several times during the day; and there is a huge difference between the 6-hour period and the 24-hour period during which a unique visitor is defined.

If you run a log analyzer, you will have to worry about maintenance, server load, data mining, and more; whereas if you use a remotely hosted statistics service, these things are taken care of for you. The remote service may go down, but this is highly unlikely as the people running such services know how important uptime is.

Features to Look For

Referrers, the URLs where visitors come from, are quite important. These URLs will let you see which links from many places on the web work best for your site. You might even get statistics about your placement and your keywords in search engines.

If you submit your site to a search engine, you can see if your site is listed and how well it’s ranked. If you send out a press release, you can see when other web sites publish an article with a link to your site and which sites send you the most hits. If some site picks up your product and tells the world about it, you will know right away. You can contact the correct person at that site to thank them, to tell them about an error in their report, or to just show them that you are out there watching and have a good support staff. Screen resolution and color depth statistics should be checked with counters, as they require JavaScript.

This data can help you if you’re planning to redesign your web site. Your designers may be designing and viewing your site from large 21-inch monitors at 1600×1280 resolution and 32-bit color depth. And every web page will look wonderful at that resolution. But most people will see your site at 8 bit and 800×600 resolution, which is the setting most people use to access the web. This could make a design with a lot of bells and whistles look just plain ugly. Do you know what screen resolution and color depth people use to access your site? You should.

Browser and operating system statistics can be very interesting, too, if you want to see who or, rather, what systems access your web page. You will also notice bots from search engines there, and you can see whether or not you have WebTV users. Browser and operating system statistics, along with the screen resolution and color depth data will become increasingly important as more people start surfing the web with set-top boxes and WebPads that run mostly at 800×600 resolution.

Host name, time zone, and language statistics can tell you where your visitors came from. There are different solutions here. One is via the host name of your visitors, the other is via time-zone statistics (which tell you the region of the world visitors come from) and/or language statistics (which tell you the language your visitors prefer online). I use both static IPs in Germany and dialup accounts in Germany, Belgium, the United States, and England, but normally surf with an English-language browser, so knowing that you have visitors from the United States, Belgium, England, and Germany will not really tell you a lot about me. The region and language of my browser will. Hopefully, I’ve highlighted some of the useful web site statistics that might help optimize your web site for marketing and customer service. These statistical tools can save you a lot of time and money if properly understood and used. If you have any further questions, email me, and I’ll do my best to help.

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