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How to Analyze Your Web Site Traffic
Copyright 2002 Herman Drost 

Getting traffic to your web site without analyzing it, is like
being blindfolded in a crowd. You hear voices, but you don’t
know which direction they are coming from or who they are.
Without analyzing your web site traffic, it’s 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

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

Referrer - A page that links to your site. By 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. 
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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.


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 ISP’s 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. 

Here is a sample of a raw access log file entry: 

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]
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. 


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:

WebTrends ($495) 
The Web Trends 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 $495 and is licensed for a single
web server hosting content with a maximum of 50 domains. 

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. 
Herman Drost is a Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW)
owner and author of iSiteBuild.com 
Low Cost Hosting and Site Design 
(with FREE comprehensive web traffic analysis)

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