What analytics tools have you been relying on for understanding the traffic, users, and customers of your website? In reality you can rely on web analytics that are either:
Web Log-Based Analytics
Web log-based means you are getting the web/traffic data directly from your web server's log files.
Web log captures a gigantic amount of data that most of the time even exceeds what you actually require. It captures every click a user makes on your web page. It records when your server returns a CSS file to the client.
It's a pain to clean up the raw data of even a small web log file. To make it worse, every day, every hour, and every minute, your log file's size adds up. So processing your web log files can be very painful (and take a very long time) if you are running a website that has billions of page views per day.
A software/web engineer is probably needed to write automatic script to pre-process your daily log files (before the data becomes anything meaningful to you) that would also depend on how you have configured your web servers to capture user data to your web log files.
After all these pains, you will still require your data warehouse experts and web analysts to store the web log data in some pre-planned database structures and put the data up as readable reports for human beings.
Many SEO experts would think otherwise about web log-based analytics. One great benefit that they can get from web log is the behavior of search engine spiders. Knowing this information is essential for them to deal with many difficult SEO issues.
URL-based: This means when your website's URL is planned in a way that makes sense for users and search engines, your web analytics tool shouldn't have problems showing them back to you in the reports.
Cookies-based: Tracking each visitor's behavior is becoming more and more important for your web business's success, and a cookie more or less represents a single person (or visitor).
No/minimal data storage issue: For example, your website's traffic data is actually hosted on some servers that belong to Google, if you are using Google Analytics. You will not be required to spend time and labor in maintaining the servers, handling the technical issues, and cleaning up the raw data.
No search engine spider or bot data is captured, e.g., Googlebot, baiduspide.
No page error data can be captured.
Global web analytics tools that are available to users for free:
Google Analytics: Google has always been maintaining the data lifecycles of "give-and-get" with its users.
Yahoo Web Analytics: Unfortunately Yahoo has decided to retire this tool, as the company's direction is no longer to develop sophisticated and free web analytics tools.
Global web analytics tools that are only available when you pay to use them:
Adobe/Omniture Site Catalyst
There are many more paid web analytics tools that are similar to Site Catalyst
Global web analytics tool that is available as a self-installed and open-source project:
For the Internet world especially in China:
Baidu Analytics (百度统计): Baidu has been proactively providing its web analytics tools to its users.
China-based web analytics tools that are only available when you pay to use them, and they are the best ones from within China that I have seen so far (if you know of other great China-based web analytics tools, please don't hesitate to let me know):
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Gordon Choi has paid search experience in Google AdWords and Baidu since 2003; Yahoo/Bing since 2002 and SEO and web analytics experience since 2005 across China, Asia, U.S., U.K. and Australian markets. He gathered China Internet experience through working in-house at Ctrip.com and Alibaba.com and now specializes in setting up SEM/SEO strategies, managing online campaign operations, and implementing web analytics solutions for clients.