Understanding Web Site Statistics: Part 2

Last week I gave an overview of the statistical tools available today. This time I want to look a little closer at the usefulness of available data and give you a few examples on how statistical services can be used.

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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