Understanding Web Site Statistics

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.

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.

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.

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