Understanding your stats

In a recent article I wrote about the necessity of having a good Web Site Analysis Program to monitor the effectiveness of your promotional efforts. These programs will tell you how many visitors your site is attracting, where they are coming from, which pages they are looking at, how long they are staying, which search engines are listing your site, the keywords visitors are using and much more. If you don't already have an analysis program I have compiled a brief list of those that I am aware of at the end of this article.

The stats you have available to you will depend upon your server. The most informative stats are compiled into a log file on most commercial sites. These will often have the name "****.log" or "****.gz" depending upon the operating system. An analysis program will interpret these files and present the information in a way that will help you understand what is going on.

If you do not have a log file, you can use a free 'stats' program like "Site Counter" which will track your visitors and display a visual analysis. This analysis will not be as detailed as a log file analysis but will be vastly superior to no analysis at all. 'Site Counter,' like most web sites that provide free code, make their money by displaying adds to you when you check your stats.

So just what do these stats tell you?

The information can be quite extensive. Probably the most overused and least useful information is the number of Hits. A Hit is actually a request for a file. If you have a web page that includes 4 pictures your log will report 5 hits when a visitor views the page. If the user selects the Refresh button, you will suddenly have 10 hits. Another site with no pictures will report only 1 hit as a user visits. Reporting hits of 10 to 1 is consequently quite uninformative.

If you advertise on your site, most advertisers (as should you) will want to know how many people visit your site. Where do they enter and leave? Where do they go? What do they look at? How long do they stay? Where did they come from? Who referred them? And as much additional information about your visitors and advertising campaigns as is possible. Think of your site as a department store and think about what your visitors are doing. Knowing this will help you to design your store and advertising to accommodate them and hopefully improve your sales or visitor satisfaction. Understanding your stats will tell you all this and more.

If you think of your site as a department store, User Sessions will tell you how many people actually visited the store. Page Views will tell you how many web pages (or departments) were visited. By dividing the number of User Session with the number of Page Views (which most good stats programs will do for you), you will know how many pages or departments a visitor went to before leaving. If most visitors leave after viewing one page you will know that your site does not have much holding power. This may be fine but it may also be an indication that your pages are not very appealing to your visitors.

Which is the main entry page to your site? You may think that it is your home page but maybe it is not. It may not be uncommon for people to enter your site through a backdoor page. This could be because it is better listed in a search engine or because another site has a link to it. A department store may have a Grand Entrance on Main Street but get most of its visitors from the subway station connected to the basement. In either case this may be the best place to post a list of your daily speci
als. Which is the most common exit page? Is it a good place to post a reminder to come again or mention a page with some exciting experience that they may have missed? Most stats programs will tell you both with the Entry Page and Exit Page lists.

The Least Requested Page "stat" may tell you which page is least appealing to your visitors. It may also tell you that your navigation method is too complex for people to find it. If it is your Purchase Page you definitely want to know. Maybe you just forgot to add the link or you orphaned the link when you deleted or changed another page.

Most stats will tell you the URL of your visitor. What? You thought you were completely anonymous? Maybe somewhat but not completely. You can find out the country, city, URL and referral for your visitors. The referral is especially useful since it will identify the source of many of your visitors. If it is another site with a link, you should show your appreciation. You may also wish to find other similar sites to see if you can get a referral from them as well. Did you just pay $1000 for a Banner Add that referred two visitors in the last month? Maybe you have two Adds on two similar sites but one performs significantly better than the other. Why is one working and not the other?

Next time I will look at more of your stats including checking search engine listings and tracking referrals.

The following Log Analysis Programs are primarily intended for
ISPs and companies with their own servers. Check with your Hosting Company. They may already provide access to a good analysis programs.

FastStats          $99.00    
WebTrends   $699.00 (server license)  
WebSuccess $750.00
FlashStats        $99.00
Analog           freeware

Site Counters can be posted directly on a web page by anyone.

Site Meter        free          
WebTrends Live       free
Hitometer.           free

"IMS Web Tips" ISSN 1488-7088
© Copyright 2001 Virtual Mechanics

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