Interpreting the Data on Your Website.

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It used to be standard practice for websites to display counters telling visitors things like “you are the 118,456th visitor to this site,” webmasters would boast about their sites’ “hits” counts. The term “hits” no longer has much significance, so counters are now only found on amateur sites.

A request for a file hosted on your website is known as a “hit.” The visitor to your website requests your URL, but they also need to download all the image files from your website before they can view it. Therefore, you may have 25 hits even though only one user made 25 separate file requests to your site.

Early Internet counters just recorded the number of times a specific page with the counter was requested. No information was provided on how often people saw the site’s other pages. The “unique visitor” category was sometimes combined with the total visitor count in those counters. In contrast, to complete visitors, who may all be the same individual accessing the page many times, the number of unique visitors represents the actual number of persons who have visited the site (as determined by each visitor’s computer’s unique IP number). (Back in the day, I would check in on my first site several times daily to see how things were doing.)

So, what is the most modern and reliable method of collecting data, and what data matters?

The server records all user interactions with a website. A user requests a file from your site when they visit. All of these requests and other crucial data that could be crucial to your Internet success or failure are recorded in the log. This data includes the referrer page (or the last page where the surfer was before entering your site), the operating system the surfer is using, the screen resolution the surfer is using, the search terms the surfer used to request your site, and much more.

You can find a few intriguing items in the raw logs of your site, but you won’t be able to make sense of them all because the file is so big and contains the date of each entry. (a single line for each file extension). Software exists to analyze logs automatically. The log file on your server can be downloaded and analyzed. The file can be retrieved using an FTP client, which your server should be able to provide you with. After the log file is read, the analysis software produces the findings. Numerous applications exist specifically for this purpose. I began with essential software (open web scope; free version is also accessible). Alternatively, your host may already have an analysis tool installed on the server, and the findings may be viewable online (for example, some hosts provide their clients with access to the Webalizer application).

So, when examining the logs, what should one keep an eye out for?

The daily unique visitor count is what you’re after. This will give you an overall picture of how well your site is doing and how many people visit it.

The average daily “page views” also provide insight into the site’s popularity. In contrast to hits, page views represent individually requested HTML files or pages. If you have 200 unique visitors per day and roughly 2,000 total page views daily, you may assume that each person views an average of 10 pages.

The quantity of bandwidth consumed, or the total amount of data transported daily, is another indicator of overall activity. The number of visitors, the size of the files viewed by those visitors, and the nature of the site are all factors. Data transfer on your site will be higher than plain text if it contains numerous images or downloadable content like e-books and mp3s. This is an essential metric to examine if you are limited by bandwidth. Even if this doesn’t concern you specifically, taking a peek at this number will provide insight into the site’s level of activity.

After understanding the big picture, it’s helpful to drill down into the details to learn more about your site’s users and how they found you.

What are the site’s most and least popular pages? That’s something I’m curious about. There are numerous applications for this data. If you’re selling something online, you want your order page to rank in the top ten. If no one is reaching your order page, that could explain why your website isn’t profitable. Or, you may use this data to locate and expand on unexpectedly popular pages with similar material.

A page’s popularity can be inferred by its “click path” through the site. You can observe the sequence in which individuals navigate across the site, which can impact how you structure your pages. Pages labeled “entry” and “exit” are associated with this concept. In what ways do visitors access your website? You may be shocked that folks aren’t coming in through the front door. You may put up more pages, optimize them, and use them to attract more people if you determine which pages are popular entrance points and redirect traffic there. The “exit pages” statistic will show where pages people are leaving your site from, which is valuable information.

Where did they come from to find your site? This data is available in the referrers list. A visitor’s referrer is the last URL they visited before arriving at yours. You can see, first of all, that if you have 100 unique visitors in a day, and if 50 of them were referred, this implies that 50 of them likely put in your URL directly, clicking an e-mail link, or used a bookmark, and the remaining 50 came through search engines or links on other websites. This page lets you see which search engines send you the most visitors. Your best-performing outbound links to other sites will be revealed. If you analyze your references thoroughly, you can enhance your overall advertising campaign.

The keywords used in the various searches are another valuable piece of data relating to the referrers. You can use this number to determine what information your site visitors seek. This data can help you determine if the proper kind of people is seeing your product or service.

Finally, there is information about your visitors that is purely technical. If you know the user’s browser and operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux), you can better cater to their needs. How high of a resolution do their screens have? Ensure your site looks good on the browsers used by most of your audience.

Many log analysis applications and some trackers you can put on your site (for example, http://www.extremetracker.com) supply some of this information. Remember that tracker often only provide data about the page on which the tracker was pasted. Examining the logs is the most effective technique to acquire a bird’s eye view of the situation. You may boost the success and profitability of your website by collecting this data and using it to inform design decisions.

Donald Nelson 2002 Copyright All Rights Reserved.

Developer, editor, and social worker: that’s what Donald Nelson does on the web. His company, A1-Optimization, http://www.a1-optimization.com, offers SEO, copywriting, reciprocal linking, and other forms of web advertising; he has been operating online since 1995. Each month, you can read his ezine, A1-Web Promotion Tips.

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