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Take Off Your Blindfold! Discovering your visitors' thinking using your log files

By Milana Nastetskaya
Posted Thursday, December 2, 2004

After 2 years of designing Web Sites, I decided to take a peek at one of my customer's log files. My fear disappeared after about 10 seconds of looking at it. In the midst of some weird symbols and long lines of funny characters, was able to see something familiar. It was the site's web address! Of course! That is what people see when they come to this site and that is what the web server writes in the log file!

I got very excited because all this time that I have read about log files, I kept ignoring it. I thought "they are not for me - they are for the real geeky web professionals who spend their time decoding this stuff". Wrong! They WERE for me. They were meant to help me track my customers' success and I never bothered to look.

By the way, if you have never seen a log file, here is one line from my customer's web site's log file: - - [06/Sep/2000:23:20:38 -0400] "GET /HTTP/ 1.0" 200 1074 "(" "Mozilla/2.0(compatible;
MSIE 3.02; AK; Windows 95)"

The most important piece of information to you, as a web designer, in this line is


because it tells you how the user found you. Did he find you through the link from another web site where you advertise? Did he just type your web address in the location bar because he already knew it? Or did he find it through a Search Engine query?

According to the log file, the visitor went to the web site ( and did a search. What was he searching for? If you can't read the text beyond (, then try this trick:

Open your Internet browser and paste this line


in the location bar. Press "Enter". Ta-da! Now you should be able to see that the user typed in "photos seniors" into the search box, because it is in the box right now. Right at the top of the web site.

My customer's web site is number 9 on the first results page. It is a success! Now, it would not be a success if the user typed in "jeep photos" and my customer's site would come up number 9. Because the user is not looking for a photographer, which is what my customer is.

That is why you always want to know what is in your log files. If you go beyond 20 visitors a day, you should probably get a software that analyzes your log files and comes up with a report. But to get a feel for how your visitors get to your site - the above technique is recommended. If this site was found by someone looking for photos of a jeep, I would think "there is something seriously wrong with the site" and immediately improve the keywords, title and META tags.

About the Author
Milana Nastetskaya is a full time web developer and the author of two books: "Create Your First Business Web Site in 10 days", and "65 Instant Web Design Answers". ( (


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