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How to Analyze Your Web Site Traffic

By Herman Drost
Posted Saturday, February 7, 2004

Getting traffic to your web site without analyzing it is like being blindfolded in a crowd. You hear voices, but you don’t know which direction they are coming from or who they are. Without analyzing your web site traffic, it’s difficult to improve your web site marketing.

Know Your Traffic Language
You should be aware of the different terms used to describe web site traffic, so as not to be confused about your web site visitors. Here are the main terms used:

Visit – these are all requests made by a specific user to the site during a set period of time. The visit is ended if a set period of time (say 30 minutes) goes by with no further accesses. Users are identified by cookies, username or hostnames/IP addresses .

Hit – this is a request to the server for a file not a page. Your page can be made up of different files, such as graphic files, audio files or CSS and javascript files, resulting in a number of hits for that page. Each of these requests is called a hit.

Counting hits is not the same as tracking pageviews. It takes multiple hits to view a page.

Pageview/Impression – this is the number of times a page is accessed as a whole.

Unique View - A page view by a unique person within a 24 hour period.

Referrer - A page that links to your site. Looking at your referrers will tell you who's linked to your site. This can be particularly valuable for seeing where your search engine traffic is coming from.

User Agent - This refers to the software used to access your site. Sometimes known as a "browser" or "client", the term user agent can describe a PHP script, a browser like Internet Explorer, or a search engine spider like GoogleBot. If you can identify what software is being used to access your site, you'll be able to tell if users are abusing it, and when the search engines last crawled your pages.

Ways to Track Your Visitors

1. Counters
These are heavily used on web sites by newbies but appear unprofessional. It is very common to go to a page and see something like "You are visitor number 12345 to this page". These numbers cannot be trusted as the page designer has the ability to seed the base number or to alter the counter such that it adds more than 1 each time.

2. Trackers
Tracking software details the path a visitor takes through your Website, so they do more than just count your traffic: they track it. Tracking software tells you more than just the number of visitors -- it can break visitor statistics down by date, time, browser, page viewed, referrer, and countless other values.

Counters and Trackers often require you to place a button or graphic on your site in exchange for the free use of their service, which is not ideal for most site owners. So try to avoid using these services unless you don't have the ability or expertise to execute tracking scripts of any kind on your own server.

3. Using Your ISP’s Statistical Package
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) keeps log files which record every single "hit" (request for a Web page or graphic) on your Web site.

Analyzing log data can give you a good idea of where your site visitors are coming from, which pages they are visiting, how long they stay, and which browsers they are using. Before signing on with a hosting company, make sure they offer access to raw log files. Even if you don't need them immediately, sooner or later you'll be glad to have them.

There are also different types of log files - access, referrer, error, and agent are the primary ones.

Access Log
Analyzing the access log will give you information about who visited your site, which pages they visited, and how long they stayed on the site. This is useful information in determining whether or not your site is working as you intend.

The record below shows the visitor's IP number or hostname, date and time of the request, the command received from the client, the status code returned, the size of the document transferred, and the browser and operating system the visitor was using. - - [29/Jan/2000:17:17:12 -0500] "GET
page.html HTTP/1.1" 200 23443
"" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible;
MSIE 5.01; Windows 98)"

Referrer Log
The referrer log contains referral information - the source that referred the visitor to your site. If the referrer was a search engine, you will also find the keywords that were entered to find your site - very useful information. Here are some example records. The record below shows that the visitor followed a link from to the index page of the site. -> /

This record shows that the visitor came to my site from a search engine link. Notice the keyword data is included in the record. -> /

Agent Log
This log provides information on which browser and operating system was used to access your site.

Error Log
The error log obviously provides a record of errors generated by the server and sent back to the client. The record below shows the type of server, date and time of the error, client identification, explanation of the error code generated by the server, and the path to the file that caused the error.

As you can see, log files contain a wealth of information about how your visitors are using your site. Now we will talk about how you get the relevant data extracted from the log files and compiled into a useable format.

4. Web Traffic Analysis Software
These are programs that analyze your server logs and then create traffic reports accordingly. The quality of the reports generated will depend on what software you actually use. Some log analyzers are free and come preinstalled on many hosting accounts, while others can cost a good deal of money.

Web traffic statistics provide very valuable information about your web site. You can make better marketing decisions through them telling you:

  • Which Web pages are most popular and which are least used.
  • Who is visiting your Web site.
  • Which Web browsers to optimize your Web pages for.
  • Which Web search engines are most useful to you, and which are the least useful.

Where errors or bad links may be occurring in your Web pages.
Web traffic analysis allows you to determine what marketing strategies are successful, then to change them accordingly, to boost your web traffic and sales.

About The Author
Herman Drost is a Certified Web Site Designer (CIW), owner and author of Affordable Hosting, Site Design and Promotion Packages. Subscribe to his Marketing Tips newsletter for more original articles. Read more of his in-depth articles at:


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