Posted Monday, November 29, 2004
Server logs are an incredible source of information about your site's visitors. You can use this data to judge the effectiveness of your offline marketing, find your most (and least) popular pages, learn what terms people are using in search engines. Once your site is completed and submitted to the search engines, how do you know if it’s working for you? Which pages are being visited and how long are visitors staying on your site? do they ever come back and visit again?
All these questions and many more can be answered by analyzing your server logs. These files are updated each time a visitor comes to your web site and contain a wealth of data that you can use to improve your online business.
Measure the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns
When you promote your web site in offline advertising, you will want to make sure you’re getting a good return on your investment (ROI).
If you try out different ads, or run the same ad in different places, your server logs can show you which ad or which magazine produced the most visitors. Then you can focus your efforts where they will do the most good. No more guessing!
Is your site working like it should?
No matter what type of web site you have, you must have at least one primary action you want your visitors to take. Ecommerce sites are obviously looking for sales. Service-oriented businesses might want a visitor to call for an appointment or write in asking for more information. Non-profits might want to have visitors donate money or join their cause. Whatever your desired action is, analyzing your server logs can help you get more people to take it.
As an example, let’s suppose your business is a public relations firm. The primary action you would like visitors to take is to go to your contact page, fill in some personal information, indicate what type of service they require, and submit the form. Your secondary goal is to have them read some of the articles you’ve written, which are designed to educate them and establish you as a leader in your profession.
Fix one page at a time
Looking at your server logs shows you that 30 people landed on your contact page last month. Since you only received one inquiry in that time, you decide to look at that page and see what needs to be done to improve your fill-in rate. Perhaps you are asking for too much personal information. Reduce it to just their name and email address and see if that helps.
If that’s not it make sure the form is functional, user-friendly and offers a compelling reason to fill it out. Whatever it is, at least you are being pro-active about fixing your problem, instead of sitting by your silent phone, wondering what the problem is.
Track users through your site
Server logs can tell you where your visitors were just before arriving at your site. You can then tell which search engines sent them to you. That will help you judge whether the engines you are paying for are that much better than the free ones.
You can even get a listing of words and phrases people put into the search engines to find your site. Armed with this knowledge, you can make sure the most frequently used terms appear as they should in your page text and code. (See my article on Optimizing Your Site for the Search Engines.)
Studying your logs can also help you determine your most (and least) popular pages. If 90% of your visitors never get beyond your home page, that tells you what needs your immediate attention.
If there’s a critical page in your site that is rarely visited, you might consider changing the text on the button that links to it. Maybe you should create a compelling reason to go there right in the text on your home page and add a text link right in that descriptive paragraph. Without analyzing your server logs you’ll never even know you have a problem.
Server logs hold an incredible amount of data about your site’s visitors. We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available and how you can use them to enhance your online presence. Next time we’ll examine some of the software tools available to turn the data in your logs into a graphic format you can use to improve your web site.
About the Author
Les Goss is President of ZebraMoon Design, Inc. To see a partial list of high-ranking web sites we've created for our clients, please visit our web site at (http://www.zmoon.com). Sign up for our free newsletter at (http://www.zmoon.com/webdesigntips.html). You'll receive two issues a month on topics that should help you stay a step ahead of your competition.