Tracking Web Site Traffic

Tracking Web Site Traffic

When you establish an online presence, you’re basically after one thing, to get your message across to Internet users. You don’t set up a website just so people can ignore it, do you?

Whether or not you are running mission critical ecommerce sites or online marketing campaigns, as a webmaster, you’re naturally curious about your site’s visitors.

But first, it is important to distinguish what kind of visitors go to your site. According to Yari McGauley, in his article Web Tracking & Visitor Stats Articles, websites get two kinds: normal visitors (people) and robots (or any kind of automatic ‘web crawling’ or ‘spidering’ programs), ranging from Search Engines, to Link and Website Availability Checkers to Spam/Email Harvesters.

So how can you find out more information about your visitors? There are a number of ways.

1. install a counter at your site – a counter simply provides an indication of the number of visitors to a particular page; usually counts hits (a hit is a single request from a browser to a server), which is not a reliable indicator of website traffic since many hits are generated by a single page visit (both for the request itself, and for each component of the page)
2. use logfiles – if your server is enabled to do it (check with your web host) then every action on the server is logged in logfiles (which are basically text files describing actions on the site); in their raw form, logfiles can be unmanageable and even misleading because of their huge size and the fact that they record every ‘hit’ or individual download; you need to analyze the data

There are 2 ways this can be done:
* Download the logfiles via FTP and then use a logfile analyzer to crunch the logfiles and produce nice easy to read charts and tables
* Use software that runs on the server that lets you look at the logfile data in real-time

Some log file analysers are available free from the Web (ex. Analog), though commercial analyzers tend to offer more features, and are more user-friendly, in terms of presentation (ex. Wusage, WebTrends, Sane Solutions’ NetTracker, WebTracker)
3. use a tracker – generally, each tracker will require you to insert a small block of HTML or JavaScript into each page to be tracked; gives some indication of how visitors navigate through your site: how many visitors you had (per page); when they visited; where they came from; what search engine queries they used to find your site; what factors led them to your site (links, ads etc).

Tracking tools also:
* provide activity statistics – which pages are the most popular and which the most neglected
* aggregates visitor traffic data into meaningful reports to help make website management decisions on a daily basis (ex. content updates)
4. third party analysis – services exist which offer to analyze your traffic in real time for a monthly fee; this is done by:
* placing a small section of code on any page you want to track
* information generated whenever the page is viewed is stored by the third party server
* server makes the information available in real time for viewing in charts and tables form

*OpenTracker is a live tracking system that falls somewhere between 3 and 4. You might notice, however, that tracking services will report lower traffic numbers than log files. Why? Because good tracking services use browser cookies as basis, and so, do not recognize the following factors as unique visits or human events:

* repeat unique visitors (after 24 hours)
* hits
* robot and spider traffic
* rotating IP numbers (i.e. AOL)

It also distinguishes how many unique visitors are from either: the same ISP, or corporate firewalls, large organizations. Otherwise all these users will be counted as the same visitor. Log analyzers, on the other hand, record all measurable activity and do not distinguish between human and server activities.

So why are web traffic statistics important? Because they help you fine-tune your web marketing strategy by telling you:

* Which pages are most popular, which are least used
* Who is visiting your site
* Which browsers to optimize your pages for
* Which banner ads are bringing the most visitors
* Where errors or bad links may be occurring in your pages
* Which search engines are sending you traffic
* Which keywords are used to find your site
* Which factors affect your search engine rankings and results
* Where your traffic is coming from: search engines or other web sites
* Whether your efforts to generate new customers and sales leads (such as newsletter signups and free product trials) working or not
* Which are your most common entry pages and exit pages

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