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Understanding Web Logs and Why it Matters

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General web statistics give pertinent information about website visitors. Webmasters analyzing these statistics have a better understanding of who their website visitors are and how they perceive the website.

A lot can be learned by evaluating navigation patterns, most-viewed pages and exit pages. Deciphering web logs could easily become a full-time job. The information that can be gleaned from close log scrutiny is extremely valuable.

When a visitor comes to a website, the site has just a few seconds to grab the visitor’s interest. Slow-loading pages or broken graphics will send visitors and potential customers looking elsewhere. In order to make sense of web statistics, consider using a log analysis program. These programs tend to format the information in an easy-to-understand way, often providing graphs or visual representations that make understanding and seeing patterns that much easier. The downside to using software for web log analysis is that webmasters can easily be confused about what the actual results mean and which results matter the most. The information contained in the log file should be analyzed in conjunction with other information.

Let’s take a look at some of the critical areas. How many unique visitors visit the site each day? This statistic, by itself, is not terribly important, but when compared to a previous week’s or month’s logs, patterns will generally emerge. Sudden declines in site visitors might be indicative of downtime or dropped links, while sudden increases might be indicative of a successful ad campaign or improved search engine ranking. This assumption can only be made if sales for the corresponding time period have increased as well. Traffic alone is not the goal; qualified website traffic that converts a visitor into a buyer is generally the goal of most webmasters. Web statistics on their own do not always paint a true picture. Webmasters need to use logs to validate advertising campaigns and track where traffic is coming from. While details in a log file alone are not conclusive proof of an ad campaigns success or failure, general assumptions can be made based on the patterns. General statistics will help determine who your visitors are and what habits they have.

Specific areas to take a close look at:

How long are users staying on the website or a specific page? This question addresses a website’s “stickiness”. Stickiness gives webmasters an indication of how important their content is. If users return on a regular basis or remain on a specific page for an extended period of time, generally the content is considered valuable.

Site entry pages? What pages in a website are visitors coming into? Is a specific page on the site drawing an unusually high amount of traffic? Do users come back to the website? Is there a reason for a visitor to come back to the website? Generally, content that is refreshed often will attract return visitors. What specific areas on the site are of interest to web visitors, and can those content sections be expanded to increase the overall value of the website?

Site exit pages? What pages in a website are visitors leaving from? If a specific page has a large number of visitors leaving the site, perhaps the content needs updating. It is critical that you consider the source of the traffic. Are visitors coming to the website through a pay-per-click campaign with a landing page that does not relate to the initial search terms? Directing visitors to content-specific landing pages will help reduce quick site exits.

Who is making the referral? What kind of website is sending traffic to your website? Assumptions can be made based on the quality of the referral source. Lets face it, if a crack site is the leading referral generator to a software site, it is unlikely that the bulk of visitors will be interested in purchasing.

Bad requests? Are visitors attempting to access pages on your website that are no longer active? Be sure to check logs for any pages or graphics that are generating errors for visitors.

Number of unique visitors? Don’t get too hung up on the number of “hits” a website has, as this can be interpreted differently. Sometimes logs interpret graphic access as a hit. A more accurate reflection of traffic can be seen by tracking unique visitors.

There are a number of inexpensive yet quality log analysis applications available for download from: http://www.monitoring-software.net/ and http://www.monitoring-tools.net

By evaluating web logs webmasters can continuously improve their site and measure their success. Online or off, tracking results is critical to achieving success. If you don’t track, you don’t know what works. How can you improve what you don’t measure?

Sharon Housley manages marketing for FeedForAll
http://www.feedforall.com software for creating, editing,
publishing RSS feeds and podcasts. In addition Sharon
manages marketing for FeedForDev http://www.feedfordev.com
an RSS component for developers.

Understanding Web Logs and Why it Matters
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