Web stats – Where its at! by Englesos on the Web

Web statistics are one of the surest ways of tracking down a poor webmaster – because under no circumstances will that webmaster let you see them.

He or she will offer you “digests” (Heavily edited needless to say), will regret that your server does not have statistics installed (highly improbable), or will just say “I’m sorry?” and change the subject.

The excuses for sitting on this crucial source of data are many and various because Webstats alias web server statistics are the only cast-iron method of showing how well – or how badly – your website is actually doing.
Used in a positive fashion with a cooperative webmaster, web stats are the ideal fine-tuning tool for improving your websites performance and discovering who your customers are, what they are doing on your site and how you can help them to do it better.

This is going to be a simple journey through the basic terminology, so that when you are confronted by the data in question there will be no mysteries for you.

Generally there are two flavours of statistics programs, although others do exist. Either “Awstats” or “Webstats” should be preinstalled on your server and will only require accessing with the password for your hosting. The task they perform and the terminology they use is virtually the same, I just find the Awstats interface a little clearer.

How it works.

The server where your website lives is cleverer than you might think. It is aware of a number of factors about the people viewing your site. It notes where they are from, what pages they request or download, how long they stay on site and even where they are from.

Every web server does this.
For the paranoid, the server does not know your name and address – but it does know that someone from IP address 195.258-458-102 connected at 22.45 (server time) and requested the page “index.htm” which was successfully downloaded. Each request, its source and the result of the request goes into the log files on the server.

Awstats and the like read this information and present it all as easy to read graphs and tables using the following standard terminology.

What it Means.
Phrases like “monthly totals” you can probably puzzle out without may help! The slightly more complex stuff is as follows:

Hits.
Hits are for impressing the uninitiated. One page with four images on it makes five hits. This measurement is of very limited value and can be safely ignored.
Visiting our five-file page and hitting “refresh” three times will get you fifteen hits.
Fun – but of very limited value.

Files.
A “hit” that actually returned something from the server. (Not all hits return data – files may be cached on individual computers and so not need downloading or files may be missing and so not downloadable. Missing pages – for example – are “hits” but not “files”.)

Pages or Page Views.
Now it begins to get interesting. How many pages are actually being looked at (requested). 100 visitors viewing 200 pages means – on average – two pages per visit.

Unique Visitors.
The biggie. This figure counts the number of unique internet addresses that have been to your site.
Visit our five file page and hit refresh ten times – fifty hits, ten files (the images will not need to download twice), one unique visitor.
Exactly what we need to know, how many people have seen our site.

Visit Duration.
How long each “visit” stayed on site. The implications are obvious if no-one stays more that 30 seconds.

Referrers or Referring Sites.
Who is sending you traffic – this will include other pages within your own site, so no surprises if you appear to be sending traffic to yourself!

Search Terms and Search Strings.
What people who search for you are using to find you.

Browsers, User Agents, and Operating Systems.
This tells you what browser people are using to view your site. If you get a lot of Firefox users, for example, make sure your site is Firefox compatible.

Entry and Exit Pages
Where viewers arrive on-site, and where they leave. If everyone walks away from a specific page, ask yourself why.

What Comes Next.

So – get access to the control panel of your hosting right now.
If for some reason your webmaster cannot give you the password, no problem. Offer to view the stats with him (or her) at their office – their input should be useful anyway – but insist that you want to see them live on the server. (Make sure that its your server you are viewing too!)

It’s a simple exercise of logic to decode what is going on with your site behind the scenes, and it will help turn a website with the most lacklustre performance into the killer marketing tool your company deserves.

And that you already paid for!

About the Author

Englesos is a Web and Graphic Designer working out of the Famagusta area of Cyprus. See more of his work on http://www.englesos.net or else at http://www.lookerscy.com

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