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Understanding Web Logs; And Why it Matters
by Sharon Housley

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 campaign’s 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. Let’s 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?

About the Author:
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 NotePage http://www.notepage.net a
wireless text messaging software company.