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Understanding Web Logs
Understanding Web Logs; And Why it
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
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
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
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
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
There are a number of inexpensive yet
quality log analysis applications available for download
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
a wireless text messaging software company.
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