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Interpreting Your Website Statistics

Why would you be interested in your website statistics? Statistics could help you to:

  • Track the effectiveness of a marketing/advertising campaign such as banner ads
  • Determine where to fine tune your website content
  • Determine the effectiveness of your website navigation
  • Improve relationships with your customers
  • Identify effective keywords and ones that need improvement
  • Provide information about how users are using your website
  • Know if search engine submissions have taken effect

Knowing what your visitors like and dislike about your website will help you to figure out how to improve and where to make changes. You need to know what parts of the site help reach your goals and what parts deter your efforts. This information can be gained by analyzing your website's statistics.

Where Do Your Website Statistics Come From

Web servers keep logs of all visitor activity. When someone visits your site, the visitor requests the various files on the site. The log records all of these requests and other vital information.

Your web hosting company may offer website statistics as part of their service, or you may have to pay extra for that service. If your web hosting company does not offer statistics, there are different statistical programs you can use to gather that information (see tip in August's Sue's News newsletter for examples).

So what are the things to look for when analyzing your statistics? Below are a number of definitions that will help clarify it for you. See and download a quick sheet or summary of the terms below.

Hits

The hits statistic is the most mentioned and is often misleading especially if you don't understand exactly what it means. Hits represent the number of files sent to a user after a page request (clicking on a link to your website). In order to see the page, the user has to get all the graphic files that are located on your page. If a page has 25 pictures, one single visit will trigger 26 hits: 25 for the pictures and one for the page itself. If your page is linked to any external JavaScript or CSS files, they will also count as hits as well. Hits could be displayed as total hits per year, per month or per day. Hits are important for advertising. Usually web advertising rates for banner ads and such are based on CPM, or counts per 1,000 hits/page views.

Files:

Files mean total files retrieved from a web site. It is shown files per years, per month, per day etc.

Visits/Unique Visitors and Repeat Visitors

The number of visitors shows you how many users come to your site and request a page.  The visitor can move around your site visiting several pages however he will still be counted as only one visitor.  This method is also time-based so that if a visitor takes more than half an hour (or the amount of time set by your host) to click from one page to another, the program will register two visitors (repeat visits).

It is also based on the visitor's IP address. It is not an accurate measure of unique visitors (first time to your website) as most people do not have static or fixed IP addresses. (If you have a dialup connection, a new IP address is assigned to you by your ISP every time you go online. If you have a broadband connection such as cable or DSL and have not specifically asked for a static IP address, then your IP address changes whenever you go offline or when your ISP just changes them, which it does periodically.)

It will give you an idea of how many people are viewing your site and will give you a broad overview of how you are doing.

Pages / Page Views :

Pages mean total distinct html files or pages looked at on your website. It is a very important number because it is indicative of the "stickiness" of your site.  Stickiness is a good thing. For example, if your statistics show 10 visitors, but 70 page views, it means that, on average, each visitor has viewed 7 pages. A large "page views per visitor" ratio usually means that your site is so interesting and valuable that users are inclined to "stick around" and explore. Your stats could show total pages retrieved per year, per month or per day.

Bandwidth (Kbytes)/ Kilobytes Transmitted:

Total size of pages (or files) viewed from a web browser is measured in Kbytes and is called the bandwidth of a website. Sites with a lot of pictures or sites that allow downloads (reports, ebooks, audio files or video) will incur a significant bandwidth usage. If you operate a plain HTML site but still show an abnormally high bandwidth usage, you may need to optimize your images to make them less heavy. It is also an important statistic to look at if you have bandwidth restrictions. The stats could be shown by per year, per month, per day or per hour.

Entry and Exit pages

You may be interested in knowing which pages of your site are bringing in the most traffic, since not every visitor will come through your home page. Your stats could list the most popular page in which a visitor enters your site ( entry pages ), ranked by number of requests. Sometimes, internal pages can bring in more traffic than the homepage itself.  This may happen when a particular internal page is very well optimized and regularly shows up at the top of the search engine results pages, or when it offers such good content that other sites link directly to it. By learning which pages are popular entry points, you can set up other pages, optimize them and use them to attract more visitors.Your stats may also list the most common exit pages (the last page your users visited prior to leaving your site).
 

Most visited pages, most requested files, and entry/exit pages will tell you:

  • What are the most popular sections (most and least accessed pages) of your site? If you sell products, is your order page one of the most popular ones? If no one is making it to your order page then maybe that is the reason why you are not making any money from the site.
  • Unexpectedly popular pages - determine why.
  • Which page(s) are people getting to first?
  • Which page is the major exit point?
  • Is anyone accessing a particular file again and again, such as a GIF? If they are they might be linking directly to it, stealing your bandwidth.

Click Path

Another parameter related to the popularity of pages is the " click path " through the site. You can see the order in which people visit the various pages of the site and this information may help you to set up your site navigation in a better way.

Referrers:

A referrer is a web site where a visitor was just prior to reaching your site. This statistic can provide information such as:
  • How people are finding your site
  • Who is linking to you
  • Whether your advertising and promotional efforts are paying off
  • The effectiveness of your search engine listings and which search engines are sending you traffic
  • Determine if anyone is linking to files on your site (such as any graphics you are offering) without permission, or even "stealing" whole pages and putting them within frames on their own site.
  • Which of your links on other sites are performing well.
 
This may be the most important statistic to have when you are trying to increase traffic to your site and improving your overall promotion strategy.

Referrers are ranked by the number of hits they produce.  That is why the vast majority of referrers will be URLs from your own site (since HTML pages usually contain embedded links to other objects such as graphics files, thus generating a large number of hits). However, if you filter out your own pages, you will see what external URLs are bringing in visitors to your pages.

External referrers generally fall into two categories: pages that have posted a link to your site, and search engine referred traffic.

You will also find an entry in your referrer list called " Direct Request ". Direct request indicates the number of times a visitor accessed your pages by either directly typing your URL in the address bar, by using a bookmark or by following a link on an email message.

Search String/Search Terms

The search string parameter shows you the keywords that were used in searching for your website. This statistic gives you an idea of what people are looking for when they visit your site. This information can give you an idea of whether you are getting the right kind of audience for your particular product or service. It may also indicate which keywords are used frequently to find your website and where to improve them.

User Agents or Browser/platform usage:

This can tell you what kind of browser (Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla, etc), what operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux) or screen resolution visitors are using. This is very important information to have when you are upgrading or changing your site. For example, if you have a substantial number of visitors who are using older browsers, then you might want to reconsider creating a site that is Flash only or heavily dependent on JavaScript. You have to make sure that your site can display well to fit the needs of the majority of your visitors.

Countries:

This statistic will show the number of visits from different countries.

Robots/Spiders visitors:

A robot or spider is a program (Search Engine) which runs over a website for submitting sites to the search engine. It automatically fetches web pages. Another term for these programs is WebCrawler.

Errors

When someone requests a file and it's not found, you will see an error entry in your logs. That can alert you to missing files and broken links.

When is traffic coming in?

You can also find out when visitors coming to your site. You will find statistics by month, by day and even by hour. This can be useful in a variety of circumstances. For example, if you publish new content, you may want to release it during the moments of more traffic. Your statistics will help you by identifying the days or hours when more people are likely to visit your site.

Putting Your Stats To Work

Maybe the most important thing to look for is trends. For example, are hit counts to your site increasing, decreasing or staying even? Did your recent banner ad campaign yield good results? How about the newsletter you just started - is it increasing visitors to your site?

Altogether, the information you gather from your website's traffic statistics will provide you with a wealth of valuable insights, so that you can continuously fine tune your internet marketing strategy to bring more traffic to your site.

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