Understanding Web Stats

You ever watch tv and catch one of those commercials where people are sitting around a board room and the topic of discussion is some business decision and the head guy asks for the stats? Those commercials are suppose to be funny because statistics are boring, but more importantly most people do not understand what they mean! When you run your own web site, you have the same problem, but since your site is the main concern, you might not see the humor in it. All web servers keep logs and so you have all the information you could ever want about your site, but interpretting any meaning from these logs is something which you need help with. I know I certainly find web stats a lot more interesting when a program like AWStats goes ahead and shows me some nice graphs instead of just lines and lines of boring text.

Better Stats with AWStats

In cPanel, you usually have AWStats which is a basic stats package that will show you the main things you want to know, like who visited your site, what pages on your site are the most popular, and so on. There is also a basic Error Log, this is pretty useful to at least look at to see if perhaps you have a missing image file that your site keeps referring to, or if one of your scripts is asking for something repeatedly and is not finding it. If the Error Log is clean, then yes, that is a good thing. If you have some errors then you might try to look into what is wrong or simply realize that this was a one time error and not worry about it. Most times you will be using AWStats to see how your site is doing daily. However, cPanel also lets you download your raw web server logs for your site. These are incredibly more useful if you purchase a third party program. For now let’s get back to AWStats and see just what to look for:

The Summary section at the top shows you: Unique visitors, Number of visits, Pages, Hits, and Bandwidth totals. The most important stat here is the Unique Visitors. This is how many different browsers are accessing the site. This is more of a true indication of how popular your site is than Number Of Visits or Hits.

Scrolling down the AWStats report, you can see how many hits and visits you have per month, per week, per day, per hour. This is helpful in determing your peak usage, when your site is actually the most visited.

Further down you will find Hosts and Robots/Spiders sections. This will tell you who is visiting your site the most. If you are your site’s number one host, perhaps your site is not as popular as you may think. The Robots/Spiders section is useful in seeing how much bandwidth these non-human vistors are taking up.

The Pages-URL section lists the most popular pages on the site and this should prove useful if you have ads on certain pages or if you want to know if a particular section of your site is popular or not.

The Connect-To-Site-From, Search Keyphrases, and Search Keywords sections are crucial if you are working on getting search engines to link your site. These sections are really about how some users are finding their way to your site. You can use this information to understand further how your internet audience is thinking when they try to locate sites similar to yours.

The last section, HTTP Error Codes, is more informative about what is not working on your site. Knowing which pages vistors are not finding is crucial, because you want to keep visitors on your site and the best way to do that is to make sure they do not wind up going to a dead-end, like a page that no longer exists on your site.

More Stats

Once you start to get interested in your stats, you might find AWStats limiting or perhaps you just developed an obsession with looking at stats in general, so you might want to purchase third party software and download your own web server logs. There are also other options like setting up a different program similar to AWStats or paying a stat service to keep tabs on your site. The following links should prove helpful for further reading.

The Dollars And Sense of Web Analytics is a good summary of web stats in general and what a typical business site owner might want to know about stats.

We also have covered web stats in our WebKeyDesign Forum. Feel free to post questions there and view the following posts:

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