Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tracking Your Visitors

Tracking Your Visitors

from Travis Reeder

How (and Why) to Read Your Web Statistics and Analytics

Many small business web site owners are not even aware that they have access to a variety of statistics and analytics about their web site. Many more have discovered them, but have no idea what to do with them. This article explains how the general and advanced statistics that web analytics packages generate can contribute to the success of your ebusiness. 

Why Track Your Visitors?

Tracking the visitors to your site is an essential part of any online business. Simply knowing how many visitors you are getting is justification enough to have some kind of statistics tracking capability. But, you will want to know more about your visitors and their behavior, such as the following:

  • How many visitors come to your site?
  • Where are your visitors coming from?
  • What keywords did they search to find your site?
  • What pages did they view?
  • Did they buy or convert?
A Brief History

Traditionally, the main types of programs used to view web site statistics were log analyzers that processed the information in the web servers' log files which are created by your web server. When your pages are viewed, they along with all of the other files associated with those pages, such as images, are recorded in the log files as hits. Hits are any connections made from a web browser to the web server. Each record, or hit, stores the visitor’s IP address, the page, and the page that referred them, along with various other details. Then, when the log analyzer was run, it processed those log files and created reports from them.

As the Internet progressed and technology improved, a new generation of web site statistics tracking services evolved. Instead of a program that processed your log files, these services track visitors in real time. Generally, a transparent image is placed on each page of your website, and the source of this image is on the service provider’s server. So, when your visitors view your webpages, they will retrieve that image from the statistics service provider who will record the hit.

General Statistics

All web analytics packages have similar basic features that give you a lot of valuable information. These general statistics, which give you insight into your visitors’ behavior/habits, can help you fine-tune your site and help you make smart decisions about advertising. The following are the basic statistics tracked and their function:

  • Visitors and Pageviews - Over time - per hour/day/week, etc.
  • Page Counts - The number of time a page was viewed
  • Entry Pages - Pages that visitors enter your site on
  • Exit Pages - The last page a visitor viewed on your site
  • Referrers - Where your visitors came from such as Google or any other link
  • Search Phrases - Words used on the search engines to find your site
  • Other Stats - Browsers used and geographic locations (usually country or continent), etc.
Site Tuning

The page counts, entry page and exit page reports tell you where your visitors are going on your site. By knowing their viewing patterns you can fine tune your site. If, for example, you find that most of your visitors are entering on page x and leaving on the same page, then you can safely assume that page x needs some enhancements to keep the attention of your visitors.

Furthermore, if you are trying to get visitors to go to your "here is where we close the sale" page, but see that many visitors are actually not getting there, you can modify your site to encourage more of your visitors to click to that page.

Referrers and Search Phrases

By looking at the Referrers and Search Phrases, you can see what people are actually looking for when they come across your site. This may be much different that what you expected.

By looking at the Referrers and Search Phrases, you can see what visitors are actually looking for when they come across your site. This may be quite different from what you expected; for example, let’s say that you have a fictional site selling RoboMaid 3000, the robot that can clean your house for you. Now, you might have decided to put a lot of advertising dollars into the search phrase "walking robots," and you also placed your banner ads on robotics sites all over the Internet. But, after checking your stats, you realize that visitors to your site were actually searching for "robotic house cleaner.” By knowing these search preferences, you can change your focus to different keywords and place your banner ads on more targeted sites such as home cleaning sites.

Robot blog of the geek

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