Understanding Web Site Statistics

Eileen P. Parzek
, SOHO It Goes! Contributing Writer, Smallbiztechnology.com
As we go about our daily business of marketing online, it is easy to forget to stop to see what is working. Anyone who has a web site in their marketing plan should have a basic familiarity with their web statistics, and learn how to understand them so they can gauge which marketing strategies are working (or not) and adjust their course.
Most web hosting nowadays includes a statistical feature which shows data about your site visitors and their behavior. Every package is different in how much detail is shown, how well organized the information is, and how visual the results are, but the basic statistical information is fairly standard.
Editor’s note – I use Freestats.com for my web site statistics
To understand statistics, we have to first understand the terminology.
Hits – A hit is a request made to the server. Every time a single file is requested from the server, it counts as a hit. A single web page might consist of 18 graphics, and a script – so one request of that page would result in 20 hits to the server. So, despite popular belief, hits are not relevant in counting how much traffic you have had.
Page – this is a single page of the web site, whether it is an.html,.php,.cgi or.asp file.
Kbyte – A kilobyte (k) is a unit of measurement for file size. There are 1024 bytes in a kilobyte, 1024 kilobytes in a megabyte and 1024 megabytes in a gigabyte! In your statistics, the sizes of files which are retrieved from the server are measured this way.
IP Address – Internet protocol address. When you get online, you are given an IP address which identifies you wherever you go online.
Visits/Visitors – This is an important statistic because depending your goals, you might want to increase unique visitors to your site through your marketing or see an increase in repeat vistors. The count of unique visitors is based on the IP address that is assigned to a web surfer when they get online.
Views – If someone visits one page of your site three times, it will count as three views. If they visit three different pages of the site the first time, five pages the second and two during the third visit; this will count as 10 page views.
URL – Uniform Resource Locator, a technical term for a web site address
Referrer – the site from which a visitor came and the page in that site which had a link to your site.
Path – The path a visitor takes through your site when they visit.
Now that we have a glossary to refer to, we will look at some of the more valuable statistics you can find out about your site and how to use them.
Your statistics will be able to tell you how many unique visitors came to your site. It does not matter how many hits you had, or how many views were made of the site, as much as it does how many visitors you had. If those visitors are unique AND qualified to purchase (which will be a result of a well honed marketing message), even better.
The statistics will be able to show you how many views were made of each directory and page on your site. For example, you might discover that the Products directory was the most viewed, and that a particular product page has been viewed more than any other has. You will also be able to tell if files like PDFs are being downloaded and how often.
Your statistics should be able to show you the path your visitors took through your site, as well as the most popular paths. You will also be able to see what the most common entry and exit pages were. If your marketing strategy involves leading visitors through a certain series of pages, this will help you determine what is working. It’s not easy to ëlead’ visitors anywhere, so it is important that they be given multiple paths and you observe the paths they take, so you can continuously improve the information flow within your site, and improve their experience.
Many statistics packages will break down reports based on geography, so you can see how many visitors, hits, and views you have had for a particular region. This knowledge can help you strategize products and services, or develop content if you see that your site has become increasingly popular with a particular country or region of the world.
Knowing what kind of browser technology your audience is using can be very useful when you are thinking about adding features to your site.
For example, if you can tell from your stats that 90% of your visitors are using the most recent version of Internet Explorer, you and your web developer can make different choices than if you know that your site attracts a significant number of people using an old version of Netscape. The statistics will also tell you the percentage of visitors on which platform (Mac, PC, Unix, etc.), and using which operating system version (OS X, Windows XP, etc.)
The referral information is one of the most valuable marketing information you can get from your statistics. This tells you which sites referred people to your site, and which particular pages referred people to your site.
For example, your statistics may indicate that a particular networking forum you frequent is a rich source of visitors, telling you that your efforts there are paying off. Similarly, you might have exchanged links with another site, hoping that it would drive traffic your way and the statistics may tell that only 1 visitor per month actually came from that page with your banner on it. This will allow you to rethink and strategize what types of marketing you do with other sites on the web, especially if you pay for listings elsewhere. If writing and placing articles on other web sites is part of your marketing strategy, you will be able to tell how much traffic those efforts are generating, too.
Equally important, search engine statistics are how you can track the results of every effort to increase the site’s rankings in the search engines. “Top search phrases” are when a person types a phrase into a search engine (e.g. “midget cat carriers”) your site is listed within the search results the engine returns, and then, a person clicks on the link to your web site from the search engine. Looking at these reports will tell you what phrases are really being searched, and then found, on your site. “Top key words” are similar but include individual words – you will see how many searches were done for midget, cat, and carriers, individually.
Search engine statistics for your site can also be used to develop new products and services, based on the interest of your visitors. You might find that a particular word is showing up in the statistics regularly – people are looking for something, but perhaps you are not actually offering it yet, you only mentioned it in your content. Well, that is your opportunity to see if there is a way you can capture that traffic with an actual product or service and take advantage of the fact that they are there. Without reading your statistics, you would have never known they were looking for it!
These statistics will tell you the hits, visitors, and views that occurred during specific hour, day, week, and month ranges. They will allow you to assess trends such as knowing when your traffic may be consistently high or low during a particular period, whether you had spikes following newsletter mailings or a mention in the press, or if your marketing efforts are increasing traffic in general.
If you are unsure whether you have statistics with your hosting, this is a good time to ask your site administrator or check out the hosting company’s web site to figure out how to access them. If you do not have statistics, it might be worth the effort to move your hosting to a server which provides this feature.
Keep in mind that not all statistics are created equal, just as not all hosting packages offer the same services and support. It is important to find out if the most important information to you, the site owner, is available.
Also, you should find out if the statistical history is available to you to view by any date ranges you wish. Some hosting companies offer statistics which are only for a particular period – and if you want to go back further, they will SELL you the “raw logs” to generate your own statistics. Even if they give them to you, this is troublesome to the average site owner because raw logs are hard to interpret and you would be forced to get another software program to read them.
When you choose hosting, check out the demo of their statistical package and make sure it provides clear reports with good charts and graphics you can read at a glance. Make sure you can view detailed statistics which are customizable, and give you the ability to see the history of your site’s traffic and your web marketing will benefit.
Web statistics are a valuable tool in the arsenal of online marketing. Every day that your site is online, with a host that offers a good statistics package, you are gathering valuable information that you can use to strategize your online marketing. Don’t miss the opportunity to tap into this pool of knowledge about your web site.