Web site statistics are numbers and information that let you know data about the traffic coming to your website. From visible counters to the invisible logs most server software keeps, these numbers can be vital in shaping advertising campaigns and site design for a website.
The raw data found in server logs can be analyzed by an array of software solutions. A number of professional, locally-run programs are available which allow you to create personalized, visual charts of server information. These programs range from free to hundreds of dollars for a personal license, and have been mostly replaced by web-based analyzers.
The most widespread online web site statistics system is the Webalizer program. It is free and open-source, easy to install, runs on a wide range of operating systems, and includes virtually all of the data people are interested in. Also popular are the AWStats program (which has more detailed data), and the Analog program (which has a number of minor features missing from Webalizer).
Web site statistics include the following pieces of information:
- Hits: This number is usually presented as both totals and averages for time periods. Hits are the number of times files and pages were retrieved from the server - in other words, every time a request was sent to the server for a piece of information, a hit registers.
- Files: This number represents how many non-html files were requested from the server. This includes all images used, style-sheet documents, and media files.
- Page Views: Page views are how often a page on your server was viewed. This number is often used when promoting advertising on a site, as it is a reasonable indication of how many times a banner will be viewed.
- Visits: This number represents how many unique IPs (which is a good general measure for individual people) visited the site. While many people use the term 'hit' as though it refers to the amount of real traffic they're receiving, unique visitors is the actual measure of this.
- Response Codes: Server logs also track the code received by each hit. A 200 code indicates that everything went as planned (the visitor made the request, the server got it and returned the appropriate file). A 206 indicates that the requested file was not delivered in full. A 404 indicates that the requested file was not found. There are a number of other possible responses, but these are the most important. If your logs show massive numbers of 404 responses, then odds are you have a broken link - either somewhere on your site, or on a site linking to you.
- URLs: The URL tracking gives you an idea what specific files are the most popular on your site. This can help you determine which areas of content are the most visited, and also which pages have the most valuable advertising potential.
- Referrer: The referrer is the website that linked to a page on your site. A direct request means either the visitor typed your URL in directly, without following a hyperlink.
- Search Strings: When appropriate (such as when directed from Google) the logs track the search text a visitor entered into a search engine to wind up on your site. This can be very useful to determining what keywords to continue targeting if you are attempting to raise traffic to your site.
- User Agent: The user agent is the browser that the visitor uses to visit your site. Since this string may be altered by the user, it is not entirely reliable, but it will give you a good feel for what browsers most of your visitors are using. This can be very useful when planning a rebuild of your site, to determine what standards you need to comply with; if you have less than 1% of your users using Netscape 4.7, for example, you may decide it is worth ignoring it all together.
Web site statistics offer a wonderful opportunity to fine tune your site to keep up with the needs of your users, as well as providing you with a wealth of information you can use for designing advertising campaigns or selling ad space on your site. They are also fun to look at for personal sites, and given the fact that virtually all hosts now include free server log access, there is no reason not to go digging through them to see what you might find.