Cull vital statistics from log files to analyze user trends

Log file data can help you increase sales, expand readership, and enable higher clickthroughs. Find out how to read the statistics from your log files and use that information to improve your Web site.

This article originally appeared as a Design and Usability Tactics e-newsletter.

By Jim Kukral

When your Web server is set up to record your Web site's log files, you have access to usage data. This data can help you increase sales, expand readership, enable higher clickthroughs, and more.

A log file stores all the usage data about the computers (people) that visit your Web site. You can examine these log files by using tools such as WebTrends (a Web server log examination tool) to display the information and statistics in a readable and useful fashion.

The key is to know what, and how, to read the statistics from your log files. Then, you must take that knowledge and use it to improve your Web site.

What data sets are available?

The following data sets are available from most log recordings. We also provide a description of the value provided by the data. (Specifically, these statistic features can be accessed using software by WebTrends.)

This is where to look to determine how many and which visitors come to your site. Not only can you see how many unique visitors (people) come to your Web site, but you can also choose to see the time of day they visited and whether they stopped by more than once.

The value of this data: It just makes sense to know how much traffic you're getting and to know when and how often your traffic is coming. Once you know this, you can begin to customize your Web site development, content distribution, etc.

For example: If you learn that the majority of your visitors come to your Web site between 9:00 A.M. and 12:00 P.M., you can formulate a plan to distribute daily content before 9:00 A.M. in order to get the maximum exposure.

Demographics display reports that tell you where your visitors are coming from, what language they use, what country they're from, and even the time zone they're in.

The value of this data: You can better customize your site to fit your users. For instance, imagine you learn that the second largest percentages of visitors are from France. You can now make a case for building a version of your site in French.

Pages and navigation
You can use these statistics to learn about your site's most requested pages and directories, as well as the pages least viewed and exited most often.

The value of this data: Examining these stats provides you with a virtual roadmap of what information on your Web site visitors use the most and least. Say you find out that your order page isn't viewed as frequently as you perceived. Now, you have the necessary information to correct that oversight.

Referrer statistics tell you how people found your Web site. You can also find out specifically which other Web sites refer to you, what country they're located in, and even what search engines and key phrases are used to find your site.

The value of this data: Referrer statistics are great for determining how your link popularity or search engine campaigns are working. For instance, you may discover that a large percentage of visitors are finding your site by searching for a key phrase you never thought about targeting. Now, you can build a special page on your Web site to tap into that market share and boost profits.

Other types of valuable statistics you can access from your server log files include the most used operating systems and browsers and most used screen resolutions and color palettes.

Seasoned Web designers should be able to read and understand the significance of all these pieces of information in order to build a better site.

Jim Kukral has spent the last seven years working in the trenches of Web design, development, and usability for Fortune 500 clients as well as mom-and-pop companies.

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