Log File Analysis 101: Why You Should Learn to Love Your Stats!

by Laura Bergells

Before you buy and install a log file analysis program, first consider your site. Your web site always needs to be designed with your business objectives in mind. Since your business objectives need to be measureable, your site also needs to be built with traffic analysis in mind.

The log file traffic analysis process provides you with data about visitors, including the types of people that visit your site, where they come from, and what they do when they get there. The need to understand the quantity and quality of your web visitors is the reason for log file traffic analysis.

Typical objectives of log file analysis include:

1. To measure the amount of visitors that come to your website.
2. To measure the quality of visitors that come to your website.
3. To understand who the most and least valuable visitors are.
4. To accurately anticipate and meet visitor needs.
5. To optimize website content and structure. 6. To measure and improve marketing and advertising activities.
7. To maximize and measure return on investment.

Basic traffic terminology

When a visitor comes to your site, he or she requests a page from your Web server. The server keeps a record of this action in a log file. It is the log file that provides detailed records of many of the visitor's behaviors.

Understanding some web traffic terms is critical to log file and traffic analysis. For example:

1. Hits: Every time a visitor requests a page, the server sends a file to the visitor's browser. The log file records this as a "hit". Hits are generated for every element on a requested page (including graphics, text and interactive items). Webmasters use hits to measure the server work load, while advertisers and marketers seldom use hits because the data is too generic to describe customer or visitor behavior.

2. Page Views: Each visitor to your site reviews a number of web pages. Thus, each visit is composed of ‘page views’, also known as a ‘clickstream’ or ‘click path’. (This term is much more useful to the marketing department!)

3. Visits: Each time a visitor explores your site, you receive a ‘visit’. A visitor may make many visits to your website over time.

To summarize: a "unique visitor" may "visit" your website many times. Each visit may consist of one or many "page views". And every page view has at least one "hit" for the page, but usually many more (for graphics, text, etc.) Make sure that you have standard internal definitions for traffic terminology. Document these standards so that they can be referred to and updated as needed. Measurements are more readily understood and appreciated when they are calculated and defined the same way across an organization. (The above definitions are only some of the basics: there are many more traffic analysis terms.)

Privacy Statement

Except for transactions that have required authorization (passwords), the data recorded in the log file does not reveal an individual user's name or any other individual identifier (e-mail address, phone number, credit card information, etc.) Log file information is useful to a company when reported in aggregate. It also benefits the visitor by giving feedback to the company on how to improve site content and navigation. However, because behavior can be tracked, visitors are concerned about privacy issues.

Many websites will also try to collect traffic analysis information about visitors through on-line surveys and forms. This information is typically supplied on a volunteer basis.

Most of the concerns visitors have over privacy involve what a company does with the data, not what kind of data they collect. You need to publish and adhere to a privacy statement that reflects the following:

1. Let visitors know what data is being collected
2. Let visitors know how this data will be used
3. Let visitors refuse to supply the information
4. Tell visitors about the benefits of supplying data.

Program and design

Simply installing log file analysis software on your server may not give you all the information you want to measure! E.g. you may decide to have visitors become "members" and "log in", so that you can collect individual information about your visitors. You may also decide to "cookie" your site. With cookies, you send a small file to the visitor's browser to log more detailed information about how individual users are accessing a site.

Make sure that your site design and programming can readily obtain the information you want to analyze. Ideally, your web design and programming will be built with your business objectives and traffic analysis in mind.

Log file analysis software

A web marketing consultant can go over appropriate design, measurements and log file software needed for your site based on your objectives. The complexity of your website and your objectives will determine how comprehensive your software, training, programming and reporting will need to be.

A simple brochure-type site may need very simple tracking software because the measurement objectives are fairly simple. A site that sells advertising to other sites will need more sophisticated software as analysis needs become more complex. A high volume e-commerce enabled site that collects personal information will have very sophisticated traffic analysis needs that may go beyond mere log file analysis.

Training resources

You will need to learn how to use your analysis software. Onsite training with a consultant is usually preferred, especially if your analysis software needs to be customized.

After you learn how to use the software, continuous training becomes necessary. Make certain you receive software updates and information on the fast-changing world of web site traffic analysis. Make certain that phone and web support is available after on-site training.

Traffic analysis reports

Decide what measurements need to be in your report and how they will be presented. Reports can contain charts, numbers, graphs, etc. How frequently will you produce a report (daily, weekly, monthly?) How will youl show trend data over time?

Also, decide who needs to see these reports and how the information will be presented. Most software analysis programs let you publish reports online. This is very valuable inside information that can show your site's strengths and weaknesses, so you will want this report to be password protected.

Large portions of the report are for internal use only. This is "mission critical" data about your site, your visitors and customer behavior. These documents, if printed and distributed, must be marked "confidential"; or be distributed online through issuing a user name and password.

Certain segments of the report may need to be promoted internally and externally. For example, if you have a site that sells advertising, you will want to tell your advertisers how many visitors come to your site in a month, how many are "members", etc. You will need to decide how to best promote your successes or "spin" your weaknesses.

Most importantly, the traffic analysis report will allow your organization to make changes to your website and your businesses. Done well, it will allow your business to thrive and prosper.

You have permission to reprint what you just read. Use it in your e-zine, at your website or in your company newsletter. Reprint permission is granted only with the following footer included:

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Laura Bergells is an internet attraction and distance learning specialist. To learn how to be extremely attractive, visit www.maniactive.com to learn more about "attraction vs. promotion" and to download free PowerPoint templates.

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