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Everything eCommerce

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Analyzing Traffic - Your Online Success is within Log Files - Part 1

Definitions

This is the first part of a 3 part series on how through the analysis of log files using statistical packages, you can improve your online business. This first part will cover the definitions of some key terms. Part 2 and 3 will then cover the meet of what you can learn.

When looking at websites statistics the following terms are usually thrown about: unique visitors, visits, pages, referrers, hits, paths, keywords, entrance pages, exit pages and error codes. The easiest way to examine these is to pretend we have a website and Renae and Lex both visit the site. Renae comes in, browses through 2 pages and then comes back later in the day to look at another page. Lex comes in looks at the homepage and leaves.

Unique Visitors.
The number of actual people who visited your site (sort of)Your web statistic software would then record that you had 2 unique visitors, Lex & Renae. It calculates unique visitors by looking at the address of the machine that is visiting the web page. Whenever a browser requests a page from the website, it passes along information that includes the computer's IP address, browser and the page that was visited before coming to the new one (referrer). Where this gets a little complicated is by all of the AOL users browsing the web. AOL has a set number of IP addresses, and it's users share the block. What this means is that your actual number of individuals coming to the site will be slightly higher than the unique visitors would suggest.

Visits
This is the number of times someone has come to your website. If we continue to use the example above, then your website would have received 3 visits. The number of visits will never be lower than the number of unique visitors, and often it will be 10-20% higher. This means that people are coming back to your website.

Pages
This represents the total number of web pages that were looked at in a day. If once again we review the example above, this number for us would be 4. Renae's 2 pages initially, +1 page later, + 1 page for Lex.

Hits
The completely useless number that sounds really impressive. A hit represents each request by a browser to the web server. This includes every graphic and document downloaded. On a typical web page you may have 20 or so graphics per page, so a single visit looking at a single page would record 21 hits. (20 hits for graphics +1 for the html page). People still like to use the term hits often because it sounds impressive. Oh we got a million hits last month, sounds much more impressive than 10,000 visitors.

Paths
This is the path that people take through your site. Typically paths will look something like this for an ecommerce site. Home Page > Catalog > Widget's Information Page > Checkout > Thankyou. A path like this represents a completed sale and is something that every online merchant wants to see.

Referrers
These are the pages that the visitor was on before arriving at your page. If someone does a Google search, and then clicks on the link to your site, your log files will show Google.com as the referrer. Referrers are enormously important and we'll spend tomorrow focused on what you can learn from them.

Keywords
In addition to finding out what search engine a visitor was on before coming to your site, the keywords that they used to find you is also contained within the referrer information. This will also be covered in greater detail in Part 2.

Entrance Pages
This is the list of pages that people come into your site on. If you have been growing a long tail for your site, these pages will not necessarily be your home page.

Exit Pages
This is the page that someone visits last before going to another website. Ideally for online stores you should only see the thank you page and nothing else. Every one of the pages in this list represents a lost sale as the potential customer left your site for another destination.

Error Codes
These are the codes that the webserver records when it is unable to perform an action. They include 404: Page Not Found, and 500: Server error. Each one of these represents a lost opportunity and should be addressed. We will examine corrections to these problems in Part 3.

Now that you have a basic guideline to the terms used by website statistics programs check back tomorrow for Part 2.

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