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Do You Know What Your Web Traffic is Telling You?

by Hermas Haynes

Every time someone visits your website they leave behind important clues about their visit, clues that indicate whether or not your site is performing the way you intended it.

Records of all user activity and other statistical data are stored in your Web server log files and they reveal a lot about how visitors use your site.

Studying this generic data can expose interesting user patterns and preferences which may prompt you to change, tweak or eliminate certain web pages, and adjust your promotional strategies so you can get better results.

The process is known as web analytics. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked or underutilized by many marketers. Web analytics helps you identify areas where you could improve your site's appeal and profitability by answering questions like:

* Where is my Web traffic coming from?

* What pages are visitors landing on?

* What other pages do they visit? * How long do they stay on the site?

* How do visitors find what they want?

* How often are sales made?

* What's the ratio of visitors to sales?

* Are people subscribing to my newsletter?

* What browsers are visitors using?

* Through which pages do they leave?

The answers to these kinds of questions go to the pulse of your operation. They are critical indicators that will help you identify and treat any developing performance problems before they can cause your business to bleed red ink.

Let's consider this question: "How do visitors find what they want?"

Say you provide three different ways for visitors to navigate your site - menu links, a search box and a site map. People will tend to use their preferred navigation method.

An inspection of the data would show...

* The most popular navigation scheme.

* The keywords that are searched most often.

And you may consider...

* Redesigning the navigation to exploit the popular choice.

* Adding a page to address the new keywords.

Every component of your Web marketing strategy should be set up so that you can measure and analyze the results. It's the only way to discover what works well and spot the areas that will need a boost.

Data Collection Methods

The traditional default method for collecting data has been the server log files. Today we can add page tagging, cookies, JavaScript, traffic analysis software and sophisticated online systems to the mix.

They collectively address issues such as speed for real time reporting, flexibility for collecting a wider range of data, accuracy and cost.

Traffic Analysis Definitions

Collected data is usually presented in various formats, such as: reports, charts, tables and graphs. Here are some of the critical areas where user data is recorded.

* Page View - a count of a Web page that has been viewed by one visitor.

* Visit - an uninterrupted Web site session that lasts for a certain minimum length of time, usually set for 30 minutes.

* Unique Visitor - an individual visitor counted only once, in spite of how many visits they make in a given day.

* New Visitor - a first-time visitor.

* Repeat Visitor - a visitor who has made a previous visit.

* Hit - a request for a specific Web server file. (Should not be confused with Page View or Visit, as a Web page is typically made up of several files).

* Referrers - identifies the source of your traffic by url. e.g. search engine, article site or other incoming link.

Much of the data in these categories is broken down by hour, day, week and month. Statistical averages are also available by category and period.

Important Note About Accuracy

Like everything on the Internet, or in life for that matter, there are no absolutes. Data and statistics are never 100% accurate. There are variables beyond your control that will always affect the results.

For example. A visitor can disable her browser from accepting cookies. She can also delete them entirely from the browser cache. Therefore, in a situation where cookies are used for tracking, a return trip by that visitor to your site would be erroneously recorded as a first time visit.

Also, since the cookie originally assigned to that visitor has now been removed, the data attached to her activities as a unique visitor over time will be skewed. It's not a perfect world.

Still, it is not unreasonable to assume a degree of accuracy hovering around the 90% - 95% range. That gives Web analytics very high marks for reliability.

Even though the data is an important indicator of your site's performance, always be aware that figuring out what the data is telling you and acting on it correctly, is actually more important than the data itself.

About the Author -

Hermas Haynes is an experienced online marketer and founder of the popular Web business resource http://eBizInfoCenter.com where you can find many more marketing strategies, tools, articles and ideas for advancing your online business.

Have a nice day!

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