Congratulations! Your hard work
and persistence in optimizing your pages have resulted in a
dramatic increase in traffic to your site, which is just
what you wanted.
But, are you analyzing that traffic and using it to
strengthen your site? Or, are you quickly glancing at your
log files every week or so to see how much traffic you're
getting, and letting it go at that?
Before we go on, let's define exactly what log files are.
When someone visits your website, server software counts and
tracks, i.e. "logs", that visit. It also keeps a record of
it for a certain period of time. Part of the saved
information is called a referrer log.
Referrer logs can help you analyze the traffic to
your site. Though each referrer log program provides
slightly different data, some of the more common information
- Which engines have sent you
- What keywords were used to
find your site;
- Which pages were accessed
the most or the least;
- Who are the visiting
- User profile by region;
- Average length of time
someone remains on your site;
- Average number of user
sessions or page views per day;
- Top entry and exit pages;
- Top referring sites;
- Summary of activity by day;
- Server errors;
- Bandwidth, which is the
measure (in kilobytes of data transferred) of the
traffic on the site; and,
- Type of technology used by
But why is it so important to
study your traffic? Isn't it enough to know that your
traffic is increasing, without having to spend valuable time
Think about it this way. If you know which engines are
sending you the most traffic, you can boost your
optimization strategies for those engines by creating
additional pages for other relevant keyword phrases. This
could increase your traffic even more.
Or, if you know that you're not getting any traffic at all
from a particular engine, you'll be able to consider
strategies for findability on that engine.
Through your referrer logs, you'll probably discover that
you're getting found through keyword phrases that you
haven't even considered before. In that case, you certainly
don't want to change those pages and lose the traffic. By
the same token, if you're getting found under a keyword
phrase in one engine, wouldn't it be worth creating pages
for the other engines for that same keyword phrase to see if
you can bring in some additional traffic?
You can also find out through which pages you are losing
visitors. This begs the questions...why are you losing
visitors? ...and what changes can you make to keep them from
Simply put, a referrer log can give you an enormous amount
of information and can serve as a road map for future
changes to your site.
So, how can you view your referrer logs?
Ask your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to provide referrer
logs in extended log format. If they don't provide referrer
logs, you're missing out on some extremely valuable
information about your web site. You may even want to
consider changing ISP's.
However, even if your provider captures referrer
information, you may want to get a program to read it, since
the raw data can be a little cumbersome to analyze.
Here's an example of such an entry:
126.96.36.199 - -
[15/May/2000:23:03:36 -0800] "GET /index.htm HTTP/1.0"
200 3956 "http://www.altavista.digital.com/cgi-
marketing%2a&stq=30" "Mozilla/2.0 (compatible; MSIE 4.0;
SK; Windows 98)"
Not exactly easy reading, is it?
However, through the above
entry, you can learn:
- The IP address of your
visitor -- 188.8.131.52
- The date and time of the
visit -- [15/May/2000:23:03:36 -0800]
- The first file requested --
"GET /index.htm HTTP/1.0"
- The fact that the request
was completed -- 200
- The number of bytes that
were transferred -- 3956
- Where your visitor came
from and the keywords used to find your site --
- Browser and operating
system of the visitor -- "Mozilla/2.0 (compatible; MSIE
4.0; SK; Windows 98)"
Though the information in the
raw data provides invaluable information to you, you can
easily see that it requires a little effort to analyze it
If you're serious about
analyzing your traffic, consider obtaining a quality log
analysis software program. Examples of programs are listed
at the bottom of this article.
When analyzing your referrer
log information, what should you look for?
- Number of page views per
Page views (or page
impressions) refer to how many "hits" your site has had
to HTML pages only. A hit is an action on a web page,
such as when a user views a web page.
- Number of user sessions per
User session refers to the
activity of one visitor to a web site.
- How long users are staying
on your pages
How long did the users stay
at your website? Are they finding what they're looking
for, or are they getting frustrated and leaving?
If visitors are immediately
clicking out of your site, maybe it's time to set up an
onsite search engine. After all, once you get visitors
to your site, you want them to be able to find what
they're looking for.
<http://www.searchbutton.com>SearchButton.com is an
excellent service. It even provides statistics on who is
searching your site, the most popular searches, and will
also alert you to searches that produced no results.
Ginette Degner, Professional
"The time users spend
at a site tells me if they are actually reading the
site or just clicking in only to leave immediately.
Perhaps I am not conveying the purpose of the site
well enough to make them stay. Or, I am listed under
the wrong phrases. If I am buying traffic from GoTo
or another engine, I like to know if the words I
chose are valuable to me or just a waste."
- Most requested and least
Degner further explains,
"Which page is
attracting the most visits and how long are they
there? This helps me decide what areas of a site
need to be expanded upon and what areas can be
dropped. For an example with a sports picks site, we
found that the least visited page was the record the
handicapper used to show everyone his win/lose ratio
for picks and the chat room. So we dropped the page
and spent the programming money on live scores and a
sports news page."
- Top entry pages
How are people first coming
in to your site? Which pages are bringing you the most
traffic? What about some of your other pages? What can
you do to make them "top entry pages" too?
- Top exit pages
Exit pages are another very
important area of a log file, according to Degner. She
goes on to ask and then elaborates on the answers...
"Where are they
leaving? What off site links are they clicking on
the most? If this is an intro page or another sub
page that is a doorway, I may need to get rid of it
or use a redirect. It tells me where I am losing
"As an example, a
client insisted upon having a second intro page that
played their radio commercial, so you clicked on the
index page to enter and were stuck in a second
media-enhanced page. We could see half of our
traffic leaving right there and going no further
into the site, which was a really big clue that it
was a turn off to the surfing public."
"A lesson to
corporate sites - a website is the wrong place to be
vain. Serve up your product or service immediately
or pay the price with an impatient dotCom'r."
"On other sites, we
have discovered that a screen shots page made a huge
difference in converting sales, and that was where
the most orders came from (exit link was the order
- Single access pages
Which pages are being viewed
by themselves, where visitors aren't even clicking to go
to another page? Again, look at these pages carefully to
see what you can provide on the page to keep up the
interest of your visitors. You're losing them, and you
need to figure out why.
- Errors, such as 404 pages
If your visitors encounter
too many error messages when visiting your website,
they'll assume that you don't do your "house cleaning,"
and the professional image of your site will plummet
- Most active countries
If you want a corner of the
international market, study this data carefully. How
many user sessions are being generated for each country
that's important to your business? How you can beef up
efforts to improve those numbers? Are you creating
highly targeted information pages for your international
- Top referring sites and
- Top referring search
Do you have some top ranking
pages in certain search engines, but you're not seeing
coinciding traffic through those engines? If so, you may
need to rethink your keyword strategy, because a
truckload of #1's won't do you any good if traffic
- Keywords that searchers are
using to find your site
If you're being found under
a particular keyword in one engine but not another,
boost efforts in the other search engine and try to
bring in more traffic. Also, study this section closely
for any holes in your keyword-thinking strategies.
Remember that search engine
positioning strategies begin with a simple keyword or
keyword phrase. If you're having problems finding a
keyword phrase that will bring you more traffic, visit
WordSpot.com and sign up for their free trial
service. Also most
search engines have "related search" results that can
give you some clues, don't over look that information.
- Browsers used by your
Check this section
periodically to make sure that the technology offered at
your website can be used by the majority of your
visitors. In other words, if many of your visitors are
accessing the web using older browsers, you will want to
be careful about using technology that will prevent them
from fully utilizing your website.
- Visiting spiders
Which search engine spiders
have visited your site recently? After submitting your
pages to the engines, be sure to monitor this section
closely for spider activity.
What do the experts feel are
the most valuable parts of a referrer log?
Charlie Morris, Managing Editor
of Web Developer's Journal, --
http://www.wdvl.com/Internet/Management -- looks at the
list of most popular pages first.
"This is something that's
easy to act on - whatever content is most popular,
simply produce more of the same sort of thing. The list
of 404s should also be one of the first sections to look
at, as sometimes (though not always) it's easy to find
and fix these errors, greatly improving short- term
traffic and your long-term reputation."
"The most important thing
of all, however, is simply to compare a site's traffic
from month to month, to measure how well your
promotional efforts are working. It's surprising how
many sites don't do this carefully."
To Rocky Rawstern, Professional
SeventhWave.com, the most important areas of the
referrer log are
"specific search strings
(what the browser was looking for), search engine
traffic counts, and finding keywords that are hit but
aren't on our list to work on. We will work harder on a
search engine that we aren't getting much traffic from."
The spider/bot sections
are the most valuable areas of a log file to Ginette
Degner. "When did they spider our site and how many
pages? Which engines are sending me the most traffic?
What words or phrases are being used consistently? What
exact phrases were used to get to my site? All of this
information assists me with positioning. I can find the
strengths and weaknesses of a website and exploit the
strengths and work to fix the areas that are lacking."
Excellent closing advice for
Ginette Degner says,
"Keep track of when a
spider hits your site and how deep and compare it to the
dates you submit and the dates the pages actually appear
in the index. You will start to see a pattern emerge
with each engine. Yes, there are hiccups, but it will
help you time your submissions, and when a client asks
you when they can expect to see results, you can answer
"When you are stumped as
to why none of the words you optimized for are hitting,
look at the logs. Use the words you see actually hitting
with the search engines in your reporting files (Top Dog
or WebPosition Gold). It can open your eyes and help you
find more avenues of traffic for your client."
"At the very least, you
can show some positions which will make a client more
comfortable because you are showing they are getting
traffic from the engines. This helps immensely when you
hear 'I do not have any sales' from a client. You can
steer the client to rethink their approach or sales
So, take the time to analyze
your traffic, and then put that valuable information to work
on your website and reap the benefits of even more traffic!
Log Analysis Programs
eXTReMe Tracking (free)
Northern Web's Keyword Sniffer
(Free Perl Script)
This article was written by Robin Nobles. Over the past few
years, she has trained over 900 people in her online and
onsite courses in search engine positioning strategies.
This article first published by
Planet Ocean in their Search Engine News Update Newsletter.