Is anyone visiting my web site?
Author: Fernando Maci
Article: Is your web site performing as you expected? Do you
know who visits your site and how often? What is the nature of
their visits? Where do your visitors come from? What other web
sites or search engines are referring visitors to your site? What
web pages interest your visitors the most and which ones attract
As a teaching consultant of On-line Marketing courses, I frequently
formulate similar questions to audiences that generally include
sales directors and marketing executives from medium and large
size companies. My listeners are always amazed when they realize
that even though their companies are investing large sums of money
to conduct market studies or purchase marketing results (e.g.
Nielsen) to learn about their clientŐs preferences, they are not
taking advantage of analyzing and interpreting the data from their
own web traffic statistics. The differences between the two primary
sets of web traffic statistics Đserver activity analysis and real-time
statistics via script controls and cookies- have already been
covered in a former write-up (see ŇWhat is behind all those web
traffic reportsÓ, 9/2/03).
This article will now focus on those pieces of information,
contained in a web traffic report, that are of most interest from
a Marketing perspective. After learning where to look and how
to interpret the data, one will feel more encouraged to embark
in the apparently arduous task of interpreting web traffic statistics.
Our prize at the end will be a significant increase in web site
performance, greater traffic, better search engine positioning
and a deeper understanding of the expectations and interests of
our web visitors. All this combined can translate into additional
sales, more registered users and a larger amount of frequent users.
LetŐs explore what we need to consider first. Web Traffic Hits,
visited pages, number of sessionsÉ Rather than being overly concerned
with the absolute values of these statistics that, incidentally,
may vary dramatically based on the type of software being used
to measure the web traffic, we should pay attention to the evolution
of these values over time while maintaining the measuring software
One can click on a weekly or, better yet, monthly view report
and the graph will quickly show whether our traffic is increasing
or decreasing, and a simple mathematical computation (perhaps
the tool automatically provides it) of dividing the number of
visited pages by the total number of visitors will tell us how
many pages a visitor views on average.
Whether our traffic increases, decreases, or remains stable,
it will be interesting and valuable to see when a particular trend
changes and analyze if the change is caused by a previously planned
action, such as the launch of an on-line publicity campaign, the
agreement to exchange web links with other sites, or the start
of search engine positioning services. Visitors In this section,
it is important to distinguish between unique visitors and repeating
visitors. If one of your goals is to sell a service or product
on-line, a high degree of repetition from your visitors will likely
indicate a high level of customer commitment to your service or
However, one must exercise caution when evaluating the number
of unique versus repeating visitors. If your tool, for instance,
uses the visitorŐs IP address to determine whether the visitor
is unique or not, the tool will at times count multiple visits
from the same user as unique. This can happen when a visitor uses
a dial-up modem to access the Internet, since each call will likely
get a different IP address assigned.
Conversely, if a group of users is accessing the Internet behind
a router or proxy, they will all share the same IP address and
the tool will count them as a single repeating visitor. If cookies,
on the other hand, are used to determine the uniqueness of a visitor,
the data collected will be much more reliable.
Other useful information typically associated with visitors
is their country of origin and their language, which may prove
useful when considering international opportunities or the value
of creating a version of your web site in another language.
Visited Pages Determine which pages are visited the most besides
your default page, which tends to register the largest number
of visits since it is the typical point of entry to your web site.
Identify those areas of most interest to your visitors. By analyzing
the most common navigational routes, discover how far your visitors
If the report, for example, reflects a large number of visits
to your home page and classifies them as unique page visits, it
could mean one of two things. Your site is experiencing low quality
traffic, with visitors not interested in your products or services
and therefore not going beyond your home page, or you may want
to consider redesigning the home page, since apparently is not
generating enough interest among your visitors and thus, they
are not navigating deeper into your web site.
The report will also identify the most common exit point out
of a visitorŐs session. Once this exit page has been identified,
its design can be reinforced to include new points of interest
with links to other sections of your web site. Sessions and visit
duration This value tries to measure the amount of time that a
given user spends navigating a web site. One must be careful,
though, when considering this piece of information, since a visitor
could inadvertently leave a window, and therefore a session, open
This would be measured as an active session, even though the
user was not actively navigating through the web site. In any
case, a large number of very short visits could indicate an erroneous
positioning of a web site. In other words, the web site is attracting
visitors who cannot find what they were expecting. Referrals and
search engines One of the most valuable pieces of information
that can be obtained from a web traffic statistical report is
the origin of the visits. In other words, it is extremely helpful
to know the web site that visitors were navigating prior to reaching
We will be able to distinguish between users who clicked on
a link at another web site in order to reach ours from visitors
who clicked on one of the search results returned by a search
engine. In this latter case, the report will also identify the
keywords that were used to launch the query.
A large number of referrals will come from other pages within
your own web site, while the rest of the referrals will typically
be from external web sites or search engines. In occasions, you
will also find visits from web based e-mail services or directly
from a visitorŐs Internet browser, indicating that your site is
probably stored as a favorite, or the URL has been directly typed
on the browserŐs navigation bar.
It is important to regularly track those web sites that act
as referrers to our web site, or those search engines that most
frequently locate our web site with a given set of keywords. A
final word of caution: be careful not to click directly on the
links included in the report belonging to the referral web sites.
If you do, the statistics report page may appear as a referral
to their web site, and depending on the security of your server,
your statistics report page could be accessed by the owners of
the referral web site.
Search keywords are those words or phrases that Internet users
provide to a search engine in order to find new web sites. Phrases
are typically more valuable than isolated words, but both can
be used to identify the interests of your audience. In some cases,
you may be surprised to learn some of the keywords that were used
to locate your web site as well as those terms that were never
used. It will be interesting to observe the evolution of a particular
term over time.
For example, if your web site promotes real estate, you may
detect changes in customer preferences for certain areas based
on the number of search keywords associated with specific locations.
If a location rarely shows up as a search keyword, it may be a
good indication that your customers are not interested in real
estate there. Likewise, terms such as buying or selling will suggest
the type of transaction that your clients are looking for.
Internet browsers, operating systems, screen
Finally, it may be helpful to check on the type and version
of Internet browser being used by your audience, as well as the
type of operating system and screen resolution. These are mainly
technical aspects, but may prove very useful for redesigning or
optimizing your website. For example, a web site can be optimized
for a specific Internet browser or a particular screen size.
At times, one will notice that different markets will favor
certain computer configurations. Conclusion Web statistics provide
such large amounts of data regarding the activities taking place
inside a web server that processing all of it may become an overwhelming
task. However, once you become accustomed to locating inside your
own web analysis tool or service all the values described in this
article, you will be in a position to properly evaluate the information
that is being conveyed, as well as observe its evolution over
This will allow you to take action and make the appropriate
marketing decisions that will maximize the performance of your
web site. Soon, you will identify your most important metrics,
what you want to measure with them and the reason why.
Most professional web hosting service providers include some
type of web traffic control system for their customers. If your
provider does not offer this capability, you will be able to find
equivalent services from other Internet-based companies that provide
web traffic statistics. After you start receiving your traffic
reports, allocate in your weekly schedule adequate time to evaluate
the information. You will discover soon that this invested effort
will start paying dividends!
About the author: Fernando Macia is Human Level Commuications'
CEO, a company with offices in Alicante, Spain and Dallas, Texas.
We specialize in web design, CMS development, search engine optimization
and traffic statistics data mining. www.humanlevel.com
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