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  Premier Web Site Traffic Analysis


How to Analyze Your Web Site Statistics – Part I

What the data tells you, and what to do about it

If you really intend to be successful with your online business, you will need to gather information on the visitors to your web site and how they use it. Never before in any business have we had the opportunity to find out so much about our own business and its customers as we have today.

There are several methods of gathering this information: One method uses the traffic history contained in the server’s log files. These files keep track of all activity on the server in case of failure or back tracking. They were not intended for monitoring web site traffic, although they can be used for this purpose. However the process of extracting the data from a busy server, collating it and presenting it to you is pretty slow and messy. Also, the log files don’t contain all the data needed for complete analysis.

Other systems make use of small (and sometimes not so small) bits of HTML code added to your web pages. These bits of code extract data from your visitor’s browser and send it to a database on either the web host’s or your own server. The information gathered in this manner is more tailored to your needs and can be collected and presented in real time. This will provide you with instant reporting available at any time and on demand.

In either case, the data can either be gathered by stand-alone software or through a service. I’ll save discussion of the merits of the various systems and services for another article, and just concentrate on what the numbers can do for us.

My aim in this article is to show you how to read your web statistics and use the numbers to enhance your e-business and increase Sales. And let’s face it, the bottom line is always Sales, with a capital ‘S’.

In the following sections, I’ll try to show you what overall groups of statistics you should be getting, what analysis should be provided and how to interpret the information. This will help you find both the weaknesses and strengths of your web site and hopefully point out ways to improve it.

First let’s cover the basic elements that should be provided with any web traffic stats service. Then we will look at those extra items that, if available, will help make your web site a cyberspace gorilla. First, just a quick overview of the items covered in this section. Then we will look into each in detail.

The Basics:

Overall Traffic Summary (Hit Counter)
Visitor Statistics
Pages Visited
Search Engines
Keywords and Phrases
Browsers, cookies and other technical data

The basics and what the information is trying to tell us:

Summary Page:

The summary page should give you a very quick overview of your web site’s progress during the selected time period. To be effective, it should also be compared to some previous time period of equal length. Though finding a service that provides comparisons can be difficult. Usually, you will just be presented with tables of numbers for the current time period.

And speaking of time periods, many ‘stat services default to today’s numbers displayed by hour, and beginning at midnight. In research on some of my own and my customer’s web sites, we have found this to be pretty useless information. Since we are in a global business, sales can be coming from anywhere and at any time.

If you see a dip at a certain hour, it is more likely it came from Mid-Pacific or some other sparsely populated area than from a lack of interest. Likewise, a large spike probably came from the US, since 80% of online sales come from there anyway.

A better view is given if your ‘stat service is able to open with a rolling 30 day period. This allows you to see your data on a day-to-day basis over a large enough time span to show meaningful changes. You should also be careful when trying to evaluate month-to-month numbers, since months vary in length. This is why I like the rolling 30 day period - it is always consistent.

You should look for the following information in the Summary Section:

Total number of pages visited
Total number of visitors
Number of New Visitors
Number of Returning Visitors
Number of Page Views per Hour
Average Amount of time spent on each page

Each of these should be shown with a trend and percentage of increase / decrease.

I’ll cover each of these in detail in the relevant sections to follow. For now, just look for overall trends in the data. If your service provides a quick trend indicator, your job will be a snap.

A graph on this page will also be a great help, since we usually understand visual information much faster and better than written.

Now let’s look at the single most important page you will want to examine. Well, maybe the second most important. We will get to the other later.

Visitors Page

The Visitors Page should show you the following:

Total Visitors
New Visitors
Returning Visitors
Pages Per Visit
Visits Per Day
Average Time Per Visit
Visitor Detail Page

The visitor the most important element in your analysis arsenal and is the basis for all of the other statistics. Without visitors, you get nothing: No hits, no data, no sales and NO Income!

All other data are, or should be, tied to the visitor so you will know how they use your site. By this we mean that you should be able to see where each visitor came into your site, where they came from and where they went while they were there. You should also be able to tell how long they spent on each page.

Your web site traffic statistics service should distinguish between New Visitors and Returning Visitors. This is very important. It helps you determine how effective you are in getting new visitors, and how well you retain them. This is often referred to as ‘stickiness’. It is a vital element in tracking sales as well, but we will get to that later.

You can compare the Total Visitors – the combination of both New and Returning Visitors - for the current period against the previous period to get an idea as to the overall direction of your business. (A good service will provide this information as part of the package.)

If your visitors are broken into New and Returning Visitors as they should be, you get a very good feel for their attitudes about your site. If you get a lot of new visitors, but few returning visitors, then your site content probably needs to be made more appealing. Of course, you must also give your visitors a reason to come back, so pay attention to content.

If, on the other hand, your new visitor numbers are falling, your marketing plans are most likely off target, since you are not appealing to the right crowd. Fire your Marketing Guru. If you are the Marketing Guru, fire yourself and get someone else to rework your marketing strategy. Never be afraid to admit that you don't know everything.

Pages per Visitor

This item will tell you how well your visitors use your site. Increasing the number of pages per visitor shows that your potential customers are finding more relevant content. If it begins to rise, you are on track and sales should also begin to rise. If they don’t, then look for signs of trouble in your content or purchasing process. You would be surprised how many people abandon the site because they find the purchasing process to difficult, confusing or time consuming.

Visits Per Day

This number smoothes out the visits for the time period being studied. There may be a wide variation from day to day in your numbers and 'Visits Per Day' gives you a way to compare traffic for different time periods.

Time Per Visit

The amount of time spent on your site is another good indicator of how well received your site is. It may not tell you much if it is not increasing, but it will certainly be an early indicator of falling interest. This will probably be one of the first warning signs of visitors losing interest in your site, so pay close attention to it.

Pages Summary:

Here you should look at the following items:

Most Visited Pages
Entry Pages
Exit Pages
Average Time Per Page
Paths Taken

Most Visited Pages (and not)

Which pages get hit the most? Which draw the least traffic? Most often, the home page is most popular, but not necessarily. On one of my websites, the most popular pages are tutorials. Many people bookmark these pages or post them on forums. I get a lot of traffic that way.

Most Popular pages should be listed in descending order with the hit count for both the current and previous time periods. Look for changes in direction over time. You may just be able to spot changes in visitors’ attitudes by observing shifts in page usage.

If you have made recent changes in a page and its popularity drops, put it back to its original form and see if it recovers. If it has increased in popularity, see if you can apply similar techniques to other pages.

Try to find out why a certain page is popular, or not. Compare the keywords on these two groups and try changing them. Make sure links from popular pages point to less popular pages. This should increase traffic to the weaker pages. Make sure the links themselves entice the visitor to use them.

If you see pages that got no or few hits this period but were popular in the past, it is definitely time to refresh the content. Rework unpopular pages, even if you have to replace them. Poor content is worse than no content.

Entry Pages

Entry and Exit pages can tell you a lot about your visitors’ attitudes. Entry pages are those where the visitor entered your site. This could have been from a search engine, an affiliate, or often a link posted to a forum or other web site

More than likely content was the determining factor on entry pages. You can use these pages as guidelines to enhancing other pages. Make sure all pages have something positive to offer your guests.

Again, watch for shifts in hit count on these pages. Especially comparing the current and previous time periods. If the overall numbers drop, you might have to reevaluate your site content in light of your competition.

If certain pages either drop or improve in popularity, try to chase down the reasons. Links to these pages may have outlived their usefulness, so try to keep your promotional efforts active. Always look for new places to post a link back to some of your pages.

Exit Pages:

Exit pages are those where the visitor decided to leave your site.

In our online business, the only exit page we want to see says: ‘Thank you for your order’. If it does not, then you should try to find out why. After all, we are here to get Sales. Ask yourself: Is there something on the (exit) page that turned off your visitors? Were you offensive in any way? Or was your copy just weak? One of our major problems in developing good sales copy is that we understand our products all too well. Remember that the visitor often has no idea what you are talking about, so try to make it clear and exciting. Rewrite the copy if you think it is needed.

If your visitors consistently exit just before hitting the ‘Buy’ button, you may have a pricing problem. Visit your competition and have a look. Try to add fresh offers and discounts. And don't forget to check out their key words. Just right click and select 'View Source'. Then look at the top of the source code listing for the keywords. Check them out for popularity and see if any of them match your content. Or perhaps you can add some popular ones and then refresh your content to match.

Average Time Per Page

The Visited Pages should also show the average amount of time spent on the page for both the current and previous time periods. Shifts in the Time Per Page can be an early indicator of waning interest in a page, even if it is still popular.

Paths taken

The paths taken can tell you a lot about what your visitors found interesting on your site. If they entered from other than your home page, did they go there? Did they exit immediately or did they continue on to other pages? If so, where did they go and how were these pages related to the entry page? Examine the content of the pages they visited to see if there are clues to what the visitor found interesting.

Perhaps your visitor came in from a search. If they left immediately, it is obvious they didn’t find what they were looking for. More than likely they were looking for something else, as often happens. If this happens often, re-evaluate your keywords and see if you can find words and phrases that will draw people who are looking for your products or services. Remember, we want to attract people who wil buy, not just random visitors. So sometimes fewer visitors can be more profitable than many visitors. Also, examine their search string for clues. We will discuss more on this subject later.

On the other hand, maybe your visitor just hated the look of your site! Or perhaps it was just too difficult to use. If everything else seems to be in order, visit the pages of some of your competition and see if your site compares favorably with eye appeal and quality.

Also, you can offer a survey to get opinions on what people thought of your site. If you decide to do this, keep it simple and easy to use. Don't ask too many detailed questions, but try to construct them to get maximum information.

Time per Page:

Be sure to look at the time spent on each page as well. This is a very important number. If the average time per page is dropping, your visitors are losing interest, or are not well qualified prospects to begin with. If it is increasing, your visitors are finding what they came for.

A Hint:

Read your page copy and time your progress. Do this for each page on your site. Read aloud and slowly, since not all of your visitors use your language as their first language. These numbers can then be used as a baseline to determine how much of your copy is actually being read. If it takes 30 to 45 seconds to absorb the information on a page but your visitors are spending only 3 seconds looking at it, then rework your headlines. Make sure your copy is clear and interesting. The first line of each paragraph should drag the reader into the rest of the text.

Watch your stats to see if these are effective. Again, do this for each page.

Search Engines Page

Here you should be able to see the following:

Search Engines by Rank
Number of Searches
Total Searches
New Search Engines

For most websites, this is probably the biggest source of traffic and hence revenue. SE traffic can be fun to watch. The keywords and phrases tell you what your visitors are looking for and how they found you. These searches tell you which of your keywords and phrases is most effective.

Search Engines by Rank and
Number of Searches

Here you will want to see a list of Search Engines that sent you traffic ranked by the number of searches. Hopefully seeing across the board increases in the number of searches. If a particular SE is declining, it is time to look at what is happening with your listing. The problem may be keywords, or competitors may be moving into your market. Or perhaps your content is losing its appeal and needs rework.

Take the keywords and phrases from your analysis data and paste them into your own search. Then look at the results and see where you ranked. You can then look at each of the sites above yours and see how relevant their content is. Visit these sites to determine if they are competitors or not. Examine their keywords for clues to others that might help you differentiate your site and at the same time make it more popular.

And as always, compare these to prior periods. Drop keywords that are no longer effective. Look for shifts in search patterns that will show you where the market is moving.

New Search Engines

Pay close attention to the number of new search engines that sent you traffic. This will tell you how well your keywords are working and how fast your submissions are taking effect. Go to those sites and perform a search using the same keywords that your visitor used. Examine the words and phrases as well as the competition for clues to improving your own site.

Total Searches

Total Searches is another indicator of how well ranked your site is. It also shows how well your marketing efforts are paying off. The higher you climb in the rankings, the higher the number of search hits. If this number shifts downward, look at your keywords.


Referrals are not the same as searches. Referrals are usually inward pointing links to your site from other sites, affiliates, your own ads or any number of other sources. You should be able to see pretty much the same information here as for Search Engines:

Referring agents by rank
Number of referrals, both Current and Prior Periods
Total Searches
Number of New Referring sites

I was once surprised to begin receiving a lot of traffic to one of my sites from an unfamiliar source. The referral showed a thread topic number. So I went to this site (It turned out to be a forum) and located the thread. I found that someone who had previously visited my site had placed a link there to one of my tutorials.

It is perfectly OK to join in on the discussion on these forums and elaborate on the subject at hand. After all, since the link is to your site, you are the expert, right? You can even leave another link to your own site, as long it is not a blatant promotion and contributes to the discussion. You just might find yourself the leading authority on the subject. You also might learn something.

You could even go home and design an entirely new page, or even a new product, based on what the people on the forum were discussing. Or you can also redesign your current pages and make corrections and clarifications based on the discussion. Don’t hesitate to use any method that will improve your site.

You can build a surprising amount of traffic through this simple technique.

Make sure your stats service is able to separate referrals from searches. It saves a lot of headaches and allows you to track affiliates and ad campaigns.

Keywords Page

Keywords are the words and phrases that people use to search for information and products. If you can guess what people will say, you should be able to use the same words as they do to increase your rankings.

Taking a clue from the Referrals section above, backtrack your searches and look at the forums and discussion groups. Examine the way people say things and what words they are using. If you see repeated words and phrases, and try incorporating them into your keyword lists. This is an excellent way to develop often used but little known keywords.

Here again, look for the following items from your web site analysis service:

Keywords by rank
Number of times used

Keywords by rank

Be sure to look for changes in popularity of your keywords. Compare the list against your tags and remove ineffective and non-productive words and phrases

As above, take the phrases from your analysis data and paste them into your own search. Then look at the results and see where you ranked. You can then look at each of the sites above yours and see how relevant their content is. Visit these sites to determine if they are competitors or not. Examine keywords for clues to others that might help you differentiate your site and at the same time make it more popular.

Number of times used

Changes in the number of times a keyword or phrase is used are early indicators of changes in thinking or phrasing of subject material. Compare these words over time for an accurate assessment of current conditions.

Browsers, Cookies and other user statistics

Browser types, colors used and many other aspects of your users equipment is reported along with your other stats.

Some of these are:

Screen size
Number of colors used
Operating systems
Whether or not the following are enabled or disabled:
Time zones
Background sounds and others

Although not as important as some of the other information, these can be very handy in making decisions about your site.

We once had to make a decision as to whether or not to use cookies as a method of identifying returning visitors. An examination of our statistics showed that virtually everyone had left them enabled. So we were able to add this feature to our site with confidence that we could believe the statistics.

On the other hand, Java was often disabled, discouraging us from adding it in high profile positions.




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