Build a Website: Measuring Traffic
Each time someone visits a page on your site, an entry is automatically added to the web server's log file. A log file is simply a record of the number of times a particular file has been requested (this is commonly referred to as a "hit") and some basic information, including the date and time of the request, the size of the file served, whether there were errors in serving the file, the site the visitor came from, and the specific web page the visitor came from. (Unless a visitor has registered with a website, it's not possible to know the identity of that person.) A great deal of information can be gleaned from these files, but it can be intimidating at first glance.Analyzing the Stats
Raw log files are definitely not for the faint at heart. Statistical analysis software make sense of these logs.
Your web hosting service should provide you with a summary of activity on your site as well as access to more comprehensive traffic data. Avoid providers who tell you only the total number of hits on your site. All that this number tells you is the total number of requests for all files on your site. Without the additional details provided in a log file, the hits count can be misleading. Here's why.
When a particular page is requested, that request includes all of the image and other files associated with that page. Let's say you have nine images on your page; the hits count for the page will be ten instead of one, making it appear like there were ten times the number of actual requests. In addition, if a visitor reloads a page, it registers as a new request. Use the hits count only as a gross measurement of the activity on your site, and review the log file for critical details.
An excellent use for a log file is to check the error codes, such as "404 URL Not Found", to identify pages that are not working correctly. If you use a hosting service, check for error codes that read "500 Server Errors,", which means that visitors can't access your pages because of an equipment or software error.
Sophisticated software is available to analyze the domain name of the visitor, match it against a database of known addresses, and break it into geographic region and type. This gives a detailed picture of where your users come from. With this type of analysis, you get a more accurate view of how many unique users visit your site (as opposed to the number of hits) and from where and when they visit.
Last update: Jan 14, 2010