anyone visiting my web site?
Is anyone visiting my web site?
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 less attention?
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 client’s 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
–server activity analysis and real-time statistics via script
controls and cookies- have already been covered in a former write-up
(see “What is behind all those web traffic reports”,
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. Let’s
explore what we need to consider first.
Hits, visited pages, number of sessions… 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 the same. 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.
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 product. However, one must exercise caution when evaluating
the number of unique versus repeating visitors. If your tool, for
instance, uses the visitor’s 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.
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 click. 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 visitor’s 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 and minimized. 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 ours. 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
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 visitor’s Internet browser, indicating that your site is
probably stored as a favorite, or the URL has been directly typed
on the browser’s 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 resolutions…
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.
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 time. 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
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.