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
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 includes:
- Which engines have sent you traffic;
- What keywords were used to find your site;
- Which pages were accessed the most or the least;
- Who are the visiting spiders;
- 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 your visitors.
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 analyzing it?
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.
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?
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 leaving?
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
220.127.116.11 - - [15/May/2000:23:03:36 -0800] "GET
/index.htm HTTP/1.0" 200 3956 "http://www.altavista.digital.com/cgi- bin/query?
pg=aq&text=yes&d0=1%2fnov %2f99&q=email+marketing%2a +AND+email
marketing%2a&stq=30" "Mozilla/2.0 (compatible; MSIE 4.0; SK; Windows
Not exactly easy reading, is it?
However, through the above entry, you can learn:
- The IP address of your visitor -- 18.104.22.168
- The date and time of the visit -- [15/May/2000:23:03:36
- 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 -- "http://www.altavista.digital.com/cgi-bin/query?
pg=aq&text=yes&d0=1%2fnov %2f99&q=email+marketing%2a +AND+email
- 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 yourself.
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
- Number of page views per day
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 day
User session refers to the activity of one visitor to a web
- 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
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 Optimizer with
"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 requested pages
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
"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
"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 link)."
- 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 several notches.
- 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
- Top referring sites and URLs
- Top referring search engines
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 doesn't follow.
- 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
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, or WordTracker, which also has a free
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 visitors
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
Charlie Morris, Managing Editor of Web Developer's Journal, --
http://wdvl.internet.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
To Rocky Rawstern, Professional Optimizer with
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 positioners
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
"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
Log Analysis Programs
eXTReMe Tracking (free)
Northern Web's Keyword Sniffer (Free Perl Script)
Robin Nobles teaches 2-, 3-, and 5-day hands-on search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe (SearchEngineWorkshops.com) as well as online SEO training courses (OnlineWebTraining.com). They have recently launched localized SEO training centers through SearchEngineAcademy.com, and they have expanded their workshops to Europe with Search Engine Workshops UK. They have also opened the first networking community for SEOs, the Workshop Resource Center (WRC).
Click here to go back to the
index of search engine marketing articles
This work is licensed
under a Creative Commons License.