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There's Gold in Your Website's Server Log
By Stephen Bucaro
Many Webmasters have never bothered to view their website's server log. Ignoring your server log is like flying with a blind pilot. You may still be cruising along, but you have no idea where you are or where you're headed. If your website is on a free host, you probably don't have access to server log. However, if you pay for your web host, or if you own server, you almost always have some access to server log.
In this article, you'll learn what kind of information a typical server log provides, how to analyze that information, and how to use that information to steer your website in a direction for growth and success.
The actual data in server log is just that, data. Data is of little use without an application to compile, categorize, analyze, and turn it into useful information. The power of server log analysis software varies depending upon web host, and it's not related to how much you pay for hosting service. I have seen some very low budget web hosts with powerful server log analysis software, and some expensive web hosts that provide only a limited utility.
The importance of server log analysis software is second only to up-time reliabilty when it comes to web hosts. A web server log can tell you who is visiting your web site, where they're coming from, what operating system and web browser they're using, what pages of your website they are viewing, and much more. A smart webmaster performs a regular monthly analysis of valuable information contained in server log.
Some webmasters brag about number of "hits" their website receives, but hits themselves are not important. For example, when a search engine spiders your website, it generates a hit for every page it visits. There are ways to generate millions of hits on a website without anyone ever actually viewing a single page.
The important statistics are "page view hits" and "unique visitors". Server log analysis software should tell you how many times each page was viewed. Anaylyzing popularity of individual pages tells you where to place your most important advertisements, and what kind of new content you should add to your website.
The king of all statistics is number of unique visitors your web site receives. When it comes to selling advertising or joining most exclusive affiliate programs, a high number of unique visitors each month is statistic that gets respect.
Good analysis software will tell you how many pages each visitor viewed and how long they stayed on your website. The goal is to develop content that gets your visitors to stay longer, a quality sometimes referred to as "stickiness".
A statistic related to hits is "bandwidth". This is a complicated statistic because you want more visitors and that causes bandwidth to go up. On other hand, high bandwidth consumption makes your website repond slower (and most web hosts charge extra for bandwidth beyond a certain limit). What you want is to design your web pages so they use bandwidth efficiently, and you want to be on lookout for people who are stealing your bandwidth (usually by linking to images on your web site).
Good server log analysis software will provide you with URLs of webpages that people clicked on to get to your website. This is extremely valuable information. If you are receiving a high volume of traffic from another website, you can almost consider that website to be your business partner. It would be to your advantage to find ways to make your website more useful to referring website. For example, learn what topic of referring website is and place more related content on your website.
One common method of aiding referrers is to place a reciprocal link on your website. However, don't bother placing reciprocal link on a "links" page with hundreds of other links (a link farm). If you can't provide an honest reciprocal link, it's better to do nothing. An honest reciprocal link might be a page containing a review of referrer's website, and that page should contain only a few other links.
Good server log analysis software will provide you with keywords and search strings people entered at a search site to find your website. One way to get more traffic to your website is to provide more content related to top keywords. If getting more traffic is your single goal, there are websites that will provide you with a list of current most popular keywords entered into search engines. Then you can provide more content related to those keywords. This gets involved with subject of "Search Engine Optimization" (SEO).
SEO is a science in itself, covered in other articles, but I will reveal a secret trick as an example of SEO tactics. Starting with a top keyword, generate every possible misspelling of that keyword and place those at top of your webpage with text color same as webpage background. (Note: I don't use that trick or any other SEO tricks myself because if you get caught search engines will penalize your website.)
Platform and User Agent Good server log analysis software will tell you which operating systems and which browser brands and versions people are using to access your website. At time of this writing, most common operating system is Windows XP and most common browser is Internet Explorer version 6. However, you will find a wide range of operating systems and browsers accessing you website. Unfortunately, they are not all compatible.