Tracking your Web site statistics: Who visits your Web site and how do you bring them back? (Part 1 of 2)
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: June 3, 2008
|When I created my first Web site, it wasn't long before I was checking statistics as eagerly as a tax official doing an audit. If I had 20 unique visitors, I was elated. Years later, if I had only 20 I'd be ready to close the shop. But I learned very quickly the number of visitors isn't the only important factor in building a successful site. Equally useful are statistics on what pages my visitors were coming to, how they found my site and whether they were visiting more than once. Knowing if the visitor selected more than one page also helped. After all, I wanted a visitor to return so I could build a stable readership. Above all, once a visitor arrived, I wanted him or her to stay awhile and check out those additional pages, resulting in multiple page views.|
Many different methods for tracking statistics on Web sites and blogs are available free. I selected the trackers mentioned in this column for several reasons. I've actually used them. Each requires a simple registration process and the tracker is free. Some do allow you to upgrade by paying a fee for more elaborate analytics. None of the methods I use captures personal information about the individual. If you choose to do that by another means, you should post a notice on your site for ethical reasons.
StatCounter.com is just one of the free, easily available tools for tracking Web site traffic.
One of the easiest to install and interpret is Sitemeter. You simply copy a small snippet of HTML code and paste it onto a page on your site. For my blogs I've installed it in the sidebar, in my case the right-hand column, since visitors often arrive by way of a keyword search. By placing the code in the sidebar, I can be fairly certain each instance of a unique visitor and page view(s) will be tracked. You have the option to make your figures private or public. Sitemeter tells you the Internet provider number, how long the visitor stayed, and what page the visitor came to. You can also determine the city and state for the visitor's network or Internet provider. There are exceptions because some users set their browser to cloak information. I find this is the exception rather than the rule.
StatCounter works in a manner similar to Sitemeter and like that tracker, does not require you to place ads on your site. Both yield up a wealth of other information in addition to what I've noted here.
I've mentioned Google Analytics before. I really don't see how a site can be managed effectively without this tool, but that opinion is my own and others may not agree. Google Analytics are a bit more involved than simple stat trackers. You have to add code to your header, and validate your site. But the payoff is huge. By using this resource located in the Google Webmaster section of your [Google] account, you will be able to determine who has actually linked to your pages, when the Google bot last crawled your site, any URL errors that may exist for those trying to find you, and a content analysis. The tools will also tell you pages that may be inaccessible. You may have to familiarize yourself with this resource before adding your code, but once you do you will be richly rewarded. If I had only one set of statistics, I'd opt for Google.
Sites like Technorati also yield some interesting data. This is a blog-ranking site, based on blog "reactions" to your content. A reaction occurs when another blog creates a link to your content. Technorati won't capture links from message boards or forums or even from high profile sites like The Wall Street Journal. But it will provide interesting feedback on how other bloggers view your site and what those bloggers liked, used or (in some cases) ranted about. At Technorati, you may "claim" your blog by completing a simple registration process. You copy and paste a small snippet of code on your page. This enables your profile and specifics about your site; others can see this and you can also check it. If you don't want to fool with the code or claim your blog, you'll likely still see your site listed there via other blogs that have placed links to your content. This is also useful in instances where another site uses your content without permission.
Some web hosts provide statistics with your Web site package. Yahoo does and so does my favorite blog host Squarespace. The latter measures referrers, popular content, visitors and other data. These statistics however come with a paid package for the Web site.
Once you place a tracker on your site, you may be tempted as I was initially to check results neurotically. Many bloggers share this first reaction to seeing data about their visitors. The condition is almost medical—a virtual case of "bloggerphrenia." What's important once the newness wears off is using the data to determine how to create content that brings your visitors back for more, encourages them to talk to you by leaving comments and keeps your content evergreen so it continues to draw visitors in the future.
What do rank and ratings mean for your blog or Web site?
(Web Savvy, March 8, 2008)
Google Analytics in Webmaster Tools
--June 3, 2008
Join us for our next Web Savvy, Part II in Site Statistics, as we take a look at how feedback can be used for strategic planning.