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BlueWolf's Howl

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August 15, 2002

Got Stats?

The distinctive Site Meter and eXTReMe icons adorn many blogs and web pages. We all know what they represent – they’re our stats! And we all know what they’re for, right? Well, site stats can tell you a little more than just how popular you are.

Site stats can be as simple or as complex as you desire (read: are willing to pay for)… Two of the most common site stat services are the two mentioned above. For most bloggers, these should be adequate. Professional sites also use web-tracking software. For the pros, there are products like Web Trends Log Analyzer. Although it costs quite a bit more ($500 [US]) and uses the web server’s raw log files, it basically performs the same services that your Site Meter provides. It’s all in how you use the information these services provide.

[I will use Site Meter in my examples, since there's one on this page (and it's available for public viewing).]

Clicking on the colorful square beneath the Archives brings you to the General page. This gives you a summary of your site statistics. The visits area counts how many times someone opened a browser and went to your site. It doesn’t tell you how many people went there, just how many unique visits. If you come to the page in the morning and then again in the afternoon, it will count two unique visits (even though there are not two unique visitors).

Page Views counts how many pages your visitors viewed. This doesn’t tell you how many posts they read, just how many pages were viewed. If you have five posts on your main page, they can read all five in one page view. If someone clicks on the comments popup, it counts as two page views. If you hit the refresh button, it will show another page view. If you click on one of my links and click the back button to return to the page, it’ll count another page view.

Who’s On? Tells you who is currently on your site. No, it doesn’t give you a name, but the stats for any visitor with a browser still open. If your page opens a new window from a link, people could surf off and it would still count the time (until the browser is closed or loads a new page). If you see someone with stats that say they were there for over 500 minutes, you know they went to your page and then left their computer on and went to work (or something like that).

In the Recent Visitors area, the two most common stats views are “By Details” and “By Referrals.” By Details shows a summary of recent visitor details. If there is only one page view, there is no way to determine the visit length and will result in a 0:00 visit length. This does not mean they did or didn't read your page. Clicking on the numbered square next to the listing will give you the details of that visit. If you view the stats by referrals, you will see the referring URL. This is the page they used to get to yours. If it’s another blog, it means they link you and the visitor got there from that link. If you see the same referrer over and over, you know which blogger to thank for all the traffic. If it says “unknown,” most likely they used a bookmark (favorites) to get to your site.

The statistics at the bottom are probably least used, but most helpful. Time Zones tells you the time zone of your visitors. You can tell if most of your visitors come from a certain area and target your posts for their convenience. If you notice visitors from the east coast (UTC –5) predominate and you’d like your posts to be read in the morning (posting from UTC –8), you need to post before east coast work hours. Otherwise, they’ll be reading the “morning” posts from work or after work.

The most helpful statistic on the page is Browser Share. It tells you the type of browser used by visitors to your site. If you only get 1% (or none) of a certain type (or version) of browser, it may not be worth the effort to develop pages that are compatible with that browser. If you notice a large percentage of visits from a certain type or version of browser, you may want to view your page using that browser and insure that the page displays as intended.

Another powerful statistic (again at the bottom of the page) is Style Sheets. If you’re using style sheets (as many blogs do), you’ll want to know if the browser used to view your page can interpret style sheets.

If you find a large proportion of visitors using different browsers, you can create multiple pages and direct the browsers to the “proper” page based on browser type and version.

What should you do based on the information in the stats? That's up to you. It depends on how much time you have and how much effort you're willing to put into tailoring your site for the needs of your audience. Or, you could just look at the general stats and enjoy how popular you are.

Posted by BlueWolf on August 15, 2002 10:25 PM