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Just the Stats, Ma'am

Aug 17, 2007
Did you know that as you surf the Web, you leave tracks? The sites you visit, the pages you view, the pages you leave from, even the browser you use - along with much more information - are saved every time you visit a Web site.

If you own a Web site, these statistics are available to you from your Web site host. While these statistics can be very useful in tuning your site, they can be quite confusing as well. Here's a brief guide to understanding some of the most common Web site statistics.

Hits. One of the most commonly referenced statistics is one of the least understood. We often hear people say something like, "Our site gets 10,000 hits per day." Sounds great, right? Actually, "hits" is pretty meaningless. A "hit" is nothing more than a request to the server on which your Web site resides.

When you access a single Web page, many "hits" will result, because each graphic, photo, and text on the page represents a separate server request. So the number of hits can vary widely, and will always be much greater than the number of real visitors.

What you would really like to know is how many unique visitors come to your site in a given time period. Don't fret, that's available too. By tracking your unique visitors over time, you can determine how well your Web site is working. How many visitors are you getting? Are they buying once they get there? If you have added new products or services, optimized your site for the search engines, or have launched an advertising campaign, the number of unique visitors can tell you how effective that effort has been.

Wouldn't it be cool to know how much time people spend on your site? The average time someone spends on your site will tell you how "sticky" your site is. A very short average visitor time means people are not finding your site interesting or not finding the information they're looking for.

A related statistic is the number of page views. This stat will show you not only how many pages on average people view, but which pages they saw. This information is valuable in determining what people find interesting - and uninteresting - on your site.

Landing pages are just that - pages on which a visitor will "land" when they arrive on you site. And it is not always the home page. Let's say you sell widgets on your site, and you have a page devoted to left-hand widgets. You should optimize that page for left-hand widgets, so when someone Googles "left hand widgets" they're taken directly to your left-hand widgets page, not the home page. Obviously, this information can help you determine exactly what people are looking for when they come to your site and will help you optimize each page.

Similarly, exit pages are the pages from which people leave your site. If your landing pages and exit pages are often the same, some improvement in your site may be in order.

One of the most interesting statistics is the referring URL and keyword. Not only can you determine which search engine people used to find you, but what keyword they searched on! Knowledge of these two statistics can help you better target your keywords and evaluate your marketing campaigns. You can also click the URL to see where you appear in the search engine results pages for that keyword.

Finally, you can find out what browser, operating system, and sometimes screen resolution your visitors use. While this can be interesting, it is probably not too valuable to the average Web site owner. Your Web site should look the same, no matter which browser and screen resolution your visitors use. This is easier said than done, thanks to Bill Gates.

For example, a quick look at one of our sites revealed that over the past year, 73% of our visitors used some version of Internet Explorer. 16% of browsers could not be determined, but it can be assumed that most of these were Internet Explorer as well. The next browser in popularity was Netscape at 11%.

You can view the statistics for your site by logging on to your Web site host and searching for "statistics." The process for viewing the statistics varies from host to host, so you may have to contact your host's customer service.

Regular viewing and tracking of your Web site's statistics can be a powerful tool for getting the most from your web site.
About the Author
Janet Winter and her husband, Phil, are owners of Web Design Partners, a full-service Web design firm. If you have questions about Web topics, you can contact them at WebDesignPartners.com.
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