There's Gold in Your Website's Server Log

Sep 21 21:00 2004 Stephen Bucaro Print This Article

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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 the server log. However, if you pay for your web host,
or if you own the server, you almost always have some
access to the 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 the valuable information
contained in the server log.

Hits

Some webmasters brag about the 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 the 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 the number of unique visitors
your web site receives. When it comes to selling
advertising or joining the most exclusive affiliate
programs, a high number of unique visitors each month is
the 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 the 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
the lookout for people who are stealing your bandwidth
(usually by linking to images on your web site).

Referrers

Good server log analysis software will provide you with the
URLs of the 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 the referring
website. For example, learn what the topic of the 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 the 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 the referrer's website, and that page should contain
only a few other links.

Search Strings

Good server log analysis software will provide you with the
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 the top
keywords. If getting more traffic is your single goal,
there are websites that will provide you with a list of the
current most popular keywords entered into search engines.
Then you can provide more content related to those keywords.
This gets involved with the 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 the top of
your webpage with the text color the same as the webpage
background. (Note: I don't use that trick or any other
SEO tricks myself because if you get caught the 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 the time of
this writing, the most common operating system is Windows
XP and the 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.

The fact is, you can't design your website to be 100
percent compatible with every operating system and web
browser in use today. That would require either using only
plain html (version 3) or using browser detection code and
creating a dozen variations of each webpage. Use your
server log's platform and user agent data to decide which
browser your web pages should to be designed to be
compatible with. Your statistics will probably show that
90 percent of your website's visitors are using the latest
or the previous version of Internet Explorer.

Country Information

Good server log analysis software will tell you which
countries your website visitors are located in. Analysis of
the bucarotechlp.com server logs shows that visitors are
located in every country, village, and hamlet on the
planet. This leads to the question, should you create
multiple variations of each webpage to accomodate visitors
from other nations? It depends upon your business and your
resources. The fact is that the language of business and
commerce across the planet is English, and I receive
frequent email, in English, from all over the planet.

Important Ways to Use Server Log Information

Website Design

Remember when the typical website had a gray background
and a single image in the middle of the page? Today, that
would be below the standard for a kids website on AOL. Does
your server log "platform" and "user agent" statistics tell
you that most of the visitors to your website are using
Windows XP with Internet Explorer Version 6, while your
website is designed for Windows 95 and Internet Explorer
Version 4? Can you afford to be presenting a website that
looks outdated?

I think it's a mistake to design a website that requires
your visitors to have the latest bleeding-edge technology.
On the other hand, if the rest of the web is using ASP
(Active Server Pages) to generate custom webpages
on-the-fly that use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to create
webpages that resemble slick magazine pages and DHTML
(Dynamic HTML) to provide interactivity, it might be time
for you to investigate those technologies.

If your website is a business site or E-commerce site, the
visual style and technical level of your website reflects
the quality of your business or service. To determine the
proper visual style and technology level of your website
requires you to monitor three things.

1. Your competitors. You want to look as in-style as they
do, but avoid following them down the road to bloated
plugins (Macromedia Flash).
2. The portion of your audience using broad band Internet
Access. Less than half of U.S. Make sure your webpages
load within 20 seconds over a 56kbps modem connection.
2. Your server log platform and user agent statistics. Your
web pages need to be designed to be compatible with the
current most popular operating system and web browser
version.

Webhost Performance

Web hosts provide two basic kinds of service, shared
hosting and dedicated hosting. If your website is on a
shared host, there may be hundreds of other websites
sharing the same computer as your website. This limits the
performance of your website. Many web host providers use
"bandwidth throttling" to prevent one website from hogging
all the available bandwidth.

As your website grows and attracts increasing traffic, it
will need more of the host computers processor time and
more bandwidth. Monitor your server log hits, and bandwidth
statistics. At some point, your website may hit a
performance wall and you may need to move to a higher
grade of hosting, or a different web host company to
continue growth.

When moving to a different web host company, don't trust
the specifications they provide. Check several different
web host directories that let visitors rate web hosts. If
several different web host directories have many users that
give a web host company a high rating, that's the company
you want to trust with your website.

Website Topic

As you analyze certain website server statistics (for
example, "page view hits", and "top search engine
keywords") and make adjustments, you may find the content
of your website drifting away from your original intent.
At some point, you may have to decide, Am I going to chase
traffic and change the topic of my website, or am I more
interested in focusing on the topic of my choice?

If the original objective of your website was to make money
above all else, then let your visitors steer your website's
content. There's nothing wrong with that. Everybody's got
to make a living. But, if the original objective of your
website was to be a resource on a subject that you are
passionate about, then you may need to reassess the content
of your website.

I would reccommend having the best of both worlds. Stick to
content related to the subject of your website, but
delineate a wide enough scope of the topic so that when
your server statistics point out an opportunity to increase
traffic, you have rules to guide you.

In this article you learned some of the types of
information you can mine from your web server log and some
powerful ways to use that information to steer your website
in a direction for growth and success. If you are one of
those webmasters who has never bothered to view their
website's server log, you now know that you have been
overlooking some gold nuggets.

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About Article Author

Stephen Bucaro
Stephen Bucaro

To learn how to maintain your computer and use it more effectively to design a Web site and make money on the Web visit bucarotechelp.com To subscribe to Bucaro TecHelp Newsletter visit
http://bucarotechelp.com/search/000800.asp

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