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Tracking Web Statistics

A very important part of any SEO campaign is monitor traffic. Although you want to see how many visitors came to your website, it is very important to analyze the visits. With stat tools, you can make a relatively accurate guess about what pages people come too see, how long they view them and how they got there. There are many stat tools to test stats, but, this discussion will only deal with two of the most popular stat tools; Google Analytics and AWSTATS.

Google Analytics:
Google Analytics is a free tool that you can log into with a GMAIL account username and password.

Google Analytics does a fantastic job at breaking down the visitors into many subcategories such as cities, countries, connection speed and browsers. Any of the ‘Referral Paths’ exists for any of the ‘Traffic Sources’; such as referral, organic and direct. It also shows which pages have been visited and how long someone stays on the page. The stay on the page part can be misleading because they must move to another page on the site for a reference point to be made. Therefore, if someone stays on one page for 10 minutes and then shuts off his computer while someone else visits that page for two minutes and moves another page on your site this will read 1 minute average spent.

One pitfall of Google Analytics is that the cookie that is used for tracking the data will be used as long as that cookie is stored. This means that if someone originally arrives at your site from a link, each and every visit thereafter with that cookie will be shown from the traffic source as a ‘Referral’ not a direct visitor. Considering that the cookie must be removed  and refreshing or reloading will not do a lot of good, those numbers are very problematic. This is where AWSTATS can come to the rescue because it can determine how a visitor arrives at the site.

AWSTATS is often freely provided with a hosting account. 

AWSTATS uses the server log files to determine visitor info. If you compare AWSTATS where users come from and Google, you may find that Google Analytics and AWSTATS vary dramatically with the info regarding where the users came from. AWSTATS may state that 80% come from a bookmark or direct link from email while Google Analytics might state that most come from a referral page. The big difference here is that Google Analytics will use one cookie in the user’s computer and AWSTATS uses server log files.  Like it was mentioned earlier, that cookie has the potential to reveal rather accurate visitor numbers (unless the script is blocked) but it does not do a great job at handling determining precise data how a visitor returns to the website. 

There are not many cons about AWSTATS. It is a very popular choice for webmasters to determine visits and visitor info. It does a pretty good job at breaking down information such as what pages had been entered and which ones had been exited. As far as where visitors come from, it breaks them down to the country with the unique IP addresses. Google Analytics has a slight edge here becasue it tracks the user down to the city. It is not perfect, but, it could show something like a visitor from West Vancouver who is actually living in North Vancouver.

There are addons that can be used with a Content Management System to determine visitor stats. For example, Joomla has a component and module called Joomlastats. This tool will store info in the database about the users, such as what pages were visited and where they come from. The third opinion from a component / module can be very useful. The negative aspect to using one of the components / modules is that a lot of data will accumulate in the database and that could hinder SEO and website speed as search engines query the database; even with compressed data. The program Joomlastats and AWSTATS show very very similar data, numbers and IP addresses of the visits. Both will exclude bots. One of the nice features of a stat analyzer like Joomlastats is that is very good at showing every visit for each day. The IP addresses all line up and you can see new and returned visits with a timer for each session. One negative aspect is that the user may have to manually remove stats in the database that may not get removed with uninstallation.

A quick summary is that the two stat analysis can reveal rather goog results about the city, IP address and pages that were visited if the webmaster utilizes the strengths of each rather than pondering the weaknesses which leave unreliable data.