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Time For Web Traffic Analytics

Welcome to Accidental IT, a series of technical how-tos for people whose job descriptions don't necessarily include tech support but who often find themselves doing just that for their co-workers.

Your Web site is alive in cyberspace. And if you're on top of your Web site, you're keeping track of the traffic reports generated by your hosting service, the hit counters on each page, and whether you are getting orders and correspondence from the site. But are you getting all the traffic you should? Are you getting all the orders you could get from the people visiting your site, or are you losing their interest and their orders somewhere before they check out? If you don't already know the answers to those questions, it's probably time for you to investigate the technology of Web analytics.

The Definition

According to Wikipedia, there are two main approaches to collecting Web analytics data. "The older method, logfile analysis, reads the logfiles in which the Web server records all its transactions. The newer method, page tagging, uses JavaScript on each page to notify a third-party server when a page is rendered by a Web browser. Both methods are now widely used."

The log file analysis method is generally available on most shared hosting accounts either at no charge, or for a fee. In addition, log analyzers like the open-source AWStats, which is available at no charge can be installed on most Web servers, including Apache and IIS. The analysis generated by programs like AWStats can deliver information about numbers of visits, referring sites, and visitors' locations. However they are not particularly adept at identifying visitors' activity once they are on the site, particularly on dynamic sites where the page, but not its contents are identified. For example the page "catalog" may be shown as being visited, but the specific items viewed are not captured.

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