Mining for Gold .... in your Web
by Phillipa Gamse
Understanding your Web site's traffic
patterns is a crucial component of your marketing
mix. The information in these logs is collected as
visitors find and move around your site at their own
volition. So, it's "market research that cannot lie"
- and therefore provides unprecedented insights that
can help you to strategize not only for the future
development of the site itself, but also for your
overall business and marketing plan.
I'll describe the most important sections
of the log report when analyzing your site's marketing
effectiveness. Often, deciding what's right and what's
a problem is a gut feel that you'll develop by looking
at your log reports over a period of weeks or months,
by trying some new tactics, and observing the trends
This introductory section shows the overall traffic
to the site, including the number of actual visitors,
as opposed to "hits". This is an important distinction
- one hit is generated for every page and every individual
image that a visitor requests (e.g. a page with some
text and five pictures will take six hits to download).
So, the ratio of hits to individual visitors can be
By the way, it's also important for
you to appreciate this distinction if you are selling
advertising space on your site. You may be asked by
a potential advertiser to prove your traffic levels,
and if you happily say "millions of hits", they may
This section also shows the average
time spent on the site, which should give some indication
as to how engaging it is. If your site is rich in
content, but the time spent on it is relatively low,
it may not be meeting the needs of the visitors it
is attracting, or it may be targeted at the wrong
I had a client who earlier this year
placed #1 in some major search engines. He was ecstatic!
But his site had not been worked on for some time,
and was very dry and boring. We discovered from his
logs that the average time spent on his site was less
than two minutes - obviously indicating a problem.
And to make my point again, without this evidence
from the logs, he would have continued to believe
that his site was successful.
Most and Least Requested Pages
The most requested pages are a great barometer of
the "hot" areas of your site, and thus the most popular
aspects of your online products or services. These
may be different from your original expectations,
and so this information can be very valuable for overall
business development decisions.
If the least requested pages (i.e.
the ones that attract the fewest visitors) contain
important content, then something's wrong. Usually,
it's either that their content is not interesting
to your markets after all, or that the site is not
driving your traffic to these pages in ways that are
Top Entry and Exit Pages
If the inside pages of your site are well promoted
in the search engines, there should be a number of
top entry pages (i.e. the first page that the visitor
sees), in addition to the home page. This is a good
reminder to include clear navigation back to other
areas of the site from every page, to ensure that
the first-time visitor gets a complete picture of
The top exit pages are also an indication
of your site's effectiveness - if these are not the
right places for most visitors to leave from, some
adjustments are needed. Make sure that every page
of your site has an objective, and that you clearly
direct the visitor to the next page or to the action
that you wish them to take.
Single Access Pages
These are pages that a visitor views, and leaves without
exploring any further. Typically, this will be the
home page, and I am often asked whether this is an
issue. I usually give the standard consultant's answer:
"It depends . . ."
Your home page should quickly show the
different audiences for your site that they've come
to the right place for what they want, and where to
go to find it. So you might have sections for members,
prospective members, journalists, consumers, etc.
The home page should do enough to engage them, and
send them on to the appropriate inside pages.
If the home page does a good job of
this, there will probably be some remnant of visitors
who came to your site by mistake, in which case they
will leave immediately. But that's OK - they aren't
the right traffic for you. It's really your judgment
call as to what constitutes a problem. But, that client
I mentioned earlier whose visitors spent less than
two minutes on his site also had about 85% single
access figures on his home page - some things are
A splash entry page to your site (i.e.
one that says "Welcome, enter here", but with little
or no actual content) will often also show large single
access figures. Although these pages can look very
striking, they unfortunately tend to be unpopular
with impatient surfers. I've seen splash pages that
have lost one third of a site's visitors. If you have
a splash page, check the single access figures for
it in your logs, and be prepared to remove it without
hurting the feelings of your Webmaster!
Most Active Countries and Cities
If your site is aimed at an international audience,
this section will show which country visitors originate
from. This information can be useful in making decisions
such as providing pages in languages other than English.
The most active cities report is unfortunately
very misleading, as it relies on the registered location
of the Internet Service Provider. Most log reports
therefore show very disproportionate visitor numbers
from Virginia - the home of America Online!
Top Referring Sites / URL's / Search
These are the Web pages that send visitors to your
site. The largest figure here will usually be the
"No referrer", showing people coming directly to the
site. This means that they are typing in your URL,
or have your site bookmarked, and implies that your
other forms of marketing are working.
The log reporting program should display
other Web pages that send you traffic as html links,
allowing you to click on the URL (when online!) to
see the originating page. This will show the effectiveness
of your reciprocal links or paid advertising. You
will also be able to see other sites that are linking
to you. It's worth checking these out if you aren't
familiar with them - either to thank them, or to check
that their link to you is appropriate.
For search engine referrals, clicking
on the link will resubmit the search, and allow you
to evaluate competitors' sites and positioning relative
to yours. It's also possible to review keywords that
are bringing traffic from one particular source, and
to try to improve the site's performance for those
words in other search engines.
Top Search Keywords and Phrases
This is crucial information, as it shows exactly what
people were looking for when they came to your site.
Often Web site marketers take their best guess at
these keywords on their first design, but because
the search engines index every word on all your pages,
other terms can be found, especially in a content
rich site. So the most popular search phrases can
tell you what's really "hot" in your products and
services. Understanding these is another great key
to understanding the current needs of your site's
market(s), and making business strategy and development
decisions. One of my clients recently decided to write
a book on a topic area that, until she saw her logs,
she had no idea was so sought-after.
There are other sections in the log report, especially
around the technical data for your site. The pieces
that I have covered here are the significant ones
for marketers. If you don't have this information
available, I really urge you to get it, and review
it - I guarantee that you'll find some gold nuggets!
About the author:
Philippa Gamse, CyberSpeaker, is an internationally
recognized e-business strategist. Check out her free
tipsheet "Beyond the Search Engines" for 17 ideas
to promote your Website: http://www.CyberSpeaker.com/tipsheet.html
Philippa can be reached at (831) 465-0317 or mailto:pgamse@CyberSpeaker.com