BitDepth 676 - April 21

Building a presence in Web 2.0: Using site analytics to craft your website
Who's out there?

Stats porn. The data profile of your website can tell you exactly who your visitors are and what they are interested in.

It's one of the most addictive things you can find yourself doing on the Internet. It will leave you in a phosphorescent stupor, clicking insanely as you plough through page after page, desperately seeking satisfaction. It is, as you may not have guessed, your web log.
Not the online diaries that became truncated into blogs, but the real, behind the scenes story of your website, a statistical trail that can tell you volumes about who's visiting your site, what they like to see and how much time they spend there.
With only a little more industry, good web statistics can tell you what country they came from, what operating system and browser they used and how they linked to your website.

It's as if you placed an advertisement or wrote a story in the newspaper and could, with a startling degree of reliability, trace the footprints of everyone who picked up a copy and read it.
Needless to say, if you have a website live on the Internet, and you aren't reviewing any statistical data on it; you're operating blind for no good reason.
Most web hosting services keep track of your website as a matter of course, though some will charge more for a more comprehensive package.
But there's no shortage of free and reasonably priced solutions for tracking what's happening to your website.
In the grand spirit of overkill, I'm currently using four tracking solutions, which mercifully don't seem to be conflicting.

Code trackers
Longest in service is GoDaddy's Site Analytics, which offers the most comprehensive history of my 28 month old site, though they have, rather irritatingly, begun dumping the oldest logs.
Almost everybody takes advantage of Google Analytics, which, like most non ISP solutions, requires you to embed some code in each page you want to track. When Google's tracking service unexpectedly zeroed out for the month of March, I went looking for other solutions.

Woopra, a hot new system for tracking site statistics is free during its beta test and has a stunning Java application that's available for Windows, Linux and the Mac that's much sexier than Google's Analytics pages.
Mint (US$30 per site) is uncut powdered white for stats junkies. Like most of the coolest, most affordable stuff for webmasters on a budget, Mint runs on Linux based web hosting (recommended unless you have a specific need for Windows) and has a plug-in architecture that allows you to slice and dice your stats like a manic ninja.
Any of these products will deliver valuable information that can make a huge difference in the way your website is presented to your potential audience.

Putting analysis to work
Serious site analysis exposes just how useless the idea of hits has become. The typical CSS driven website is made up of dozens, perhaps hundreds of tiny bits of code, each of which registers as a hit. The only meaningful measure is visitors, but there's more information in even the most rudimentary site analytics package than that.
Here's a practical example. Within the first six months of establishing, I discovered that visitors were evenly split between landing on my home page and the site's blog page as their point of entry.
Ignorance may be bliss, but knowing is ecstasy. Work immediately began on a design revamp of the blog page and a rethinking of the content, which still offers the random sparkings of my brain, but also catalogs and summarises changes to the website on a weekly basis.

That first change was just the start of the tweaking of the site that I committed to after understanding the value of web statistics.
Savvy web users who want to find me on Twitter or subscribe to an RSS feed will find everything they need there. I didn't decide this; the people visiting my website did. I just responded to the data trends their virtual footprints left behind.
Your website wants to tell you about its life on the Internet. Are you listening?, the data profile...
Website count: 3,622 pages
Hits (January 07 - March 09) - 2,909,765
Visitors January 07 - March09 - 136,737
Average unique visitors monthly - 4,000
Most popular download: LocalLives09.pdf (7052 times in six weeks)

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