April 2001 Newsletter

Website Statistics

**** Quick Picks

Click Z:
"Measuring Customer Performance" - What Counts. Further discussion on website metrics or measurements. This article discusses metrics few construction product manufacturers probably track, but provides a road map as to what is happening in other industries.

(Link now requires subscribing)
"Making Metrics Count - You know your Website is serving pages. But is it serving your company?" This is more oriented to e-commerce sites, and will provide insights into understanding web analysis.

Discussion about tracking users from Hitbox. (link no longer works)

More about differences between log analysis programs and third-party tracking programs
(from Hitbox - link no longer works)

These are links to the website analysis tools referenced in the article:

**** The 4specs Perspective

Part 2 of this newsletter shows actual examples of stats from 4specs.com

Internet advertising decisions are easy - if you know your website statistics. As a self-confessed techie, website stats was second on my list to understand - after how to write HTML in 1996. This newsletter and the one in May will cover website stats to let you know what information is available. This article is long, and is split into two newsletters. Feel free to pass this to your IT department or web designer/consultant.

There are three key ways to bring users to your website:
1. Search engines
2. Advertising - print and Internet
3. Linking to and from related websites

We will discuss search engines and linking in future newsletters. This month we will focus on website statistics with a focus on advertising- so you can better know the results of your advertising - and can negotiate tougher for the next year.

Print advertising inquiries to your website can also be tracked by placing a special subdirectory for each ad. This special subdirectory will let you track the referrals from that ad. For example - http://www.ford.com/231 The 231 subdirectory will take interested people directly to information related to the subject at hand. I propose that ads with specific product information should lead the user to more of that information, and not to a standard page with no further indication of where the visitor should go for additional information.

Caution: webservers are case sensitive on subdirectories - FORD is not the same as Ford or ford. I recommend the use of numbered subdirectories or pages for redirection. Since a user may bookmark that page, you may want to set up the numbered subdirectory to redirect to the normal website page with the information. This means that you can log the redirection, and the user bookmarks the proper permanent page.

I propose that you need to maintain a history of website traffic and know that traffic found you. I find that 4specs.com is a key source for referrals for many of our non-advertisers, and many marketing managers did not know we existed.

Tracking this data helps in making decisions on web sites and advertising. I recommend that this information be reviewed on a monthly basis, and you keep a spreadsheet or file the papers in a binder to track over time. Believe me it feels good when I look back to Christmas week 1996 (our earliest historical report) and see that 4specs has more users per HOUR today than during the entire week in December 1996.

Not every one knows that every webserver maintains a log of every file sent out. This log contains the date, time, file served, status, size, etc. What may not be expected is that the log file contains the file that requested the file sent - called the referrer field. This field tells you how the user got to your system. For example, every time 4specs sends a user to your website, your server logs the referrer as 4specs.com along with the page.

Not every web provider gives you access to your log files. If you are not already getting the information we will be discussing - ask your IT department or web consultant or provider if you can get them.

At a large company, the Information Technology or computer department may already have this information, but may not be passing it along to the marketing and advertising people. This newsletter provides you with specific things to track to understand your website, and to ask your web provider or IT department for specific information.

For most "specified" products, direct sales cannot generally be attributed to the website. A few advertisers have told me of specific sales to new customers that could be related to their website - and from advertising on 4specs. For the most part, the only measure of the website's usefulness is an increase in users and website activity.

What you track depends on volume - a small website with 20 users a day has different requirements than a website like 4specs with 1,000 users, or a large company website like Andersen Windows or Kohler with perhaps 5,000 users per day.

On 4specs I most closely track the number of referrals made each month as the best indicator of activity. I suggest you track the number of visitors, or the number of times the home page was loaded, and include secondary stats such as number of times the specs were downloaded.

There are three ways to measure users and website activity - counters, third-party reports and analysis of your server logs. May's newsletter will cover the differences between the methods and suggestions on setting them up as well as examples from 4specs:

Counters - These are the numbers at the bottom of the page that say - you are our 12,307th visitor. Counters are available from a variety of sources - check Google and Yahoo for suppliers. In most cases they provide little useful information. For the same amount of effort, a complete third-party tracking system could be installed. In one case, a friend who is the executive director of an organization was excited by the significant increase in users reported by the counter, and failed to understand that the same robot was visiting the home page every 6 minutes and was being counted 1,000 times per day.

Third-party Reports - WebTrends Live and HitBox are two examples of website statistical analysis. These involve javascript ( a language used on the web ) being placed on all of your web pages. They will report number of unique users, repeat users, pages displayed, and referrers. They can be free if you display their logo on the pages. You can see these logos on most of the 4specs.com pages - at the very bottom.

Server Log Analysis - I consider this the most comprehensive technique and more difficult to set up. Every server records every action into a log. Depending upon traffic, these logs may be maintained on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. We recommend a monthly analysis of the logs to get a perspective on activity. Webtrends is a commonly used program and costs $700. I use Analog, which is free. Next month when we discuss these programs I will show some screen shots from WebTrends live and a report from Analog.

Definitions are critical to understanding websites. Webtrends has an excellent discussion at:
(website no longer has article)

I want to note the distinction between referer URL and referer Domain. (My word processor keeps wanting to spell referer correctly.)

Referer URL (misspelled in the standard) - lists every page that sent traffic to your website. For example - http://www.4specs.com/07.html

Referer Domain - lists every domain that sent traffic to your website. For example - http://www.4specs.com. There is a significant difference between these referrer URL and referrer domain. I was caught by surprise by the number of visitors referred by Google. Each referral had a different key word or URL and I never added them together to understand just how important google was to our visitor traffic. Using the referer domain measurement, you will spot these trends.

It is very easy to forget just how much your user traffic increases over a two or three year period. A graph is a very convincing reminder of what is happening. At 4specs we track referrals made to manufacturers as the key indicator of overall website activity. We also track for each manufacturer the referrals made to their website. I will show this graph next month.

If you know how many referrals a specific advertising medium sent you in a year, you will have a stronger negotiating position on renewal. In May we will show some stats from 4specs so you can see the reports in action and see how we interpret the data.


Colin Gilboy
Publisher - 4specs
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