Using Your Web Stats for SEO: Getting the Most from your Web Stats

People often ask why they need to analyze web statistics instead of just using actual search engine results as the basis for success. The answer is very simple. Our goal is not just making it to the top of the search engine results, nor is it only to increase traffic. We need to bring qualified traffic to our sites. Once we attract the targeted traffic, we need those visitors to make a purchase, or take the action we want them to.

This three-part article will cover the basics of web stats, how to read them, what they mean, how to analyze where your traffic is coming from, going to, and leaving from. Then we will cover more in depth on how to effectively use them for search marketing, how sticky pages are, as well as how well the search engine spiders are crawling your site. We will also look at some tips on how to capture those visitors as potential customers, and help analyze why those potential customers either signup or buy, and why they do not.

In order to effectively track your rank in the search engines, you need to know about web stats. Every webmaster has viewed his or her web statistics from time to time. Some do it religiously every day; some every hour. Some, however, have no idea what they are looking at, or what it may mean for them. Still others do not feel it’s important at all. In the search marketing arena, web stats are a vital part of SEO. Let’s start with the basics.

The Basics: What are web stats?

Web stats are the statistics of website activity, or data that is logged by your web server that can be analyzed and turned into reports. Every page or request results in a logged entry. This data can include information about visitors, like IP addresses, name of the requested file, date and time the file was requested, and so forth. Theses logged entries are extremely useful when you are comparing trends for your website over periods of time, and even how you can improve certain areas of your site to make it more attractive to both search engines and potential customers.

How to read your stats and what they mean.

There are many statistics measured in your web stats program, either a script you installed, or provided by your web host. Some of these may seem self explanatory, or things you already know, but pointing out how they can improve your marketing efforts is what I want to concentrate on today, as well as how multiple results of combined stats can truly make a difference in how well your website is going and what needs to be changed.

There are five areas of interest in web statistics: Traffic, Referrers, Search Engines, Errors, and Visitor information. Many of these overlap, and some need to be used in conjunction with other stats in order to give you a better birds-eye view of what trends you should be following.

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1. Traffic

  • Hits – A hit is the result of a file being requested and served from your web site.

This is the most-often mentioned statistic. It can sound impressive if someone says that they get 1,000 hits in one day for example, but this can be a bit misleading. A hit is the access of a single file; therefore, if you have an HTML page that has 5 graphics on it, the HTML file itself, an external JavaScript file and an external CSS file, then that’s going to count as 8 hits. If your site has pages that are dynamically generated on the server using lots of includes for example, that’s going to count as even more hits for every file that makes up that page. To confuse things even further, some counter programs claim to count “page views,” or accesses to a single page. They can claim this because their counting method depends on access of one file per page, as described above.

However, hit counts are important for one reason: tracking your advertising. Currently, all web advertising rates for banner ads and such are based on CPM, or counts per 1,000 hits or page views.

  • Page Views – Page views are the amount of pages that are viewed on average.

Some web stats can track page views per visitor, some only track pages viewed per day overall. Regardless, the higher the page views, the better chance you will have to attract your customers to buy, or your visitors to sign up.

  • Unique Visitors – Unique visitors are individual new visitors to your website.

Instead of hits or page views, this is probably one of the most important stats to monitor. This statistic will tell you how much new traffic you are receiving to your site daily, weekly, monthly or even hourly.

  • Repeat visitors – The measure of visitors that have already been to your site at least once before.

In other words, these are all visits minus the unique visitors in the selected period. The percentage of repeat visits to all visits will give you a good picture of how appealing the content of your Web site is. Taking this one step further, is your site unique enough that search engine spiders are coming back for more?

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2. Referrers

A referrer is simply the origins of the visitor to your site (i.e. the last site visited and the page on that web site).

  • Referring URL – This is the link of the website that linked back to your site, which the visitor followed to find your landing page.

Where a visitor found the link to your website is an important statistic to know, because it allows you to track your inbound links. It also helps you understand where your qualified traffic is coming from, including search engines and other directories.

  • Bookmarked Pages – Bookmarked pages indicate to you how interested a visitor is in your site, and their eagerness to come back to it.

A visitor bookmarks a site so that they will be able to find it again, or so they won’t forget or lose track of what they were doing. Bookmarked pages will obviously indicate to you that you content is valuable and worth returning for.

  • Direct Pages – These statistics indicate that a visitor came to your site by typing the web address directly into the browser address bar.

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3. Search Engines

Most website stats programs collect data regarding which search engines crawl your site, when they do, how many pages or links they crawl, and other pertinent information. You can view which pages are indexed in the search engines because this data is collected in your stats.

I will discuss more about this in the section entitled: How to use your web stats for search marketing.

  • Keyword Search – Which keywords a visitor types into a search engine can be recorded in your web stats. When people are looking for something in particular and find your site, are these keywords they used relevant? If not, changing your site keywords for more relevant search results will benefit your site far more than unqualified traffic from irrelevant keywords.

  • Key Phrases – Watch carefully which key phrases are bringing people to the site. Most people do not search with single words, but rather with phrases. It is essential to carefully track these phrase because there are times you may not see your exact phrase being used in volumes, but yet a very large number of variations of that phrase are bringing them to your site. Keep an eye on how many page views each specific page is receiving rather than only the exact phrase used.

4. Errors

Keep a close eye on error pages reported in your stats. Every single error report is not an issue, as some spiders will frequently go on “fishing expeditions,” looking for common pages that do not actually exist on my server. You may have some images causing error pages when folks are searching Google images. Most importantly, you can quickly find problems on your site, as good stats will tell you exactly which page is creating the error. This alone can save you some serious mistakes. If a search engine spider or a visitor follows a link that does not exist, or leads to a 404 Page Not Found error, you will be notified in your web stats; if a page cannot be accessed because of a Forbidden or Internal Server Error, it will also be reported.

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5. Visitor information

  • Navigation Paths — Navigation paths are top paths through the website.

They can help you identify where your visitors are going, or tend to go, and then you can streamline your site accordingly. If your visitors get hung up on a page that has no place else to go, then navigation path statistics can help you determine where those visitors are getting stuck. You can then alter your navigation of those pages to make it easy for your visitors to get back to where they want to be.

A navigation path is a sequence of pages that the visitor viewed from the moment he or she enters the site to the moment he or she leaves. From a marketing view, it is important to see the path the visitor takes, and which series of events followed are the most effective. Frequent exit patterns will show your where your site is underperforming.

  • Top Requests — Theses are the pages, images, or scripts that are requested the most.

Knowing which pages are the most requested can tell you which ones are very interesting to your visitors, and keep attracting them. You can then modify other pages of your site to incorporate the same elements into those pages to make them more interesting to the viewer. If you are aware which images are requested the most, then you probably can determine how successful the use of those images may be. This also goes for scripts. If you have a newsletter signup script called newsletter.php, and you see that this is one of the top requests, then you can tell that people are interested in signing up for your newsletter.

  • Entry Pages — Entry pages are page from which your visitors enter your site.

From this, you can determine which pages are being shown in the search engines, which ones are coming from outside links, and so on. This will also tell you which pages are attracting visitors to your site for the first time, and possibly how you can improve or modify these pages to attract even more people. A good measure of marketing messages at driving visitors to the site can be determined by your website’s entry pages.

  • Exit Pages — Exit pages determine where a customer leaves your site.

This is a handy statistic, because it gives you a good viewpoint what might be turning off a visitor to your site, or where a customer decides not to buy. For example, if you are seeing a high amount of traffic leaving your site on your shopping cart checkout page, then you can likely assume that your shopping page is not making your customers happy. Perhaps the script is malfunctioning, or maybe the checkout process is too complicated. Whatever the reason may be for your visitors leaving, knowing which pages they are leaving on will give you a good foundation for improving those pages.

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  • IP Addresses – Every visitor to your website has a unique internet address.

Tracking this address will allow you to accurately calculate the actual number of page views. This address can also tell you a lot about the user as well, such as which part of the world they are from. A word of caution: the inability of IP-based software to track visitors for even 30 minutes (the length of a visit) means that the only figure these systems can provide reliably is the total number of times a page was accessed. Tracking IP addresses alone will not give you the ability to determine other valuable information, no differently than using site hits to accurately calculate the number of unique visitors to your site.

  • Demographics – These are statistics that record information about the visitor, based on location and other information

You can learn much about your target audience by viewing visitor demographic stats. These include which part of the world, country, or state your traffic is coming from, what type of operating system they have, their time zone, language, what browser they are using, and even what size screen they are viewing. This will better help you determine your target audience, and where they reside. The more information you are armed with about your visitors and potential customers, the better you can cater to their needs and desires. You can even learn the type of customers from the time of day they browse your website. Are they browsing during work hours, or during leisure time and on weekends?

  • Time per visit – This tells you how long a visitor browses your site.

Tracking user sessions is a good idea, because it gives you a good idea of not only how long a visitor spends in your web site, but how long they view a particular page or store category. This can help you determine which pages are attracting page views, and which are not. This is referred to as the “stickiness factor”. How long a visitor “sticks” around directly affects the chances of a sale.

  • Other statistics

Depending upon your web stats program, and the data collected, you may have even more detailed statistics that breakdown these categories even further. You may have information on how frequent visits are, averages of length of time for each visit, a motivated visitors count (this means a visitor that has viewed two or more pages), and the hours of the day visitors view your site the most.

Part two will cover how to put your stats together to make some determinations about your site, and how to use what you’ve gleaned in your search marketing efforts.

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