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Understanding AWStats

Rod Clayton

AWStats is a great stats package, and it comes free with your hosting service if your site is hosted by CyberScribe Web Solutions. You should plan to regularly review your site stats -- by understanding what's going with your site statistics, you'll better understand how to actually use your web site to achieve your goals. I can't stress this enough!

Here's a quick overview about some of the more important stats you'll see in AWStats:

Unique Visitors

Technically, this number is a count of each "host" that hits at least one page on your site during the report period. Think of a "host" as a unique computer -- so if I visit your site on my desktop computer 33 times during a month, I will show up only as one unique visitor. 

However, if I visit one time on my desktop at my office and then again using my tablet at home, I will be counted as two unique visitors.

Number of Visits

Vists refer to the number of times folks have visited your site. For example, if I visit your site and view 18 different pages, that counts as one visit.

AWStats groups page views into a single visit if those page views occur within one hour. For example, if I visit your site, then come back two hours later, that's two visit.

If I visit your site, and then come back 20 minutes later, that's one visit.

Pages

Page views are the number of pages viewed by your visitor --- AWStats counts all files and folders as a "Page" unless it's a stylesheet, an image, or a few other types of files that aren't capable of serving up content to your visitors.

Hits

A Hit occurs any time a file of any type is accessed on your site. For example, if a visitor views a page on your site that contains an image, that's 2 hits -- one for the page and one for the image. The number of Hits can have significance in certain situations, but for most of our clients, it's just not a useful number. Tracking Page Views, Visits and Unique Visitors usually gives you a better idea of what's going on with your site.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth represents how much data is being downloaded from your site. Only the geekiest of us really care about that, in most cases, so you can be cool and slide on by that one...

Visits Duration

Session Duration shows the time a visitor spent on your site. This is a bit difficult to accurately track, but in general you would like to see longer visits. That means your site has engaged your visitors and has kept them there for a while (and the more time they spend with your site, the better they are likely to feel about you or your business).

Lots of very short visits may indicate people are finding your site via a search engine but aren't finding what they are looking for --- you should evaluate your stats to determine if you need to improve the content on those pages.

Pages/URL

This section shows the most popular pages on your site. Studying this list can give you a good idea as to what people are viewing on your site. Pouplar pages are a great place to add "advertisements", links to other pages, and other important information to ensure these items are getting maximum visibility.

Entry 

This one IS important. The Entry page is the first page viewed by a visitor during their visit to your site. This shows how people are entering or finding your site, and can offer insight as to how people are coming across your site. Are they finding a particular page on your site because of a promotion you're offering, a link in an ad or another web site, great search engine placement? 

The answer isn't always easy to discern, but it's usually worth spending a little time to paint a picture of how folks are finding you. When you know which pages on your site are popular entry pages, you can increase the value of those pages by adding links and other information to them.

Exit 

Exit pages show the last page a visitor viewed on your site. This may mean they found what they wanted and left, or they didn't find what they wanted and left. It's a good idea to evaluate Exit Pages to see if you can improve your site and make it more valuable to your visitors.

Operating Systems / Browsers

Usually, these numbers mean more to your web developer than they do to you, but here's why you should pay attention:

Each unique operating system (like Windows or Mac or Linux) AND each browser (like Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer) may display your page differently. When we build web pages, we always do our best to follow current web standards --- but not all of the web browsers follow the standards. Internet Explorer is notorious for simply ignoring web standards. What this means in the real world is that your web pages may look different in Chrome on Windows than they do in Chrome on a Mac. And your site may look different on Chrome than it does on Firefox, which may both be different from Internet Explorer.

So what does this mean for you, the web site owner? It means that your web developer may need to develop a version of your site for each browser, for each operating system, and/or each combination of those items. Obviously, this could get to be pretty expensive -- do you want your web developer to test and accommodate your site on every browser/operating system combination out there?  By knowing which browsers and which operating systems are viewing your site the most, you can prioritize which system/browsers need to be targeted as pages are added to your site. For example, I'm looking at our site stats as I type this, and I see that the Opera browser was used in 0.2% of the visits to cyberscribeweb.com in the past month -- so it's probably not worth spending a lot of time testing and tweaking the site code to ensure it displays perfectly in Opera. But it IS worth spending time ensuring our site displays propery in Chrome (39%), Firefox (26%), and (arg) Internet Explorer (19%).

Connect to site from

This list shows how people got to your page, which they came from Google or directly from a link on another site. A word of warning -- don't go clicking on every link to see what each site is -- some of those might be sites of, um, questionable character. Those sites are "referral spam" -- sites that are trying to build their own rankings by referring visitors to other sites (usually falsely), or they may be trying to get you to click and see why in the world clickthistogetavirusdotcom is linking to your site. If you know a site is valid, by all means visit the referring page to see how they are linking to your site. This may be a way to build relationship or even catch bad publicity early in some cases.

Search Keyphrases

Search Keyphrases tell you what search phrases drove visitors to your web site. You can use this list to determine how well your pages are optimized for certain phrases, and maybe even figure out what phrases you need to concentrate on. For example, we recently moved of offices to beautiful downtown Mebane, NC and we're starting to concentrate on providing more web site to Alamance County. I'm not seeing any search phrases like "mebane web design" or "web designers alamance county", so I know we need to put emphasis on these phrases as we refine the content on our site. 

Finally...

The most important thing you can do to understand your web site statistics is to look at them...often. Designate at least one day each month to review your site statistics (it will only take a few minutes, and you'll enjoy it!). You will learn more about how people are using your site, what it's doing well, and where it needs to be improved. You can learn which marketing efforts are paying off, and which are falling short. Most importantly, you'll start to think of ways to actually use your site as an important marketing tool rather than just an online brochure. Now go check those stats!