How to Collect Web Statistics for Your Blog - dummies

How to Collect Web Statistics for Your Blog

By Amy Lupold Bair, Susannah Gardner

You can find many statistics software applications that track web traffic available for installation on your blog. But before you get too carried away, check to see whether your blog host offers web traffic–tracking software or gives you access to your server logs.

If your web host offers stats software, review the offering carefully. You might not need any additional tools, or you might want to supplement the preinstalled tool, if only to check the accuracy of the numbers you’re seeing. Keep in mind that different applications can measure statistics differently, so the numbers may not be exactly the same.

Some bloggers like to look at the server logs for their sites. Server logs are simple text files that web servers generate to keep track of information about who visits a web server, when they visit, what kind of browser they use, when errors occur, and so on.

Most web hosts provide access to stat software and server logs through an administrative control panel.

How to choose hosted statistics software for your blog

Like hosted blog software, the company that creates the hosted web statistics software package also manages that software. Typically, you install the software by adding a chunk of HTML code to your pages, which communicates with the hosted software.

Because you must be able to place some HTML code into your blog software templates so that it appears on every page that you want to track, blog software that doesn’t give you the ability to add code will rule out using a hosted statistics solution.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics has a great interface with many options that you can customize and use to analyze stats to your heart’s content. Google Analytics can calculate how many page views and number of visits your blog or site has received. The Google Analytics system is free, but it requires a registered Google Account (which is free, as well).

The Google Analytics homepage.

StatCounter

StatCounter is a free, hosted statistics tracker, and new users can figure it out easily, thanks to good organization and explanation in the control panel.

After setting up your site in StatCounter, you must insert StatCounter HTML code into your blog templates so that it can track every page. StatCounter measures page views and hits, of course, but much more, too.

Site Meter

Site Meter has been around since the beginning of stat tracking on the web. This tool provides you with basic details about each visitor who comes to your blog and shows you what the visitor does while he or she is there, even down to what page he or she is on before leaving.

Site Meter has two levels of service: the free Basic edition and the Premium edition. The Premium edition provides more information than the Basic setup and grants access to a longer history of your statistics, but the free edition is a good starting point for new bloggers. The professional edition starts at $6.95 a month.

The Site Meter website.

How to choose installable statistics software for your blog

Web analytics software that you can install on your web server and manage on your own is called installable software. If you want to use a specific analytics package that your web host doesn’t normally provide, look into whether you can install software on your server. Some hosts can give you suggestions and may even assist you when you install analytics software.

Installed software usually measures the same metrics as hosted statistics software, but it does so by analyzing log files stored on your website rather than gathering information when a visitor hits your site. Some web developers feel that installed software therefore provides more accurate numbers than hosted software, but many other web developers and bloggers hotly debate that opinion.

When you sign up for a web-hosting package, the web host probably has some kind of web statistics available to you. These packages can range from open source software to custom, home-grown solutions.

Check the technical requirements for the package that you want to install to be sure that your server works with it.

The Webalizer

The Webalizer is an open source application that you install on your server. Because it’s free to use, many web hosts offer it as part of their standard web-hosting packages. Originally created in 1997, the Webalizer lets you track hits, page views, geographical origin of your traffic, and other data.

The Webalizer generates easy-to-read pages that show traffic to your site broken down by month, but you can also see traffic figures by day and even by hour. It offers all the usual suspects, from page views to unique visitors to the top referring sites.

AWStats

AWStats is a popular web statistics analyzer that you can install on your web server. Its features enable you to track not only visitors but also streaming media, e-mail, and FTP transactions on your server. AWStats requires that you have the Perl programming language installed on your web server to operate. (Most web servers support this requirement.)

AWStats generates graphs and other visual indicators about the activity of your visitors month by month, letting you see the region and cities where traffic originates, as well as the operating systems and browsers that your visitors use, among many other measurements.

Mint

Mint, which began in 2004 as a basic website tracking tool, has matured into a great service. Mint’s installable software offers the usual suspects: new and returning visitors, the sites from which they get to your site, search terms that they use to find you, and so on. Mint also looks really cool: It produces fun graphs and charts.

A Mint license costs $30 per site.