Analyze Your Website's Traffic - dummies

By Peter Kent

You really should track traffic going to your site. At the end of the day, your search engine position isn’t terribly important — it’s just a means to an end. What really counts is the amount of traffic coming to your site. And it’s important to know how people get to your site, too.

There are essentially two types of traffic-analysis tools: those that read server logs and those that tag your web pages and track traffic by using a program on another server. In the first case, the tool analyzes log files created by the web server — the server adds information each time it receives a request for a file.

In the second type of tool, you have to add a little piece of code to your web pages — each time a page from your site is requested, the program is, in effect, informed of the fact.

You quite likely have a traffic-analysis tool already installed on your site — ask your server administrator how to view your logs. Otherwise, you can use a tag-based traffic-analysis tool, and these days you don’t even have to pay.

Analysis tools show you all sorts of interesting (and often useless) information. But perhaps the most important things you can find are

  • How many people are reaching your site, and from what areas

  • Which sites are sending visitors to your site

  • Which search engines are sending visitors to your site

  • What keywords are people using to reach your site

You may find that people are reaching you with keywords that you hadn’t thought of, or perhaps unusual combinations of keywords that you hadn’t imagined. This doesn’t replace a real keyword analysis, though, because you see only the keywords used by people who found you, not the keywords used by people who didn’t find you but were looking for products or services like yours.

These days, it seems that almost everyone but the largest companies are using Google Analytics. A few years ago, Google purchased one of the top independent traffic-analysis firms, Urchin, and then started giving away traffic-analysis accounts.

Traditionally, the traffic-analysis companies were big believers in blinding their customers with science. They didn’t understand that sometimes less is more and focused on throwing as much complicated information at the client as possible. Things are getting better, though, and Google Analytics isn’t too bad. Whatever route you take, you really need to install analytics.

Thanks to Google Analytics, it’s now hard for a web analytics company that targets the small-business market to make it, and some of these firms have died out. You might want to look at CrazyEgg, though, which has a “we’ll survive through the power of cool” strategy that seems to be working for it.


It’s a simple-to-setup system that provides very cool “overlays.” These overlays are heatmaps intended to show what page components people are looking at on your site. (Actually they are based on mouse movements, but the company claims that mouse movements can be 88 percent correlated with eye movements.)