Choose the Right Tool for Analyzing Your Web Site Log - dummies

Choose the Right Tool for Analyzing Your Web Site Log

Deciding on the best tool to analyze your Web site’s log files can be tricky. This is because you have to consider a lot of things, such as the size of your Web site, and the speed, scalability, and flexibility of the analysis tool.

Your Web site generates a lot of information. All you need to do is check out your server logs and you can see that. Your server log is something your server automatically creates of all the activity it performs. It’s a record of everything that happens during a given time period, be it hours, days, or minutes.

More than just recording page loads, the server load includes every image loaded, every script run, and so on. It is a moment by moment map of site activity that involves your server. So it should be really easy to just pull up your server logs and read who’s coming into your site, what they did, and where they came from, right?

A server log is extremely informative after you've learned to read it.
A server log is extremely informative after you’ve learned to read it.

Well, no, not really. Your server log does not make for light afternoon reading.

It’s filled with incredibly dense information because the computer is recording it in its own language, which isn’t exactly readable for someone who doesn’t speak serverese.

To do a log file analysis, you’re going to need some tools to help you. But choosing the right one is a little tricky and there are some things you need to be thinking of when choosing a log file analysis tool:

  • What is the target audience for the software? You need a log analysis tool that you can tailor specifically to your Web site’s needs. Some tools are meant for large, robust sites that have to crunch huge numbers daily; others are made for only basic use. Some are very user friendly, and others expect a certain level of expertise on your part. You have to take into consideration your industry, your Web site’s ins and outs, and your promotional campaign.

  • Flexibility. The more powerful the tool, the more flexible it can be. Generic reports can be useful, but if you want to make your log file analysis really work for you, you need a tool that you can customize to your Web site’s goals. It’s not likely you’ll be able to do this with a log file report.

  • Archiving. Log file analysis becomes more successful over time, but storing the data can become unwieldy. You need a tool that offers file compression and archiving that shrinks the files and stores them for future use.

  • Output. Some tools just spit out numbers. Others arrange them neatly into graphs. A really good tool allows you to manipulate the data much easier than a bad tool, in order to compare and contrast from outside sources.

  • Scalability. The larger the site, the more likely it is that a low-end tool (or even a free one) is not going to cut it.

  • Speed. The difference between getting your log reports right away versus getting them the next week depends on how powerful your machine is. But faster reporting gives you an edge, and the better tools use special indexing techniques to allow them to perform much faster.

Be aware that there is no such thing as an overnight success, no guarantees, and no instant gratification. Log file analysis, like all of search engine optimization, is something that takes time and concentrated effort to do properly. Remember, the cheaper you want it, the cheaper you get it. High performance accurate tools that don’t crash if there is too much data are worth what they cost you.