How can you check and refine your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts? The quickest and probably the cheapest way is by analyzing your web traffic statistics. You have a couple of ways to do this:
- your hosting company may provide you with website statistics that you can simply view. This - when free (or part of your hosting package) - tends to be basic information and is probably enough in most cases.
- you can download your log files and use your own web log analyzer tool. This way, as long as your log files contain all the necessary data**, you can pick and choose the website statistics you are interested in. **Log files are normally generated by excluding extended information which only advanced users and webmasters find useful.
What statistics can your website logs provide you with? And how can you use the information?
At the simplest level, you will be interested in:
- the number of website visitors: what kind of visitors were they? Real people or bots?
- the number of page views / the number of hits: elements like pages, images, etc that were served - *note that some people will state the number of hits on their website. But mostly what really matters is the number of page views. As an example, assume that on a particular site, an average page has 20 images on it. Then a 1000 hits may equate to 1000/20 (equalling just 50) page views!
- search phrases & keywords: using which phrases & keywords is your websitebeing found? You may need to focus on some while lose focus on others.
- where, geographically, your visitors are from: where are your visitors came from? Are they from a geographic location from which you will get purchases? If not, then perhaps instead of dropping/losing those visitors, it might be worth serving adverts where you will earn money.
- who the referrers are: which websites/search engines are referring traffic to your website. Are Google, Live Search, MSN, Yahoo, AOL, etc among the referrers you are seeing?
- popular pages: a simple overview will be sufficient to indicate you are on track. However, lookout for new entries indicating a potential trend (in which case be prepared!)
At an intermediate level, you will be interested in:
- comparisons (daily, weekly, monthly, annual) of various statistics: do these comparisons so that you can confirm or react to differences that are a result of trends, your advertising, your SEO efforts
- errors your website might be experiencing: your goal should be to reduce errors under your control to ZERO
- exact paths your visitors are taking: look out for trends and understand how your visitors think – find out what they are interested in and serve them appropriately
- popular entry and exit pages: do these entry and exit statistics confirm your expectation? If not, then you need to work on these pages
- what browsers your visitors are using: it may be important for you to know what browsers are being used and to ensure your website is seen by the target audience exactly as intended. Sometimes pages that work on one browser (say the popular Internet Explorer at approx. 60%) may not work exactly on another (say the less popular Mozilla Firefox at approx. 15%)
- visiting bots: you should generally be aware of which bots, how often, how many pages view during each visit. Using robots.txt, you may want to control which pages/directories bots can visit.
At an advanced level, you will be interested in:
- server attacks: if these are regular, you might have to consider why, and take appropriate step to reduce them or cope with them
- tracked pages: regarding the pages you are particularly interested in, you may want to find out the referrers and parameters used and subsequent pages visited
- exact IP addresses of visitors: sometimes IP addresses or blocks of IP addresses may be used to control content served
- visitor cities
- visitor ‘stay length’: the site ‘stickyness’ is an indicator of your visitors’ interest in the content of your website
- bandwidth used up: quantity of data server - perhaps bandwidth costs are important to you as your web host charges you according to bandwidth use – perhaps your pages are slow and optimising some images will speed up your site and save on band width
You will have realized that simply having more traffic does not mean that you are doing well. You need to spot behaviour of your visitors. Are they following the path you want them to follow? Leading to the outcome that you need?
Having said that, the more visitors you have, the more accurate your interpretation will be. The more precise your behaviour analysis will be. Otherwise there is a danger of taking the wrong action on the interpretation of only a few visitors.
As a general guideline, the more ‘sticky’ your site is (i.e. the longer your visitors stay on your site), the more likely it is that they are interested in what the site has to offer. If they aren’t staying, it could be that they got there with a false promise. Perhaps your site isn’t optimized for the keywords and phrases that you need to be optimized for. Perhaps your site isn’t visitor friendly – there are too many images, images in wrong places, inconsistent menus, difficult to read combinations of text (font/colours) and background, unclear menus, no contact details, etc
Web traffic statistics can help you work out the ineffective - and effective - areas of your website. Examples:
- If you have an important page, but visitors are exiting it rapidly, then that page needs attention.
- If you have a page that isn’t being visited much, then you could, for example, consider improving the link(s) to this page by making the link more noticeable/attractive.
- if you notice that visitors are spending more time on pages that aren’t important, then you might modify that page or ‘move it out of the way’.
You expect certain ‘exit pages’, like pages with forms for contacting you. So a particularly high rate of exits on other pages allows you to evaluate and adjust those pages. As an example, on a product page there may be no description. Would you be happy to buy a product without a clear description? No, of course you wouldn't - and nor would the website visitor.
Examine your keywords and phrases to see if these are visitors that you want. Perhaps trends have changed and people are using slightly different keywords and phrases to those they were using only a few months ago. Perhaps your page needs to be re-optimized to reflect the content it represents.
Finally, check if people are looking for your company to find the products or services you are offering. Because when they do, then your company is becoming associated with those products and services. Brand recognition is something sought by nearly all companies and achieving brand recognition is most satisfying.