Most web hosting accounts come with one or more free statistics programs to show you how many visitors you’ve had, where they came from, and how many pages they viewed. CPanel, a control panel which can help you manage your website, usually includes several stats packages. Here’s an explanation of what each does.
AWStats is great in that it’s well-organized, easy to read, and contains quite a lot of information. These features usually make it a favorite among the CPanel stats programs. Information is presented by month, and day, but you can also get rough yearly numbers.
Webalizer has a more basic interface, showing visits, page views, and more on a daily and monthly basis. It also shows the average number of visitors per day. Webalizer tends to show higher totals than AWStats.
Analog Stats shows overall numbers for the life of your account, as well as monthly reports. Information is compiled monthly, not daily. It shows the number of pages viewed, but not visitor numbers.
This next one is not really a stats report but may come in handy. Latest Visitors shows approximately the 300 latest visitors to your website, and what they viewed (it shows web pages – but also images, etc.). This report is updated in real time and no stats are generated. Many find the “legacy” version of Latest Visitors easier to read – to get to it, click the link at the bottom of the page.
To enable it, sign up for a free account. Then, place the Analytics tracking code on your website. Because of the way the stats are generated, GA totals are usually significantly lower than those produced by the programs which come with CPanel.
I also recommend signing up for Google Search Console, which will give you more information about your site with regard to searches.
What matters most is not actual numbers but overall trends, usually on a monthly or quarterly basis.
By looking at the stats reports, you can gain an understanding of who your visitors are, what they’re looking for, and what’s bringing them to your website. You can learn what subjects interest them most – and the provide more of it.
Once you have this information you can use it to help reach your business goals – and measure your progress against those goals.
Interpreting the reports
You might be surprised that each stats program counts visitors differently, so there’s actually no “right” answer to how many people have visited your site on a daily (or monthly) basis. There are only interpretations. Let’s see why.
This is the process:
1. Every time an event happens on the server it’s logged. When a visit is made to a page, or an image, web page, or another type of file is served, an entry is made in the access logs. The logs for each day are usually thousands of lines long. These access logs are accrued monthly and reach a huge size.
2. Once a day, the server runs several stats programs (AWStats, Webalizer, AnalogStats…) which analyze the access logs. (This usually happens during the wee hours of the morning, when fewer visitors are on the sites because it can be quite resource-intensive.)
3. Each stats program has its own algorithm for interpreting the logs. For example, one program might interpret a visit to a “404 not found page” as a viewed page; another may not.
Similarly, one program might not count a visitor’s second visit to the site as a separate visit, if it occurs within a few hours of the first visit. However, another program would count them as two separate visits.
Some stats programs filter out many visitors that they consider to be automated (bots or spiders); others filter out fewer of these visits.
So, there are many ways to interpret what represents a single page view, or one visit to the site, a repeat visit, etc., and each stats program does it differently. This accounts for variation between the numbers in the various stats reports.
Therefore, whichever stats program you consult, what you’re seeing is always a ballpark estimate. There is no one “right” answer – just different methods of estimating the same thing.
(And remember never to compare the totals from one report to those on another as they are measuring different things.)
Here’s a bricks-and-mortar analogy
Some stores measure foot traffic vs sales – with a device which counts each time a body goes in and out of the store. Then, they divide by two to get a number of people (each person goes both in and out). Then the number of sales transactions they had that day are divided into the number of people who entered the store, to learn which percentage of shoppers who came in actually bought something. Sounds pretty easy, right?
But how accurate that percentage depends on what’s counted. Do they factor out deliveries, employees coming and going, friends or family coming in for non-business reasons, solicitors and others who aren’t customers? What if someone enters twice and only buys something once? What if an employee or family member buys something? What if someone enters just beyond the door and leaves without shopping? Are these things factored in, or out? It’s an inexact science and results depend on methodology. The same thing happens with web stats.
Visits vs. engagement
It always feels great to see large numbers of visitors! But, what’s important is not always how many visitors you’re getting, but what they’re actually doing on your site. Visitor numbers can be seductive, but it’s wise to look a little deeper.
– Do your visitors tend to look at one page and leave, or do they explore the site further? How many pages do they look at?
– Do they visit once, or return to see more? (Compare unique visitors to the number of visits to find out.)
– Are sales increasing? Getting more visitors doesn’t always make a difference to your bottom line. But getting the right visitors – the ones who actually buy your product – does.
– Are your pages getting shared via social media? While only a very small fraction of visitors to a given page will bother to share it, sharing can be one more indication that your content is making a good impression.
It’s not just the numbers of visitors, but what they do once they’re on your site that makes the difference between reaching your business goals, or not.
How much do daily numbers matter? Look at the trends.
Because traffic will naturally vary from day to day, daily stats often aren’t as useful as the bigger picture.
Most webmasters pay more attention to larger trends – percentage increases month-to-month or this year vs. last year – than to day-to-day results.
Daily visitor numbers vary for an infinite number of reasons. Most of it depends upon who happens to search for a particular topic, click on a link, or see a social media post on that particular day. Just as brick-and-mortar businesses don’t have the same numbers of visitors every day, neither will your website. The results will naturally vary somewhat from one day to another.
There are also larger trends and cycles, too. For instance, many websites get less traffic in summer, when people are more likely to be outside and less likely to be surfing the web. And, during the holiday season, shopping and baking sites see a spike, with a decline afterward. Love poetry and floral sites get a boost prior to Valentine’s Day.
Daily stats can be useful for seeing the results of advertising campaigns; comparing stats for the days your ads run to the days just before and after can help you gauge how much additional traffic it drove to your site.
Traffic sources: search engines, social media & more
Where are the visitors to your website coming from? Knowing this can help you focus your efforts.
Some of the reports – for instance, AWStats – show referers to your site. The referer is where people came from before visiting your site. If they found your site in a search, it could be Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, or another search engine. It could be Twitter, Facebook, or another website. Or, it could be from a link on another site.
The numbers of visits generated by search tend to be somewhat more consistent than those coming from social media. This is because while high rankings for Google search are difficult to achieve, those rankings tend to be (fairly) stable as long as consistent effort is applied to keep them.
By contrast, social media can deliver more immediate – but less consistent – results.
Social media is ever-changing, and results often depend upon the right people seeing and sharing your message within a fairly narrow time frame of your posting it. Posts from previous weeks are rarely seen.
If you’re driving traffic to the site via social media, a popular post can generate a lot of traffic! However, a post that doesn’t find its audience can lead to weaker numbers.
[Tip: Always promote your posts multiple times! Social media moves fast and your followers may not see your post the first time. With social media it’s always about catching the right people at the right time.]
Ideally, webmasters should focus on multiple sources of traffic: search engines, social media, and making connections with websites about similar topics.
These spammers make repeated requests to your site, using the (spoofed) address of their spammy site. While it will appear that a visitor came to your site from the site in question, that won’t actually be the case. They’re hoping that you’ll see their links in the report and click them. (Don’t do this!) Just ignore these sort of referrers. Every site gets many of them, and it is pretty easy to see at a glance what’s probably legit and what isn’t.
What do your visitors want?
Take a look at the most-visited (and least-visited) web pages on your site; they’ll give you valuable information about the types of information your visitors want to read – and what they don’t. Analyze what’s successful and what’s not, and consider rewriting the less-successful pieces to improve them.
Some stats reports show the keyword searches which brought visitors to your site. These can provide valuable insight as well. Are there topics which your visitors show interest in, but are not well-covered on your site? What would they like to see more of?
Analysis of your stats reports can help you understand your visitors, what they’re looking for, and which methods of promoting your website are working best. These reports can give you valuable clues as to how to make your website more successful.
What do you think?
Do you use any of these stats reports? Please share your thoughts!