As visitors retrieve pages from your site, the Web server records that activity in a log file. Many hosting companies give you a way to review that information and summarize it for specific time periods. You can use this information to find out how many visitors go to your site and how they use it once they are there. Here are some common statistics with comments on how you use them:
- Referrals: Tells you how visitors reached your site. This information helps you evaluate the effectiveness of your site promotion efforts, determine which search engines are referring visitors to you, and discover what other sites have links to yours.
- Browser/Operating System: Tells you what browsers and operating systems are used to view your site. You or your developer can use this information to optimize the site for the browsers that your visitors use the most.
- Page Visits: Tells you which pages were visited the most and the least. This information helps you focus your design and development efforts on the pages that are the most important to your visitors.
- Visitors and Sessions: A Web browsing session begins the moment you open the first page of a site and ends when you leave the site. Statistics software can tell you which pages were visited and provide the length of time spent on each page. This information helps you determine how people are using your site, which may influence how you design your navigation in the future. It also lets you know how many of the visits were "for real," versus how many were quick, single-page hits from search engine spiders, spam-bots, or uninterested browsers.
A lot of organizations tout the number of hits they get on their site, but that statistic can be misleading. When you try to analyze what is really happening with your site, it is important to understand the difference between a page visit and a hit.
When you browse a Web page, the Web server logs a hit for that page. Then the server logs a hit for every element on that page that must be downloaded, such as images, sounds, and animations. It isn't unusual for a Web page to have ten or more images on it, so that on page visit actually generates eleven hits in the log file: one for the page and ten for the images. As you can see, just looking at the raw number of hits doesn't give you much useful information, because every page can generate a different number of hits.
Instead, use your Sessions and Page Hits statistics to approximate how many visitors you had and how many pages were actually viewed. Any decent Web statistics software can provide you with this information.