Site Stats and Why They’re Important

Maria Speaks Episode 28: Site Stats and Why They’re Important.

In this episode I discuss a few stats software programs for Webmasters and bloggers. Then I tell you a little bit about some of the stats on one of my sites and why the stat is important. This podcast should be interesting to anyone interested in monitoring site statistics or improving a blog or site based on access information.

First of all, I want to welcome you all back to Maria Speaks. I said I’d try to publish podcasts more frequently and I’ve failed miserably. I suspect that it’s because I can’t always think of topics that are podcast-worthy. So, in an effort to release podcasts more frequently, I’ll throw the concept of podcast worthiness out the window and do short podcasts about the things I think my readers and site visitors will find interesting.. Since most of my podcasts are less than 10 minutes long, they’re really not a burden to download. If you happen to download one on a topic you don’t think is worthy of your time, just delete it.

Of course, you can always suggest podcast topics for me. It’s easy. Just go to aneclecticmind.com and use the Contact button at the top of any page to shoot me an e-mail message with your suggestion. I can’t make promises, but having something specific to talk about can sure get me started.

Now on to today’s topic: Site Stats.

I’m one of those people who love statistics. There’s something about numbers that I really like and when I get numbers that communicate real information — especially useful information — I’m in seventh heaven.

I’ve been running at least one Web site since 1995 or thereabouts. Before that, starting back in 1989, I ran a BBS — that’s short for bulletin board system. If you’re too old to remember those, imagine an online system with file downloads and discussion forums. Mine ran on a Mac SE/30 with a pair of 28.8 kbps modems.

Since 1989, I’ve been monitoring access of my BBS or Web sites. Sometimes I did it with software I purchased just for the purpose. Sometimes I did it with solutions I cooked up myself. For example, I had a kick butt FileMaker Pro database that would crunch the stats from my old WebSTAR sites and turn them into reports. The only trouble is, the darn scripts sometimes took hours to run. There was just too much data.

With my current blog-based sites, I have a variety of tools for monitoring access and checking site stats. It’s not because I need multiple tools. It’s because I just can’t decide on which ones I like best.

The four I’m playing with now include SiteMeter, W3Counter, Performancing Metrics, and WP-ShortStat.

  • SiteMeter, which is a free Web-based solution, puts a counter on the Web page. You can see it in action on our WordPress book companion Web site, wpvqs.com. But SiteMeter is more than just an ugly counter. Click it to display statistics about site visitors, page views, referrers, and more. There are even more statistics for an administrator than what is available for visitors to see. A subscription version with more features is also available.
  • w3Counter is another free Web-based solution that puts a counter on the Web page and keeps track of all kinds of statistics on its own site. And a subscription version with more features is also available. It was recommended to me by a blog reader who read my article about SiteMeter. He suggested it as an alternative and I tried it out. I liked it better, so I replaced the counter on my personal site, aneclecticmind.com, with a w3Counter counter.
  • Performancing Metrics is another free Web-based solution. It’s associated with the Performancing.com site, which has a lot of tips and ideas for bloggers. I figured I’d give it a try. Unfortunately, it does not seem to work well with WordPress. I’ve tried two different versions of the JavaScript code that must be inserted in my template file and even tried a WordPress-specific plugin. The stats I get are pretty meaningless. So I’m putting that on hold for a while. Perhaps I’ll get it to work right in the future. But if you’re looking for a solution and you don’t use WordPress, it’s definitely worth trying out.
  • WP-ShortStat is a WordPress plugin that keeps track of site access information and displays statistics right within a WordPress administration panel. It’s a nice little software package and I currently use it on my helicopter tour and charter Web site, FlyingMAir.com. If you’re a WordPress user and want to try this out, be sure to check out a tip I wrote on our WordPress book companion Web site where I explain how to get it to work right if it won’t work right out-of-the-box (so to speak).

Today I took a close look at the stats for the past month on aneclecticmind.com. I did it primarily to get a better picture of what was popular on the site, but as I took notes about what I saw, I realized that the information might be interesting to podcast listeners, especially those folks interested in starting or improving their own sites or blogs.

Before I get started, I need to define some terms.

  • A visitor is someone who comes to your site and browses around for a while. He might view one page or a dozen, but he’s doing it all during one session. Unique visitors is a subset of visitors. A visitor might come to your site five times in a specific day; if so, he’s counted as five visitors but just one unique visitor. A new visitor is a visitor who has never been to the site before. And a returning visitor is a visitor who has come back for more.
  • A hit or page hit is a page loaded for a visitor to view. In the old days — and probably still with some software — hits could include not just html or php content, but media within that content. So if an html page included five images, loading the page could count as six hits. That’s a really meaningless number. The stats software I use counts page hits only, which is far more meaningful.

My site, aneclecticmind.com only gets 100 to 200 visitors and a few hundred page hits a day. Could be better, could be worse. I’m not complaining. What I wanted to know was what these visitors were looking at, when they were visiting, and who sent them. That’s where my statistics software helped out.

For example, looking at visitor timing, I could see that I get more visitors at the beginning or end of the week than midweek. During that period, I also get more hits per visitor.

Looking at visitors and hits on a day-to-day perspective, I see that the vast majority of my visits and hits occur right around 4 PM local time. (Arizona is always 7 hours behind GMT; in the summer, we’re in the same time zone as California; in the winter, we’re the same as Colorado.) I can also see that I get more visitors between 9 AM and 4 PM than after 4 PM. Those visitors are looking at more pages, too. Could they be surfing my way during working hours? Sure looks that way to me.

The most visitors I had during the past month was on July 6. Oddly enough, the most page hits I had for the past month was on July 5. So more visitors viewed fewer pages on July 6. That seems odd to me.

The most popular pages on my site are, in order:

  • Home Page – 20% of the views
  • Books Page – 3% of the views
  • Excel Visual QuickProject Guide Book Support Page – 3% of the views
  • Excel Visual QuickStart Guide Book Support Page – 2% of the views
  • Mac OS X Visual QuickStart Guide Book Support Page – 2% of the views

This tells me that people come to my site to learn more about my books, specifically the books I’ve written about Excel and Mac OS X. To better serve those visitors so they come back for more, I should write more articles about those topics.

Next, I looked at information about the computers my site’s visitors were using to access the site. That’s where I got a few surprises.

First of all, a full 75% of my site’s visitors access the site using Windows XP while only 12% access using Mac OS X. Now you might think that’s a high percentage of Mac OS X users, but when you consider the fact that most of my work is about Mac OS X, the high percentage of users seems reasonable. What seems odd to me is that so many visitors access using Windows PCs. I do write books about Windows software — as a matter of fact, I’ve written several about Word and Excel — but I’ve never considered myself a Windows author. So the 75% figure seems outrageously high to me. It also suggests that I should write fewer articles on my site about Mac OS-specific topics and more about cross-platform or Windows-specific topics. That’ll take some doing, since I really prefer writing about Macs.

On the browser front, 60% of my site’s visitors use Microsoft Internet Explorer, with most of those using Explorer 6. 23% use Firefox, which is my preferred browser. A bunch of other browsers were listed, of course, as well as a PlayStation 2, which I didn’t even know could access the Web. (I’m willing to bet my site looked pretty crappy on that device.) This is important information, too. I recently discovered that Explorer for Windows is more likely to choke on XHTML and CSS errors than any other browser. In fact, with an error on one of my sites, none of the pages on that site rendered correctly in Explorer. That means that 60% of the site’s visitors weren’t getting the intended user experience. I’ve since fixed the problem, of course, but now I’ll be extra careful to prevent similar problems in the future.

I also noted that 90% of site visitors had monitor resolution set to 1024 x 768 pixels or larger. That’s good news. It means that very, very few people need to use the horizontal scroll bars to see page content. (Horizontal scrolling is a big no-no.) But it also means that I could redesign the site to make each fixed-width page a bit wider to take advantage of the screen real estate my site’s visitors have at their disposal. Wider pages mean larger images, which could make a better visitor experience.

Another important stat is referrers — that’s how you can find out where your site’s visitors come from. On my site, more than 60% of visitors come from search engines. 25% come from direct visits or bookmarks — in other words, the visitor either typed a URL in the address bar of their browser or used a bookmark to visit me.

Of the search engine referrals, 89% came from Google, 5% came from Yahoo!, and 3% came from MSN. Google is obviously widely used and I’m fortunate through some sort of dumb luck, I suppose, to rank highly in Google search results.

The top search phrases are the most fun. Obviously, my stats software listed dozens of them. Here are the top 5 for the past month; you can use them in Google to find the pages they refer to yourself:

  • drying cherries – 41 searches
  • maria langer – 31 searches
  • howard mesa ranch – 16 searches
  • bookmark synchronizer se – 13 searches
  • bisquick quiche – 9 searches

Although my cherry drying article is one of the top 20 articles on my site, it’s odd to me that none of the search phrases — other than my own name, of course — refer to any of the top 5 visited pages. Whodathunk I’d get nine page hits for people searching for Biquick recipes?

Reading through the list of search phrases also provides valuable insight as to how users construct searches. For example, a recent search phrase that brought a visitor to my site was “number of vehicles enter and depart at Lukeville border.” The searcher was treated to an article about my recent helicopter flight along the border with an ASU photojournalist.

This is just an example of the kinds of stats some of the stats solutions can provide. If you think these things through, you can use them to improve your site and make it more interesting to visitors. Hopefully, that’ll generate more visits and page hits, especially if you have something valuable to share.

Do you use stats software? How do you use it? Visit the transcript for this podcast at aneclecticmind.com and use the comments link to share your thoughts. I’ll read the comments I get in a future podcast.

That’s all for now. Thanks for listening. Keep checking in. I’ll be podcasting again soon.

site, statistics, metrics, Web, development, traffic

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