SEO 101: Making Web Analytics Work For You

The past two articles have talked about what you can do to figure out your customers’ needs based on your own knowledge and expertise. But there is another very important way that you can discover what your customers want: analyze your web server logs!

Web analytics is possibly the best-kept secret when it comes to e-commerce and online marketing. The term “web analytics” can be translated into English to mean the study of how people use your website. But I’m willing to bet that better than 90% of people who have a website know nothing about analyzing their web server logs, let alone why it matters. 

Every time you view a web page, your computer tells the hosting web server a lot about who you are and what you are using to view that page. Common bits of information recorded (logged) by web servers include your IP address, the web browser you use, your operating system, and which specific pages you viewed. In addition, the web server will know whether you followed a link from someone else’s website, or if you typed in the address manually.

As the person or company maintaining a website, this information isn’t just important. It’s like gold! Your server logs are how you reality-check whether you are effectively targeting your customers. They can also help you identify new groups of clients that you may not realize you have.

For example, let’s say that your company makes widgets of various sizes, shapes and materials. Mostly you tend to cater to construction companies and equipment manufacturers in the U.S., but occasionally you get calls from South America and abroad. Your website plainly states that you don’t ship outside the U.S., and given the fact that international calls are infrequent you may believe that you don’t have an international market.

Then you take a look at your web server logs… There, in black and white, you discover that you are getting hundreds of visitors from Brazil and Saudi Arabia. If you have a really good analytics package, you can take the analysis further and find out which specific countries are looking at which particular widgets.

Armed with this new information, you may want to add new pages in a language other than English. Moreover, you may decide to look into what is required for you to add international sales to your operation. If you hadn’t looked at your server logs, you never would have known about this opportunity. Instead you would have just gone on with business as usual.

Web analytics can help you find weaknesses, too. Let’s say that you decide to run a batch of chocolate widgets as a gimmick for the holidays. About a week after the page featuring your chocolate widgets goes live, you look at your server logs to see how things are doing. What you find is that over fifteen thousand individual visitors have viewed the detail page for your chocolate widgets, but you’ve had less than a hundred sets sell. A large discrepancy like that can be a flag that there is something wrong with a page. Maybe a script isn’t working properly, or a button is placed where it isn’t obvious to the end user. Again, by reviewing your logs and watching for traffic patterns you have the ability to see if what you are doing with your website is working.

But wait! There’s more…!

Modern web analytics programs can also tell you which words and phrases are actually being used to bring people to your site when they find you in the search engines. Yes, that’s right! Server log analysis will tell you which key words and phrases are really getting people to your site. So not only will your server logs give you insight into the way that people are using your site, they will also tell you whether the key words and phrases you have diligently selected are truly effective.

Now that you have a better idea about what your customers really want and how they are already using your website, it’s time to look at how your site is put together.

Next time, a short lesson on web history and why text trumps everything else in SEO.

~B~

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