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Understanding Website Statistics

November 5, 2010

Understanding Your Website's Statistics

So, you've asked your web designer or your hosting company for access to your website statistics, now what? There is a lot of information to be gleaned from your website statistics, but it can be rather overwhelming at first glance.

Your website statistics will tell you how much traffic is coming to your site, which pages are bringing the most traffic, where your visitors are coming from, and when traffic is coming in.

Nowadays, most web hosts use either Webalizer or Awstats, two powerful programs that process your raw traffic logs (long, text based files with information about your traffic), and generate meaningful reports presented in the form of easy to understand graphs and tables. These are not the only two programs out there, but they are by far the most common. There are some fee-based website statistic services available, and of course the ever-popular giant Analytics (from the good people at Google).

There are four very important questions you should be wanting answers to:

  1. How much traffic is coming to your site?
  2. Where is your website traffic coming from?
  3. How are your visitors finding your website?
  4. When is traffic coming in?

How much traffic is coming to your site?

The two most important parameters are:

  1. Number of Visitors
  2. Number of Page Views

Visitors (especially unique visitors) shows you how many users come to your site and request a page.  The visitor can move around your site visiting several pages, however he will still be counted as only one visitor.  An exception to this rule occurs in the rare occasion when a visitor takes more than half an hour (or the amount of time set by your host) to click from one page to another, in which case the program will register two visitors.

Page Views indicates how many pages have been requested. It is a very important number because it is indicative of the "stickiness" of your site.  Stickiness is a good thing: if, for example, your statistics show 10 visitors, but 50 page views, it means that, on average, each visitor has viewed 5 pages. A large "page views per visitor" ratio usually means that your site is so interesting and valuable that users are inclined to "stick around" and explore.

If you have bandwidth restrictions on your hosting account, the kilobytes transmitted will be of additional importance to you.  Sites with a lot of pictures, or sites that allow downloads (reports, ebooks, audio files or video) can result in significant bandwidth usage. If you operate a plain HTML site but still show an abnormally high bandwidth usage, you may need to optimize your images to make them less heavy.

Hits. This is a much maligned statistic from the early goings of the web and is often misunderstood and/or misrepresented. Hits represent the number of files sent to a user after a page request. If a page has 30 pictures, 2 javascript files, and a stylesheet, one sigle visit will trigger 34 hits: thirty for the pictures, 2 for the javascript files, one for the stylesheet and one for the page itself.

Where is your website traffic coming from?

It's great to know which pages of your site are bringing in the most traffic, since not every visitor will come through your home page.

Your traffic statistics will show you a list of the most popular entry pages to your site, ranked by number of requests. Sometimes, internal pages can bring in more traffic than the homepage itself.  This may happen when a particular internal page is very well optimized and regularly shows up at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs), or when it offers such good content that other sites link directly to it.

You will also find a list of the most common exit pages (the last page your users visited prior to leaving your site).

How are visitors finding your website?

Your traffic statistics will show you a list of referrers.  Referrers are those links (URLs) that lead a visitor to your website.  Referrers are ranked by the number of hits they produce.  That is why the vast majority of referrers will be from your own site (since HTML pages usually contain embedded links to other objects such as graphics files, they generate a large number of hits). In general you should ignore results from your own site, but pay very close attention to incoming links from external websites and pages.

External referrers generally fall into two categories:

  • pages that have posted a link to your site, and
  • search engine referred traffic.

You will also find an entry in your referrer list named "Direct Request"; it shows you the number of times somebody accessed your pages by either directly typing your URL in the address bar, by using a bookmark or by following a link on an email message.

Analyzing your traffic statistics will also tell you what keywords your visitors are using to find your pages through search engines. This is extremely important since it will tell you if your selected keywords are working or not.  It may also bring to your attention keywords that you may have not have thought about. You may then use those keywords to further optimize your pages and bring in even more traffic.

When is traffic coming in?

You can also find out when visitors are coming to your site. Statistics are organized by month, by day and even by hour. This can be useful in a variety of circumstances. For example, if you publish new content, you may want to release it during the moments of more traffic. Your statistics will help you by identifying the days or hours when more people are likely to visit your site.

Finally, you will also have access to other interesting data, like the IP addresses of your visitors, the browsers they are using, the size of their monitors, and even the countries they are coming from.

Altogether, the information you gather from your website's statistics will provide you with a wealth of valuable insights, so that you can continuously fine tune your internet marketing strategy to bring more traffic to your site.


If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, kindly let me know at or post a comment.

Greg Prosser - trumpetThis article was written by Greg Prosser, Web Developer and Owner of Sticky Wicket Designs.