Being able to access and analyse the web traffic statistics for your website can make a big difference to how well you manage it.
Website statistics can tell you who your visitors are and what they are looking at – vital information. It can also show you what content isn’t working, and help you measure the performance of any promotional activities you are running. All of this will help you to refine your website so it becomes the most effective resource it can be.
The University uses a program called Urchin to provide statistics about our online traffic. Urchin can answer many questions about your website:
How many people visit over a given period of time?
This can help you understand if there are certain times of day or times of the week when you should add new content, to maximise audience attention. It also tells you if your visitor numbers are increasing or decreasing over time, and you can see if you’ve made changes to your website that are causing such an increase or decrease.
What’s the most popular content?
By knowing what people find useful or interesting on your website, you’ll know what kind of content you should prioritise keeping up to date, or perhaps create more along those lines.
What’s the least popular content?
You may be spending a lot of time updating content that your visitors don’t want to read. If you can find out what’s unpopular, you can try to figure out why. You may decide it’s not important and could simply be removed. The other possible explanation is that the content is hard to get to, and that’s why you aren’t getting many visits. In that case, you could review the structure of your website and see if you can increase the visibility of that content.
What web browser, screen size and operating system do most of your visitors use?
This knowledge will help you optimise your website for popular browsers and screens. For example, if the majority of your visitors are using mobile phones to view your website, you should consider incorporating a mobile interface into your site, so users don’t have to scroll side-to-side as well as up-and-down to view your content.
How do visitors find your site (search referrals)?
You can use this information to gauge if your website needs better search engine optimisation (SEO). Two ways to improve SEO are to use commonly searched terms in your content, or update the metadata of your webpages (for more detailed advice, see our online factsheet on Search Engine Optimisation).
Of course the most thorough web statistics data in the world won’t be much use if you don’t recognise the language. Here are some commonly used terms that will help you understand your web traffic results:
- Visits: total number of visits during which one or more pages are viewed.
- Pageviews: total number of times each specific page was viewed (can be more than once by the same person). This is usually measured by recording an IP address – the address of a computer at a particular time. It therefore isn’t one hundred percent reliable, as more than one person can share an IP, for example on a shared University computer.
- Date range: the amount of time during which the statistics were gathered, for example over the last week, month or year.
- Entrance: the page on which a user enters your site – useful to know, so you can see what their first impressions will be.
- Exit: the page from which your user leaves the site – it might reveal whether there’s something that’s causing people to leave (a link elsewhere?), or they may simply have found the information they sought.
In the next Web stats 101 post, we’ll show you how to use Urchin to get some useful statistics on your website, such as how to find out visits and pageviews for any web page in your site. If there's anything specific you'd like us to cover, let us know by commenting or email Natalie, Web Content Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.