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Analyzing Web Logs with AWStats, Part 2

by Sean Carlos
01/09/2006

Part one of this series showed how to perform a basic installation of the web server log analysis tool AWStats, generate sample reports, and understand basic web analytics terminology. This second article delves into the reports, noting metrics worth watching for technical and business staff.

AWStats Summary and When Reports

AWStats provides several summary reports that show the overall website trends over different time intervals for the reporting period, usually monthly.

Summary

The General Summary report breaks down unique visitors, number of visits, pages, hits and bandwidth by human and non-human visitors for the current reporting interval. Metrics to watch are:

Unique visitors
The overall number of users coming to a site is useful to track the general trend over time. Declines, unless due to seasonal fluctuations, are trouble indicators. Is a competitor drawing away your potential traffic? Did site changes remove you from search engines? Did you make changes in your marketing activity?
Unique visitors/Number of visits ratio
This answers the question "Are visitors returning?" If they are not, they might not be finding what they were looking for--did you tell a search engine that you offer poker when you really sell widgets? Can a mere mortal survive your navigation system?
Pages
This is most useful relative to the number of visitors.
Pages/visitors ratio
This indicates the extent to which your site engaged a visitor. Generally, the higher the better, but a high number can also indicate the presence of convoluted site flows and processes that force motivated visitors to slog through page after page of obstacles in order to accomplish their goals.
Monthly history

This provides a breakdown of visitors and pages, month by month, for the current year. In month-to-month comparisons, do not forget to adjust for the variable number of days in a month. Keep an eye on the Unique visitors/number of visits and Pages/visitors ratios that you must manually calculate.

Days of month
Over the course of a month, unusual peaks may indicate your site is receiving promotion from elsewhere--review referral traffic. Abnormally low traffic, if not on a holiday, may indicate difficulty in reaching your site, whether it was down or performing poorly. Review monitoring reports if available.
Days of week
This is useful to see what days are most popular. For marketing, it indicates when the greatest number of eyeballs is generally present. For technical staff, this can suggest when to perform scheduled maintenance. There is a slight skew in that each of the seven days is not consistently present each month (30 and 31 not being evenly divisible by 7).
Hours
This is a more granular breakdown of general peaks as in the days of the week report. Hourly peaks are useful to technical staff responsible for capacity planning. Sometimes an hourly breakdown for a specific day is necessary. To generate this, see the AWStats unofficial daily reports feature documentation.

Day-to-day and month-to-month trends are useful in evaluating the impact of marketing initiatives and/or external traffic drivers.

AWStats also supports yearly reporting intervals, using the command line -month=all -year=YYYY date syntax or through the AllowFullYearView configuration option for the on-demand CGI interface. Daily reports are available as an unofficial feature. Changes planned for version 6.5 should facilitate reporting on different time intervals.

Web Site Measurement Hacks

Related Reading

Web Site Measurement Hacks
Tips & Tools to Help Optimize Your Online Business
By Eric T. Peterson

Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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