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Last month Google announced the launch of a secure beta version to help all of those searchers out there who are uber-concerned with security and privacy. The secure version currently only works for standard searches and has not yet been rolled out to image search and other features.

For those who are deep into their analytics, this may have an impact on the data you are analyzing. Today you will likely see little to no evidence of this, but in the future it just may have an impact and start to confuse the heck out of you. Read more…

Last night I uploaded a new article to Search Engine Guide on 4Q which is an excellent free survey tool you can easily add to your website in order to improve the website and your marketing intelligence.

The scivy on 4Q can be found in my exclusive Search Engine Guide article: Free Survey Tool Fuels Marketing Insight.

In this article I am going to explain logfiles and their importance in website analytics from my perspective as a ClickTracks user. Before I begin, however, I want you to know that although I offer essential analytic consulting, I am a certified ClickTracks Analytics Professional and have dabbled in books on analytics, I don’t consider myself to be an analytics expert. In fact, I constantly find myself humbled by how much more there is to know. That said, I do know more than the average site owner and I hope that this article can shine a little light on this often confusing subject and save you some future headaches.

As many of you may know I am a huge fan of the logfile version of ClickTracks Professional, a website analytics package that I find indispensable for myself and my clientele. ClickTracks can do a lot to determine what is or is not working on a website; much more than expected in most cases. The one thing, however, that ClickTracks or any other logfile-based analytics tool cannot do is interpret information in your logfiles if it is not recorded. Unfortunately this is a common occurrence and many site owners have no idea that their hosting company is not saving information that could help them now or later when they find they need it.

The reality is that over ninety percent of the hosting companies I have dealt with have not been saving the vital data that a higher level analytics program needs; to work at peak performance if at all. In this posting I will provide an overview on this issue so you have enough information to approach your hosting company about making the required updates to their systems. If you are unsure you can even refer them to this article and/or the set of questions and details I provided below.

What is a Logfile?
First, let me explain the very basic idea of what a logfile is and how one is created.

Whenever you visit a website your browser requests information from the server hosting the website. This request is passed onto the server and in turn the server delivers the information requested by your browser. Whenever this exchange takes place your server saves the request along with a host of information about the requesting browser such as:

  • the internet address (loosely connected to location) known as the IP
  • browser type (Internet Explorer or Firefox or..)
  • the screen resolution of the browser used
  • time and date of the request
  • the page requested for viewing
  • the website the visitor came from (known as a Referrer)
  • if applicable, the keyword(s) that were used to find your website on a search engine
  • etc.

Once this data is collected it is saved on the server in a logfile for later use and over time it is often overwritten with new data so the files do not get too large; they bulk up very quickly especially on high-traffic websites.

How Can Logfiles Help Improve Your Website?
Now that you know what data is collected it is time to explain, in general terms, how this data can be used to help your website. There is a wide variety of information that can be gleaned from a complete logfile such as:

  • How long visitors stay at your website or on a particular page.
  • What pages they visited.
  • Where visitors are viewing your website from geographically.
  • What keywords were used to visit your website and which search engines were driving the highest volume and/or quality traffic.
  • Which pages had the highest or least traffic.
  • The average time a visitor stays at your website: often a great indication of the ‘stickiness’ of your website.
  • You can determine the effectiveness of your pay-per-click campaign by tracking visitors specifically delivered from the campaign.
  • Identify potential pay-per-click fraud using tools like ClickTracks Professional that has a click fraud reporting tool.
  • and much more…

So What’s the Issue?
Many hosting company’s are smart enough to include a basic web analytics program with every account. These programs are decent for anyone who wants to simply find out the traffic to their website and a myriad of other basic stats. However, there is often a pitfall to these basic programs. You see in order to save on computer performance the hosting company usually sets their servers to collect only the minimal data these basic systems require. As a result, more complex logfile-based analytics programs may find themselves starved of the data they need to operate fully. This is where my clients have found themselves before; they have sub-par logfiles and are forced to try and convince their hosting company to change their data collection methods to meet more advanced standards.

If you have no interest in website analytics you may find this whole scenario to be a non-issue. I completely understand, however, put yourself a year or even a month down the road when your website is taking off and you need to know more about the visitors to your website. You just might find yourself in this same frustrating scenario and it will seem absolutely insane how hard you have to push to get this data properly collected. Unfortunately, unless you are leasing your own private (dedicated) server from the hosting company they tend to set up their shared servers with only the basic needs of the majority in mind. As a result, the only way to force change is if more customers consider it a basic need – thus the reason for this article. Help me affect change so that you save yourself a headache in the future!

How to Be Sure Your Server is Collecting the Right Information
Most of you cannot check your logfiles for completeness with an analytics program so you will have to trust your server administrators to do their due diligence based on the following question.

Note: If you like you can just copy and paste the following question (noted in red) and send it to your hosting company support staff:


I would like to make sure my website’s logfiles have the necessary information to run a higher end web analytics program. Is your server set up to collect the data on my website? I need this data to properly analyze the traffic on my website.

  • Date and Time
  • Client IP Address
  • HTTP Method
  • Requested file and Query string
  • User Agent
  • Referrer
  • Status code
  • Cookie (preferable, but not required)

If you are unsure of the answer or you need to set this up then please review the settings that need to be enabled on Apache servers or Microsoft Internet Information Servers; these pages include instructions if you need them.


My Hosting Company Disregarded This as Nonsense

I fully expect some will and that is because many website owners still care little or nothing about web site statistics so they have not even used the basic data to its fullest yet – and hosting company’s are aware of this. In fact, a good friend who owns a hosting company himself guessed around 95% of his website clients never even look at their stats. This is all true, however, does that mean that important data should not be collected for those who do want to delve deeper into analytics? I don’t believe so and the changes you are requesting will only increase the size of the logfiles for your website a small amount. Unless of course you don’t even have logfiles which is enough for me to recommend you take your services elsewhere.

Why Not Use Google Analytics Instead?
Google Analytics is an awesome solution for many small businesses. It does not require logfiles and it takes a marginal amount of work to begin acquiring proper data. In fact, I think it is a great tool for the majority of businesses that want to wade into a mid range analytics solution providing you are comfortable with Google having access to your stats. That said, there is one MAJOR flaw in using Google Analytics… it does not have reliable click fraud reporting. You see many of my clients use ClickTracks to monitor their pay per click campaign for click fraud which is not something I would ever trust Google to police itself on. That does not mean I do not use Google Analytics. In fact, whenever possible I use both ClickTracks and Google Analytics in tandem for redundancy especially when certain capabilities such as cookie tracking are not available from a hosting provider – Google includes cookies by default.

In Summary
Many website owners have no idea what they will or will not need in the future to properly administrate their online marketing campaigns. This article discusses a simple adjustment to the accumulation of website logfiles that I strongly believe all competent hosting companies should implement in order to provide scalability for their clientele. The adjustment will provide the additional information that a competent analytics solution will need to provide accurate statistics.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
Celebrating 10 Years of Web Marketing Excellence
Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Google Expands Analytics

Google announced yesterday a few new features to be added to Google Analytics in the coming weeks. If you are a fan of statistics and currently use, or are considering Google Analytics, these features could certainly come in handy.

One new feature is the addition of tracking which outbound links visitors click when leaving your site. This feature is nothing new to the world of stats programs, and seems only fitting that Google is finally implementing this option. Other new additions include an “Events Tracking” section which is used for working on user interaction with embedded movies and widgets. Event Tracking and Outbound Link Tracking will begin in a limited beta with no date mentioned for a full release.

If you have Site Search enabled you will also be able to track what searches were performed, from which page, and where the visitor was directed.

Use of these new features will require the update of your on site Analytics JavaScript code; however, Google has also unveiled an extra little upgrade. This new JavaScript code will not need to be updated again in the future as new advancements are released.

Upgrading to the new JavaScript is not necessary if you are not interested in using the new features. The existing code will continue to work correctly into the foreseeable future.

On Tuesday Sept 4th Yahoo announced an agreement to acquire BlueLithium which is one of the few remaining top Internet ad agencies. The $300 million move will increase the technical capabilities and reach of Yahoo’s global ad network by adding BlueLithium’s impressive toolset for data analytics and its significant advertising inventory.

Just how big is BlueLithium’s network? Quoting Yahoo’s press release: “According to comScore Media Metrix, BlueLithium is the fifth largest ad network in the US and second largest in the UK with 145 million unique visitors each month.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.

The Google Analytics Blog announced today a fresh look and set of tools for Google Analytics; Google’s free web analytics program.

The posting announces the following improvements:

  • Email and export reports: Schedule or send ad-hoc personalized report emails and export reports in PDF format.
  • Custom Dashboard: No more digging through reports. Put all the information you need on a custom dashboard that you can email to others.
  • Trend and Over-time Graph: Compare time periods and select date ranges without losing sight of long term trends.
  • Contextual help tips: Context sensitive Help and Conversion University tips are available from every report. Read more…

Last week I mentioned “Your Guide to the Best Analytics Solution” a highly acclaimed, independent, unbiased study of the top analytic programs released by CMS Watch. Well, in line with this recent release the guru of analytics, Jim Sterne wrote the introduction to a similar “2007 Web Analytics Shoot Out – Interim Report” created and released by Stone Temple Consulting. The report analyzes the following analytics packages: ClickTracks, Google Analytics, IndexTools, Unica Infinium NetInsight, Omniture, WebTrends and WebSideStory HBX Analytics. Read more…

The staff at CMS Watch have just released an independent, unbiased report that comprehensively reviews 13 of the foremost website analytics programs available. As many know I am a huge fan of ClickTracks but that said there are other products out there that may provide a solution better suited for your website. Since analytics programs can cost many thousands of dollars in initial investment and even more in training and testing it is extremely important that the chosen product fits the needs of the buyer.

Analytics guru Eric Peterson calls this report “the most comprehensive and technically complete document covering specific web measurement technologies ever written.”

With a price tag of $1,175 the report provides a bit of sticker shock. That said, if it provides company’s with the insight required to choose an analytics solution that fits like a glove… it will certainly be worth its weight in gold.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth SEO Services
Celebrating 10 Years of SEO Excellence
Back in January it was noted in a blog or two that Microsoft was working on creating an analytics platform in response to Google Analytics. This was a logical move after buying Deep Metrix, an analytics software company, last year. The background information on the Microsoft analytics platform code named “Gatineau” was sparse back in January and I am sad to say it is still sparse to this day. In fact, upon receiving a reply from Ian Thomas today, the lead of the project at Microsoft, I am sad to say the program appears to still be in the Alpha stage; but at least I am in the queue for testing the beta when it is available. Here is a link to the Gatineau login page; don’t bother trying to login it doesn’t work. Read more…

I have long been a fan of ClickTracks and it’s professional line of analytics software. In my experience ClickTracks is leaps and bounds above its competition both for quality of software and quality of service. In the interests of full disclosure StepForth has been an advocate of ClickTracks since we bought our first copy in 2003 (or thereabouts) and I (Ross Dunn) recently completed my Professional ClickTracks Certification.

The following video interview was recorded at the ClickTracks presentation booth at the New York Search Engine Strategies Conference, yesterday, April 11th, 2007. To view the videos just click on the question and you will be taken to the appropriate YouTube page to view it. I hope you enjoy StepForth’s first round of video journalism. Read more…