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Analyzing Web Logs with AWStats, Part 2
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User Provenance: Traffic Building and Monitoring

Qualified traffic building (and monitoring) is an essential marketing activity for most sites, regardless of business model. On the technical side, changes in traffic patterns are useful for technical capacity planning and management. Traffic comes from:

  • Bookmarks or direct URL entry.
  • Search engines and directories.
  • Other sites that refer (link) to a site.

The relevant AWStats reports are in the "Referers" section. The misspelling is due to a historic mistake.

Bookmarks or Direct URL Entry

AWStats reports on visitors where a "refering" URL is missing in the first page request during a visit/session. The Referrers report calls this "Direct address/Bookmarks." Some privacy software, such as Norton Internet Security, can block transfer of referring URL information, meaning that those visitors will appear in this report even if they came from a link on another site or a search engine.

Search Engine Usage Reports

Search engine reports show which search engines and queries brought visitors to the site. The main report contains the top listings; each section has a link to the complete listing for the reporting period.

Links from an Internet Search Engine
This answers the question, "Which search engines are sending us the most traffic?" See the related "Search engine crawlers" report to ensure that search engines are indexing your site.
Search Key Phrases
The top ten multiple-word combinations entered by users.
Search Keywords
The top ten individual words entered by users. This list results by aggregating the phrases into single words.

Search activity information is extremely useful in validating and refining merit-based search engine optimization efforts. Key word phrases identify the language used by site visitors, language that is usually rather colloquial compared to the jargon often prevalent in site copy. Consider revising the site copy to ensure it contains the language used by your target audience while maintaining a professional tone. The absence of keyword synonyms may be more of an indicator that these words are not present in your site's content rather than a lack of the use of these terms by internet users.

Referrers (a.k.a. "Referers")

While most indirect traffic comes through search engines, traffic can also come from external site inbound links--links due to compelling content, advertising agreements, etc. Monitor inbound links from external sites to:

  • Confirm search engine optimization reciprocal link agreements.
  • Check the progress of advertising campaigns.
  • Verify what other sites are saying about you.

By default, AWStats shows the specific page that referred to your site. It is also possible to aggregate the referrers by domain, by taking advantage of AWStats' custom report feature. Simply add the following logic to your AWstats configuration file:

ExtraSectionName1="Referring Sites by domain - Top 25"
ExtraSectionCodeFilter1="200 304"
ExtraSectionFirstColumnFormat1="<a href=&aps;http://%s/&aps;
title=&aps;http://%s/&aps; target=&aps;_blank&aps;>%s</a>"

This section will appear for data after the configuration file has been updated. To retroactively generate this report, you must delete the AWStats statistics files and regenerate them as well, as the reports run from them.

Geographic Provenance

To the extent it's possible to associate a visitor's host name with a physical location, it is possible to report on the geographic provenance. By default, AWStats offers country-level reporting.

The countries report generally indicates the countries of traffic origin. As noted earlier, some users may access the internet though large company proxies, masking their true location. Nevertheless, country information can assist strategic planning relative to foreign markets--should a commerce site accept foreign payment methods? Should you translate the site into local languages? Are you big in Japan? Tip: If country information is missing, you probably haven't performed reverse DNSLookup on your logs. Alternatively, you can use the Maxmind Geoip plugin.
Additional geographic granularity is in theory possible by purchasing commercial AWStats plugins from Maxmind. There are, however, limitations based on how visitors connect to the internet through ISPs. U.S. visitors may appear disproportionately in Virginia, having entered the internet though AOL proxies located there.

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