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Analyzing Web Logs with AWStats, Part 2
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User Behavior Within the Site Reports

Several marketing reports assist in the understanding of how users behave once they have arrived at your site.

Visit duration
This is the time from the first page request up until the last page request, without a break longer than 60 minutes (the session expiration time). In general, the longer the time, the greater your site keeps a visitor's attention. The actual duration will always be longer, as web servers cannot track how long the visitor stayed on the final page before typing in a new URL or closing the browser. Short visits mean your site is not capturing the attention of your visitors.
The main report shows the top ten pages seen; a link calls up the full list for the reporting period. This is useful as a gauge of which pages are more and less popular.
Entry pages
The top site access pages are an indicator of which pages search engines and external sites target. Consider ensuring that these pages speak to an audience that arrives directly to these pages.
Exit pages
These are the top pages where a visitor has abandoned the site. In the best case, the top pages are the conclusion of a natural process flow and simply indicate opportunities to entice the visitor to explore the site further. If the page is at the beginning or in the middle of a logical process flow, you have direct evidence that something impedes the conversion of a visitor into a customer. Review the page to determine what is driving visitors away--a form with 30 fields or the lack of a visible "continue" button when using Firefox, perhaps?

Tip: Consider extending AWStats by using custom reports such as ExtraSection to monitor specific site pages and/or directories. The following example, added to your AWStats configuration file, will track the most-visited first- and second-level site directories. For sites that have placed business content in distinct directories, this type of report provides overall performance at a glance.

ExtraSectionName2="Top 50 first and second level directories"
ExtraSectionCodeFilter2="200 304"

For each line, change the 2= to 1= if you do not already have an ExtraSection enabled. In addition to the second example here, there are six examples in the AWStats online documentation topic "ExtraSection," and additional samples in the AWStats web analytics resource center.

Site Development and Management Reports

Several technical reports assist site development and quality control.

Operating systems and versions
This provides insight into the operating systems (and in the detail report, which versions of them) that visitors use to access the site. Use in combination with the browser report to identify where to concentrate site testing efforts.
The top browsers used to visit the site. Use this to prioritize testing efforts.
HTTP status codes

Most AWStats reports work from successful requests--status 200 or 304. This report contains the others. Monitor it for potential problems. The most common are:

401 Unauthorized
For sites with a server-based login to a reserved site area, this indicates failed logins.
404 Document Not Found
This indicates a request for an object not found on the web server. This may be a file forgotten during a porting in production, an incorrect link, an outdated link from an external site (consider contacting the site to update the link), or an attack attempt.
500 Internal Server Error
This usually indicates an incorrectly configured web server or the failure of the web server to call an external program or application server.

Tip: Consider creating a custom report on the log field user agent to report on browser and operating system combinations.

AWStats Non-Human Activity Reports

We tend to think of interactive activity when we think of requests to our websites, but behind the scenes there is also a lot of automated, non-human traffic. This breaks down into four basic types:

  • Search engine crawlers
  • Human visitors using automated off-line downloading tools
  • Automated exploit attacks
  • Service quality monitoring scripts

The term robot, implying automation, refers to any of the four types. Crawler or spider refers to the undirected activity typical of search engine indexing tools: they follow links from one site to another and links within a site trawling for new content and other sites. Exploit attacks usually try to issue commands in an attempt to gain system access.

The good news is that AWStats can recognize most non-human traffic automatically and separate it from the general interactive activity reports.

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