Tap your real Web potential
Attracting and keeping online customers is critical to Web site profitability. Web-traffic analysis can help you learn more about your visitors to meet their needs and build an effective Web strategy.
COMPARED Marketwave solution Hit List Professional, Version 4.0 (bundled with Linkbot Pro, Version 3.6) WebManage solution NetIntellect, Version 3.0 (bundled with Linkbot Pro, Version 3.6) WebTrends solution WebTrends Professional Suite, Version 3.0
A good, midrange Web-traffic analysis solution offers Webmasters detailed data about site visitors, shows how well the Web site is serving their needs, and is more affordable and easier to manage than its higher-end relatives. Which Web-traffic analysis solution offers the most thorough reporting without sacrificing performance?
The issues * Traffic and link analysis * Log-file processing performance * Management capabilities The options * Hit List Professional (bundled with Linkbot Pro 3.6) * NetIntellect 3.0 (bundled with Linkbot Pro 3.6) * WebTrends Professional Suite 3.0
WebTrends provided more in-depth analysis and extensive management capabilities than either of its competitors. But the Marketwave and WebManage solutions are still good bets if your primary focus is general analysis.
It is almost inconceivable to think that retail stores -- Macy's or Sears, Roebuck and Co. for example -- would not know anything about the customers who come in and out of their stores each day. Such retail-store giants have known for decades the importance of gathering customer data, which can be used to target sales, evaluate the effectiveness of advertising, and even determine the type of merchandise they should sell. Companies that want to have an effective intranet or extranet, or a profitable Internet-commerce presence, have quickly caught on to the importance of gathering and analyzing such customer data. However, many still have difficulty managing their Web sites when it comes to attracting and retaining customers, keeping their site available to visitors, and maximizing the effectiveness of online advertisements. And many are looking to improve Web site performance, increase advertising revenue, and discover the overall effectiveness of the site's design, but they have not yet figured out where to begin.
Enter Web-traffic analysis. A good, midrange Web-traffic analysis solution can offer a company substantial information about its site's visitors and can be quite affordable, as well as easy to implement. Traffic analysis pulls significant pieces of customer data from a site's traffic logs and converts them into readable reports that can tell you, for example, who has visited the site, what their location is, how many pages they visited, and how long they stayed at your site. With a traffic analysis solution you may find, for example, that you have been spending 80 percent of your development resources on a portion of the site that only 5 percent of users visit. That kind of information can fuel powerful business decisions, from redesigning the Web site to re-evaluating advertisement effectiveness.
GETTING STARTED. The Web-traffic analysis market is huge; it encompasses products that offer a variety of capabilities, running the gamut from low-end freeware to high-end solutions costing thousands of dollars. Companies testing the waters may find such variety intimidating. For this Test Center Comparison, we looked at solutions well-suited to the needs of a midsize company of about 400 employees, with a Web site generating an average of 600,000 hits per day (for our tests, we used an 80MB log file, which translated to this average number of hits). We focused on affordable, easy-to-use products offering both traffic and link analysis, determining that this combination of capabilities provides the most comprehensive picture of Web site activity. We tested three traffic analysis solutions: WebTrends' WebTrends Professional Suite, Version 3.0; Marketwave's Hit List Professional, Version 4.0 (bundled with Linkbot Pro, Version 3.6); and WebManage Technologies' NetIntellect, Version 3.0 (also bundled with Linkbot Pro, Version 3.6).
The WebTrends solution offers all of the capabilities we were looking for, but neither the Marketwave nor the WebManage solutions offers link analysis out of the box. Instead, both companies offer versions of their products that come bundled with Linkbot Pro; these bundled versions met our criteria.
THE KEY TO SUCCESS. When evaluating each of these solutions, we paid particularly close attention to link analysis, log analysis, and performance, all of which give Web administrators the information that is essential for maximizing a site's effectiveness. Link analysis can help you find out which links are the most popular, the least used, or broken. A site with many broken links discourages visitors from accessing it, while a site that has many unused links indicates the need for a redesign. You might be able to get this information through log analysis, if you watch the log file closely, but it is much easier to simply point a tool at your Web site that will ferret out those broken links before your visitors find them.
In-depth traffic log analysis can be the key to developing a clear Web strategy. Log analysis reveals demographic data about your visitors: From what location are they accessing the site? How long do they linger over each page? What types of organizations are attracted to your site? It can also help you track referrals, which can be handy not just for determining who is sending traffic to your site, but also for determining how traffic works within the site. How do people get around? What's the most common or popular path, and can you improve the user interface on that path? Further, log analysis can tell you how well your site is handling traffic. It is critical to pinpoint your site's peak hours and days and determine the standard deviation if you want your site to handle demand without turning people away.
Of course, proper demographic data goes far beyond log files and log analysis, and legitimate privacy concerns limit what data can and should be collected. Nevertheless, there's a healthy middle ground between not knowing your customers at all and invading their privacy, and traffic analysis occupies that space.
Anytime a program needs to analyze a large amount of data, particularly when data is continuously rolling in, performance becomes a huge issue. A few years ago, it was not uncommon for popular log analysis tools to take as long as 12 hours to analyze a busy site's hourly log, a process too slow to be terribly useful. Today, analysis packages and their host machines are faster, though performance remains a problem. To see just how quickly or slowly the three solutions can perform, and to get a real-world idea of what their log processing capabilities are, we tested the length of time it took for each solution to download an 80MB log file to its proprietary database. The most successful solutions completed processing in less than 30 minutes.
A GOOD …