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Statistics, Trends and Analyzing Your Web Site


After you have done all your planning and organizing and finally have your site online, is it doing what you expected it to? Your web site is quite a bit different than the place where you worship - you don't see the faces that visit your web site or get a chance to shake their hands. You will need some tools to help you discover if you are hitting your goals for your web site. You will need more than just a simple counter to properly gather and analyze the statistics and trends for your site.
Are you hitting your target? Things you should know.
Headings
  1. Definitions
  2. Server Tools
  3. Modules
  4. Other Tools
  5. The End Result

We've spent time covering the essentials for planning an effective web site, now it is time to learn how to measure that effectiveness using various statistics and analytics packages - if you don't really want to know how effective you are in your online ministry, don't measure it. If you do measure it, though, be sure there is an action attached to it, or you will simply be gathering a lot of meaningless information.

Definitions


We need to have a basis of comparison for our analysis, so we will start with some definitions of the various measurements you can take. Every statistics and analytics package will offer a vast array of features and things they track, but the most important pieces of information are found in most of them - though they may differ in how they measure them. Educating yourself about the differences in measurements will better equip you for online success.

Visits - The number of times people have been to your site. You will also need to understand how your package measures if people visit your site, leave and then come back - is that still 1 visit, or is it multiple visits? How long after I leave your site before my next visit is counted as a separate visit?

Visitors - The unique number of viewers of your site. Each analytics package will have slightly different ways of measuring this - some use cookies, other use session variables, still others will use a combination of IP address and browser information.

Pages - The number of URLs (mostly the stuff typed in the address bar or reached by following a link) requested from your site. Be aware that in XOOPS, like most other CMS platforms, a 'page' may appear different each time you visit it. Technically, you need to be able to define what in URL uniquely defines a page. In a URL like http://christianwebresources.net/modu ... icle/view.article.php?a20 - everything after .com/ and before the ? (question mark) is considered a page by most web servers. The part after the ? (question mark) is the parameter, or query, string. But, in this example, the portion after the ? does provide us with a unique view in our browser. You will need to examine your URL structures and learn how each of your potential analyzers handles them.

Hits -
The number of items requested from your site. Each item on a page needs to be retrieved from the server, whether it is an image, a video, a javascript file, or a stylesheet. This number will be higher than the number of pages viewed, but is one of those 'techy' statistics that doesn't drive many decisions for your site.

Referrers -
When people visit your site, they reach it through a variety of methods - they type the address in their browser and go directly to your site, they click on the link in their bookmarks, they follow a link on another web site, or they click on a link after completing a search at a site like Google, Yahoo!, or MSN. The previous site or page before they come to your site is their referrer.

In the case of a bookmark, email, or typing directly in the address bar, the referrer will be blank. There are some 'anonymous' browsing options that will not pass the information along, too. When the referrer is available, you can break it down - the tld (top level domain - the last part, like .com, .net, .gov, .edu), the domain (christianwebresources.net) and the page (christianwebresources.net/modules/article/view.article.php?20).

Search terms become a factor when the referrer is a search engine or if you have a search function on your site (which XOOPS does). Knowing the search terms visitors use helps you fine-tune your content and the difference between external searches (from Google, Yahoo!, or other search engines) and internal searches boils down to 'Why did they come here?' and 'What can't they find?'

* If I were to only pick one measurement for my web sites, I would pick this one - but I need to know both the external and internal search terms (having the phrases is also a bonus). There is more action associated with these than any other metric (item being measured) and it is completely under your control, believe, or not. We've covered content in past articles and we'll dive into that in even more detail in another article.

Location -
Using information gathered from the user's visits, a fairly accurate map can be created showing you where your visitors are located. For a church or ministry serving a local community, knowing how effective you are reaching that community online is important. Also, knowing that your web site reaches beyond your community and where you have new opportunities to serve can be rather eye-opening.

* I would place this second on my list, especially for a local congregation.

Client information -
Many analytics packages will provide you with information sent by the visitors' computers that includes details like which browser they are using and which version it is, what operating system the computer is running, and the screen resolution and color depth of the monitor they are using. This information is only somewhat useful, but mostly only if you are targeting an area where the available technology isn't as advanced as it is in your area. Knowing a high percentage of your visitors are using older computers and browsers can be used to customize your site for better viewing on those systems. Otherwise, target your design for the recent browsers and their capabilities.

Combining the raw measurements -
Once you have the raw measurements of visits, visitors, pages, referrers, and locations, you can start putting together some other derived information, like Pages per Visit, or Pages per Visitor, or Visits per Location. Like all collections of numbers, you can spend a lot of time sorting, arranging, comparing and manipulating the statistics gathered for your site. Don't get so caught up in analyzing the statistics that you ignore your site. Only look at the statistics in order to determine how you will react to them. Most of them are only relevant in the proper context - watch your site for trends more than specific details.

 

Server Tools


Most web hosting accounts provide you will a statistics tool, like Webalizer and AWStats. While these are OK (and usually free!), you get what you get and cannot fine-tune your package to capture what you want or provide the results in a format you want. Still, these tools can provide you with some basic information that you can use for developing your site further.

Both Webalizer and AWStats work by analyzing the server logs and extracting information from them. I won't go into much about either of these - you can visit their web sites to learn more about them, or you may find them in your web server account manager.

Webalizer (http://www.mrunix.net/webalizer/)

AWStats (http://awstats.sourceforge.net/)


Modules

XOOPS-stats

This module has probably been around the longest of all the ones listed here. Information collected by XOOPS-stats includes visits, visitors (by IP address), referrers, hits for the year, months in the year, days in the month, and hourly hits, browsers and you are provided with instructions to collect information about screen width and color depth. You can also configure the module to hide certain referrer domains.

After installing this module, you need to edit one of the core files of XOOPS - /header.php. This means any time you upgrade your core, you will need to add the line back in to continue collecting information. But, it will work, no matter which theme you are using.

iStats

Not quite as old as XOOPS-stats, but it has been around since I started working with XOOPS in 2005. Version 2.1 was the last officially released version of this module, but there was a maintenance release by another XOOPS member that addressed a few small issues (server time zones and German language files). No one is currently maintaining this module.

You get statistics and trends for the number of visits (by hour of the day, day of the month, day of the week, week, month and year), visitors' operating system, browser, screen width (resolution), color depth and the domain name of their ISP, top visited pages and top referrers.

After installing the module, you will need to modify your theme(s) to include the lines necessary to begin gathering statistics (the module uses a javascript to gather information). This won't be affected if you upgrade your core, but if you switch themes, you will need to be sure to add the lines to the new theme.

iSearch

This module by Instant-Zero focuses on your internal search terms - you will get information about words searched by day and most searched words. You can even export the list to analyze it further in a spreadsheet program (like Excel or OpenOffice Calc). Only internal search information is collected by this module - no traffic information, referrers, or information from external search engines.

After installing this module, no modifications are necessary to any core files or to your theme. To record the search activity of a group, you must allow them access to the module.

Netquery

There are a lot of tools in this module - most don't have anything to do with analyzing your site or gathering statistics. But, it does have some pretty strong logging and identification capabilities. In the words of its author - 'Its purpose is to deal with problems caused by automated scripts that attempt to read everything on your site, harvest email addresses, and post spam and false referrers, trying to advertise their own links through your web pages. It works to prevent spambots from accessing your site by analyzing their actual HTTP requests and comparing them to known profiles.'

myReferer

A module by WolfPackClan that collects and tracks information about referrers, search terms, search engines and crawlers. No real traffic information is provided in this module, nor do you get information about internal searches.

After you install this module, you need to edit a core file, like with XOOPS-stats, only this time you are instructed to edit /footer.php.

 

Other Tools

Statistics provided by your other modules

Many XOOPS modules provide some information about the content they manage, like most read, most downloaded, or most visited. Be sure to spend some time looking through the administration areas of each of your modules to see what they have to offer. These statistics will not give you information about traffic to your site, but they will assist in identifying what content is popular so you can fine-tune your content even better to match your goals.

Google Analytics

It's nice not to have to use your server's resources or your database to store all the data that comes from tracking traffic on your site. There is a trade-off, though. Anytime you need to load a resource that is on another domain, there is the lag-time for the browser to request the information from the other site and retrieve it. If that site is down, or having difficulties, you could experience performance issues on your site.

Aside from all the information you get from the statistics modules available for XOOPS, there is a ton of information available when you use Google Analytics and you have the ability to set custom filters and create custom reports for each site you track (you can track multiple sites with a single Google Analytics account).

All the information about your web traffic is collected by inserting a few lines of custom javascript from Google in your theme.

Clicky

Clicky also provides you with some custom javascript to place in your theme, or you can also use an image they provide to track your details. The image-based tracking is not as detailed as the javascript version.

The free plan allows you up to 1,000 page views/day and reports on a limited number of measurements. To get all the features, you need to spend $10/month. Clicky's comparison chart does show that it has some features that Google Analytics (GA) doesn't, but I think the information is a bit out of date, based on what I've seen at GA.

SlimStat

This is a PHP script you can add to your site and integrate with your XOOPS installation. XoopsExpert has written an article on how to do this - http://xoopsexperts.com/modules/wordpress/?p=16

With this package, you will need to maintain and update it as changes are made. I haven't seen a lot of activity with this program (the last release was in 2006), so the functionality is what it is. With services like Google Analytics and Clicky, the functionality resides on their servers, so whenever they add functionality, you will have it for your site.

 

 

The End Result

It really all boils down to defining your goals for your site, setting some measurable benchmarks and then measuring them. After you get your measurements, adjust your content to better fit your goals, Repeat as needed.

Pick an analytics tool that will help you focus your site and the content you post for the people you are trying to reach. None of the current selection of XOOPS modules fit perfectly for this, but they will provide you with an good start. You may even want to install 2 of them - myReferer and iSearch combined will give you traffic and both sources of search results. I started with iStats and customized it to include internal and external search results. Whatever you decide, install at least one and begin to collect information and formulating an approach to improve your site based on what you discover. Make it a regular exercise to look at the information about your web visitors. As you move forward, you will better define what additional information you might need to be even better. At that point, look at the available packages and see which one might provide that information. Continue posting and collecting feedback and refining your site and you will be better equipped to carry out your ministry online.

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