Avoiding traffic jams

Getting your Web site up and running is only the beginning. Whether you're

providing a service to the public, managing an intranet for your professional

staff or selling products over the Internet, you need to know as much as

you can about who is visiting your site and where they're going within the

site.

Not only will this information help you determine what sort of exposure

your site is getting, it will also provide you with a wealth of information

that can prioritize what efforts and what resources should be used toward

maintenance and new content generation.

There are two types of Web analysis tools: those that glean information

from the Web server's existing log file and those that create their own

logging systems to generate the reports. Although infinitely more flexible,

the latter group requires a great deal of customization and expense and

is usually best reserved for large commerce-based Web sites or those that

are unusually sophisticated.

For this comparison, we chose three of the top products — Quest Software

Inc.'s Funnel Web Analyzer, Sane Solutions LLC's NetTracker and WebTrends

Corp.'s Enterprise Suite — all which use the log files already generated

by a Web server. We were pleased to find that each of these tools is easy

to set up, easy to use and capable of generating more insight into both

the use and design of your site than you probably thought possible.

A typical log file contains an entry for each request to the Web server,

recording basic information about who visitors are, where they came from

and where they go within the site. By adding time stamps and looking at

thousands or millions of these files, a very clear picture of how your site

is being used emerges.

For instance, if 62 percent of visitors leave your site on the same

page, perhaps it's time to redesign that page, or if 82 percent of bandwidth

is being used to upload GIFs, perhaps it's time to cut back on the graphics.

Also, all of the products we tested can use the extended log formats

most of the major Web servers use. These extended formats include additional

fields that let you know such things as what browser/OS combination your

visitors are using, what link they clicked on to get to your site and how

many bytes they downloaded.

These are all tremendously valuable products that use existing information

already being collected to clearly define the strengths and weaknesses of

your Web site.

In the end, WebTrends Enterprise Suite emerged a little stronger than

the other two products. Before settling on a tool for your site, however,

you'd do well to take a closer look because one of the other products may

be better suited to your needs.

WebTrends has excellent reporting; Funnel Web is easy to use and can

create customized reports for different needs; and NetTracker is a server-based

application that is an excellent choice for a distributed environment of

disparate disciplines, each needing customized reports.

In just a few sessions, you should have a much clearer picture of how

your site is being used, what the most popular resources are and which ones

could use an overhaul. Armed with this information, it will be easy to make

sound decisions when it comes to using any resources on the site.

Jefferson is a freelance analyst and writer based in Honolulu who has been

covering technology for several years.

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