You need to determine the effectiveness of your site by tracking the pages visitors look at, the number of pages they view each visit, and the last pages they look at before leaving your site.
Enable any tools your web host provides for distilling your server's raw logfiles into meaningful reports or set up your own offline log analysis tool to generate detailed reports about how visitors use your site.
The key metrics to track are:
In the early days of the Web, anyone with even a passing interest in a web site would boast gleefully about the number of "hits" it got. Phrases like "10,000 hits a day" or "a million hits a month" became the lingua franca of dot-com pioneers.
Web site hits, as you may already know, are a highly suspect measure of a web site's popularity, not to mention its effectiveness. Consider two of the most popular web sites: craigslist and Amazon.com. Since each downloaded element of the two sites' home pages is counted as a hit, Amazon's graphics-rich design wallops the Spartan craigslist on the hit parade 55 to 2. Does Amazon.com have more than 27 times the traffic of craigslist? Probably not, but looking only at hits would lead one to believe that it does.
To be sure, the traffic trends shown in page view and unique visitor stats go a long way toward satisfying clients, marketing VPs, and advertisers. But growing traffic does not necessarily translate into more revenue, sales leads, or satisfied visitors. Whatever the goal for your site, its effectiveness in getting visitors to achieve that goal can't be determined without taking a deeper look at your web site statistics.
Measuring your site's effectiveness starts with knowing how well your efforts to drive traffic to it are working. When a new visitor arrives at your site, your web server should log the referring site, which is generally either a search engine or other web site. (No referrer is recorded for visitors who get to your site from a browser bookmark or by typing the site's URL directly into their browser.) Are your link-sharing and search engine optimization strategies bearing fruit? The answers are in the referrers list.
Next, take a measure of page views per visitor (simply page views divided by unique visitors over a given span of time) to get additional meaningful information about your site's effectiveness. For example, the designer of a site of more than 100 pages whose visitors average only 1.5 pages per visit might want to reevaluate what parts of the sitethe navigation, the layout, the color scheme, the content, or the frequency of updatesprevent visitors from digging deeper into the site. (Probably all of them.)
A list of common entry and exit pages (which not all analysis tools create) puts an even finer point on understanding how visitors to your site behave and where design changes might be necessary. Of course, your home page likely will be the most common entry page; it's the pages that follow it in an entry-page list that provide more enlightenment. An entry-page list can provide both reassurance that your ad-linked landing pages are getting adequate traffic and revelations about the deep pages on your site that are surprisingly popular and perhaps deserving of more of your attention as a designer.
Knowing where visitors leave your site provides additional illumination. Consider a three-step checkout process where each step is contained on a separate file and tracked by the server log, as shown in Table 9-1.
A webmaster might be satisfied in knowing that 25 percent of the visitors to her site view the order form every day (line one of Table 9-1) or that she's getting five orders a day (line two) when each pages' statistics are viewed individually. Seen together, a different story emerges: her ordering process is leaking visitors (and sales). Only 1 in 20 visitors who start the ordering process finish it. Although such metrics can't give a definitive "why," they provide a starting point for finding and correcting otherwise unseen traits about how your site and its visitors interact.
For generating site traffic reports, many hosting providers offer one or more of these common tools: Analog (http://www.analog.cx), Urchin (http://www.urchin.com), and The Webalizer (http://www.mrunix.com/webalizer). You also can download logs to your PC and analyze them with software such as WebTrends (http://www.webtrends.com), ClickTracks (http://www.clicktracks.com), AWStats (http://awstats.sourceforge.net), or FastStats (http://www.mach5.com/products/analyzer). The article "Measuring users' web activity to evaluate and enhance advertising effectiveness" (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3694/is_200210/ai_n9108352) offers a thorough, albeit academic, discussion of the terminology used in the area of web site analytics.