9.4. Tools Beyond AdSense for Tracking
"Trust, but verify" is an excellent motto in life. It's nice to have independent verification of Google's numbers and also better analysis tools of visitor behavior than the AdSense reports provide.
To get third-party information about your traffic, a good starting place is to visit Alexa , http://www.alexa.com. On Alexa, click the Traffic Rankings tab. Enter your site domain in the box, and click Get Traffic Details. The Related Info page for your site will open. Next, in the Explore this Site box, click the Traffic Details link.
A number of different measures of your site traffic, including the daily page views graph shown in Figure 9-12, will be displayed.
Figure 9-12. Alexa can help give you an idea of how many daily page views your site receives
You can use the Alexa metrics as a reality check in terms of whether it agrees with Google that your page views are going up (or down) over time, but you cannot use Alexa as an absolute measure of anything because of how the Alexa statistics are compiled. Alexa's page-view metrics are based on information uploaded from a small toolbar, mostly installed by business users. This information is notoriously flawed for consumer sites, particularly ones without high traffic.
The next place to turn is your web server's logs.
9.4.1. Listening to Web Logs
Depending on your web host, you should have access to a number of tools used to generate usable information from your web logs files.
Webalizer, shown providing monthly statistics in Figure 9-13, is available for almost all sites that are hosted on a Linux-based web server. If your web host doesn't make Webalizer available to you, it almost surely will provide comparable software.
Figure 9-13. Webalizer uses your web logs to display accurate statistics about your site
You can use the Webalizer summary shown in Figure 9-11 to verify Google's accounting of your page views. Next, click a specific month to get more detailed information about a whole range of topics, including:
A great deal of the information that is provided is quite valuable. You should certainly keep an eye on daily usage statistics (Figure 9-14).
You probably already have a good idea of your entry pages, the pages that visitors first open when they access your site (but it's still a good idea to verify this information with your web log analysis tool). These pages are also often called landing pages. But you may not know about your top exit pagesthe last page a visitor opens in your siteshown in Webalizer in Figure 9-15.
Exit pages are significant because you may wish to make an attempt to keep traffic on your site on the top exit pages, for example, with an "Are you sure you want to leave" message. More importantly, studies have shown that exit pages are a particularly good place to site AdSense ads. The logic is your visitors are ready to leave your site anyhow, so they are likely to be more willing to click on a link in an ad. Therefore, it makes sense to pay special attention to your top exit pages when you tweak your AdSense content ads.
Figure 9-14. Monitoring daily usage statistics helps you make sure that your site traffic is staying steady or gaining
Figure 9-15. Exit pages are the final page viewed in your domain before leaving your site
Referrers are sites that refer traffic to you. It's good to know where your traffic is coming from. Figure 9-16 shows some top referrers for the site www.digitalfieldguide.com.
Using information about your top referrers, you can work to strengthen your relationship with these referrers and also consider if there are other sites like a particular referrer that you might be able to approach for traffic (see Chapter 2 for advice about how to approach a site).
Figure 9-17 shows a table of the top search strings used in search engines to find your site.
Figure 9-16. The top referrer table helps you to know where your traffic is coming from
Figure 9-17. Top search string information is extremely valuable because it allows you to hone your site content
Knowing the top search strings used to find your site is extraordinarily valuable to an AdSense publisher. Honing your site to provide information relevant to these searches sets you up to benefit from a virtuous circle: more targeted information draws better search engine rankings for these queries, which in turn draw more traffic and at the same time generate better click-through rates because it's easier for Google's contextual engine to figure out what your site is about.
As you can see, there's a great deal of information to be had from your web log data, and it is important to keep on top of it to get the most revenue out of the AdSense program. Pay particular attention to the overall direction of traffic volume, the flow of traffic through your site via entrance and exit pages, and top referrers and search strings.
9.4.2. Web Analytic Software
When your web log software is not enough, because you really need to understand visitor behavior in detail through your site, it's time to turn to web analytic software such as Urchin (now owned by Google), http://www.urchin.com, and WebTrends, http://www.webtrends.com (which also does web log analysis). These are relatively expensive software packages. WebTrends is available as a standalone product (you install it on your web server) or as a hosted solution. Urchin is only available as a hosted solution.
This sophisticated category of software can be used to track almost everything about every visitor to your site. For example, Urchin will also tell you how many people bounced off your landing page, meaning they didn't go beyond the first page of your site. If you have a high bounce-off rate, you need to know it so you can redesign your site to pull visitors in.