How Should you be Tracking your Visitors


GAYou build your website so people will see it, but how do you know how many people are seeing results of your hard work?

There are a number different ways you can track your website usage, below we take a look at the different options, along with the pros & cons and some examples of software or services that use that approach.


  • Remotely Hosted Javascript

    This is currently the most popular way to track your website visitors. Javascript embedded into your website is used to pass information to a remote server, which stores that information and produces reports, often in realtime, on your website visitors.

    Pros:

    Everything is handled for you. All you need do is add a small amount of javascript to your pages, and the visitors are tracked. No need to worry about buying additional servers, or additional bandwidth requirements.

    Cons:

    The cost. Although some free options do exist they can be limited in functionality, or will require you to display a button or other form of ad in exchange for using the service. Only users with Javascript enabled are completely tracked, some services fall back to a simple 1px image being embeded to your page to track visits, but this doesn’t provide as detailed visitor information.

    Examples:

    Google Analytics
    http://www.google.com/analytics

    Sitemeter
    http://www.sitemeter.com

    Reinvigorate
    http://reinvigorate.net

    StatCounter
    http://statcounter.com

    AdFreeStats
    http://www.addfreestats.com

    whos.amung.us
    http://whos.amung.us

    Offers some very basic visitor information but is very easy to setup, and provides realtime information that can easily shared with your users.

  • Locally Hosted Javascript

    Similar to the remotely hosted services above, locally hosted software can perform the same function, whilst allowing you to keep control of all parts of the analysis process.

    Pros:

    Having control of all your information is a must for some people, also running all the scripts locally allows you to have more control of the overall performance of your websites.

    Cons:

    The scripts recording the visitors details, and reporting scripts to view visit information can add a lot of extra load on your web servers, and depending on your traffic numbers may even warrant getting a separate hosting package to deal with statistics.

    Mint
    http://www.haveamint.com

    Developed by Shaun Inman, Mint is a very popular among web designers and developers.

  • Web server logfile analysis

    Whether you use Apache, IIS, or some other web server to host your website, they are usually configured to record each and every request that visitors make. There is software that can analyze these logs and create reports for you detailing visitor numbers, their activity.

    Although the reports generated with this method can be very detailed there is a delay in generating these reports, as you have to collect and process the logs before the reports can be produced.

    Pros:
    Any and all visitors to the website can be tracked, including search engine bots, and other automated services.

    No additional load is placed on your servers during website visits. Log file analysis can be scheduled to occur during off peak times.

    Cons:
    The information that is tracked about your visitors is limited to the information that the webserver is configured to track. If you don’t have complete access to the web server configuration (on a shared host for example) you will not be able to control this.

    Since files have to analyzed and reports generated after the visit, the information is not available in realtime.

    Urchin
    http://www.google.com/urchin

    Now owned by Google, the Urchin software is free, and needs to be installed on your server, and produces reports similar to the Google Analytic’s service.

    WebTrends
    http://www.webtrends.com

  • Script Embeded

    Software packages exist, that when embeded into your web pages can record the visitor information to a database. This information can then be used to generate user reports.

    Pros:

    Since the script is executed during the website visit you are able to add extra information from the webserver while the script is being execute to the statistics you are saving.

    Cons:

    Your website must be written in the same language the stats package to function correctly.

    Since the visitor information is saved during the page request, this can delay the return of the page to the user.

    Slimstat
    http://wettone.com/code/slimstat

    Based on the ShortStat software by Shaun Inman, extended to add extra functionality and to improve security, since Short Stats was discontinued. SlimStat can be incorporated into any PHP based website.

    • What is your favorite way of tracking visitor information?

About Mubashar Iqbal

Mubashar Iqbal is the creator of Most Inspired, a web designer and developer, who has been building websites for over 13 years. You can read his blog at Mubashar Iqbal
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4 Responses to How Should you be Tracking your Visitors

  1. ty.Gossman says:

    Thanks Mubs!
    In the past I have used MetaTraffic from metasun, it always worked pretty well.
    http://metasun.com/products/metatraffic/license.asp
    They have a free for non-com license or paid versions.
    I only used it for general puposes and page counts, it could be used to gather much more for analysis though.

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  3. I use awstats, which is free and gives lots of information with a nice presentation.

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