Main Content

Tracking your website or blog visitors

An overview of website statistics for the new proprietor of a website or blog. If anything is unclear or confusing, please leave a comment so I can fix the problem. Thanks!

There are two ways to track your site visiters: site logs and page tags (counters and trackers). Both provide information about

  • the number of visitors,
  • the countries of your visitors,
  • the links on other sites that led to yours,
  • the words that brought up your site in online searches,
  • which search engine was used,
  • the Web browsers and operating systems used by your visitors, and
  • other data.

Page tags

Page tags are bits of code that you put on each page that you want tracked. (For a blog, you put the code in your template.) The code connects to a third-party website where your statistics are stored. To check your statistics, go to that website and log in.

One popular and perhaps the most complete service for collecting site stats is Google Analytics. Google requires that you have a Google account. The Google account has to be confirmed, which means they send an e-mail with a link that has to be clicked. You also have to upload a file to your server (put a file on your website) so that Google knows that the site you want to track is really yours. Then they give you the code that needs to be put on each page you want tracked.

Some free services for tracking visitors with page tags:

See a more complete list of free counters and trackers at DMOZ.

Note: A hit counter that shows the number of visitors (actually the number of times that page has been loaded in a browser) to every person who visits your site is not recommended. It won’t provide meaningful statistics, and a low number can negatively influence visitors.

Site logs

Most, if not all, servers (a server is the computer where files are stored) keep a record (log) of every resource (pages, images, scripts) that is accessed. These logs record the date and time, the file name, whether the access was successful, the requesting agent (browser), and where the request came from (IP address).

If you have a website, you should already have access to your site logs. You can see the data from the site logs in a couple of different ways:

  • Install a log analyzer program and download the logs to your computer
  • Use the log analyzer program provided by your Web host

You can download free log analyzers from SourceForge.

How to access your site logs through your Web host

A log analyzer may be included with your hosting.

If so, you can log in to your control panel to check your stats. The control panel is the page where you change your site configuration. If you’re not sure how to log in, go to your Web host’s main site and look for the customer log-in. If there’s a control panel option after logging in, select it.

Different Web hosts offer different control panels. Below are instructions for three of the most common ones, cPanel, Plesk, and vDeck.

cPanel

Before any statistics can be collected, you need to select the statistics program you want to use. In the Logs section, click the Choose Log Programs icon. [screenshot] You can select all programs that are available, if you want. Until a program is selected, there will be no data to view, and it will take up to 24 hours for anything to be reported. Check your stats in the Logs section by clicking the icon of the stats program you want to use. [same screenshot]

Instructions for viewing statistics with cPanel.

Plesk

Click the Home link on the lefthand menu. A set of icons separated into sections will appear. [screenshot 1] Click the Report icon inside the Domain section. A website report will appear. Scroll down to view the report or click any of the Tools icons to change your options. [screenshot 2]

View Plesk tutorials (scroll down to End User Tutorials).

vDeck

Click the Reports icon. [screenshot 1] You’ll have three choices for viewing your website traffic. [screenshot 2]

A vDeck tutorial.

Example site log entry

Here’s an entry from the site log for Williams Writing, Editing & Design. This is a raw entry; it has not yet been processed. What you see in your stats program will look completely different.

86.3.238.188 - - [19/Mar/2008:08:46:57 -0400] "GET /design/book.shtml HTTP/1.1" 200 12950 "http://www.google.co.uk/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=&q=designing+book+layout&meta=" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322)"

What this entry means:

86.3.238.188
This is the IP (Internet Protocol) address assigned to the computer that requested the file. You have an IP address when you connect to the Internet. Your IP address is usually temporary, may be shared with other customers, and is assigned to you by your Internet service provider (ISP), the company that sells you dial-up, cable, or DSL service.
[19/Mar/2008:08:46:57 -0400]
This is the date and time, Greenwich Mean Time, with a 4-hour adjustment.
"GET /design/book.shtml HTTP/1.1"
The GET command says to show the page at http://www.williamswriting.com/design/book.shtml using the HTTP/1.1 protocol.
200
The status of the GET command is okay; the request was received. The most infamous status code is 404: Not Found.
12950
The size of the requested file, in bytes.
"http://www.google.co.uk/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=&q=designing+book+layout&meta="
The page that linked to my page (a Google UK search) and the search term: designing book layout. A log analyzer program would search for the location of the URL www.google.co.uk and report the visitor’s country.
"Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322)"
The browser and operating system my visitor used, which is MS Internet Explorer on Windows XP.

About Sandra K. Williams

Sandra K. Williams loves books, both printed and digital. Since 1996 she has worked with authors and independent publishers, editing and designing books for print. Since 1999 she has built easy-to-use, accessible websites, and she uses her HTML and CSS skills to design reader-friendly e-books.

3 Responses to Tracking your website or blog visitors

  1. margo wrote:

    Thanks, Sandra! I wonder why there’s a big difference between my google adwords stats & hostmysite.com control panel stats. I rely moreso on the latter for accuracy & thoroughness. I even know geographics’ numbers, like who’s looking & clicking around the world, especially, for me, Oceania. It’s really helpful to have this tracking info. Do all hosts provide them w/ their service?

  2. Sandra wrote:

    Margo, the hosts I work with provide stats, raw site logs, or both. I can’t speak for all hosts.

    Site logs are supposed to be more accurate because there’s no time lag caused by caching and because pages that don’t get fully loaded in the browser are still counted.

  3. Terena wrote:

    this is really helpful! thanks so much. I’m still learning this terminology. I’m checking out Google Analytics now.