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Server Logs

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

When determining the audience for a new or redesigned site, it's akin to relying on a crystal ball with a few clues thrown in. Once the site has been live for a while, then the picture of the audience becomes clearer with the help of server logs.

Most Web hosts provide clients with access to the server logs. If the logs provide little useful information, there are Web sites offering log tracking for free and fee. The free ones, obviously, won't offer as many features as a fee-based log.

Looking at logs answers questions such as "How did users arrive at your site?" "What browsers are users using?" "What countries do users come from?" Fig. 01 shows an example of the domains and countries from where users are located. Since many URLs don't have a country in the domain name, they're listed as .net, .com, .org, and .gov instead.

Figure 17.1Figure 17.1 Visitors by domain and country

Though designing for different browsers has become less of a hassle thanks to Web standards, it's good to know what browsers visitors are using as shown in Fig. 17.2. The referrer statistics answers the question of how visitors arrived at the site by providing list of external links. For instance, if you arrived here from Google by doing a search and clicking on a link to get here, then the data lists http://www.google.com as a referrer or the external link.

You also learn about the busy and slow times by looking at the statistics by month, day, week, and hour. Studying the data might present a pattern and help the IT team prepare for busier times and heavier server loads. There will be occasions when an ad, article, or some other resource mentions your site and bump up the traffic. Having this data will help you prepare for future promotions.

Figure 02Figure 17.2 Top ten browsers used

We would hope all problem links are caught during testing, but they slip through the cracks. Error code stats provide details on problem items such as non-existent pages and graphics. The data provides the file name so you know where to look. Search logs identify the keywords used to find your site. Logs are valuable for getting the story on the site and gauging its health.