How to Read Your Traffic Reports and Improve Your Web Site


One of the most overlooked tools available to help you understand how your Web site is performing is your site’s traffic reports. Reading these reports carefully can uncover problem areas at your site that may be costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars a year in lost revenue.

Recently, I was reviewing the traffic reports of a business owner who was interested in increasing his Web marketing to generate more business from his Web site.

Flyte had just set up a new traffic report program for him called Urchin. The Urchin reports showed that most of his visitors were entering either through his home page or a particular secondary page that talked about one of his services. Unfortunately, the reports also showed that these two pages had huge “bounce” rates, meaning visitors were leaving his site before visiting any other pages. Another report confirmed that the majority of his visitors were only visiting one page before leaving his site…never to be heard from again.

I also reviewed his “referral” reports that show where his traffic is coming from. Some of it was coming through a pay-per-click ad campaign at Overture. Unfortunately, these click-thru ads were dropping visitors off at his home page, rather than at a landing page specially created for the ad campaign.

Such a custom-tailored page would be more likely to get these visitors to take a desired action, such as complete a form or call his office. Since he pays for each click-thru from the Overture ad, the more “effective” his ad was in driving traffic to his site, the more money he lost!

With the information I had uncovered in his traffic reports, I was able to make an informed recommendation: he needed to create compelling copy with more calls-to-action to close the sale at his site before he spent any more money on attracting more visitors. If people are coming to your store but no one’s buying anything, additional advertising isn’t the answer.

Every time someone visits your site, their information is recorded in your logfile. Where they came from, which pages they visited, where they “entered” and “exited” your Web site, and so on. These log files are long, dry, and almost meaningless to the average human being. However, traffic reporting software, like Urchin or WebTrends, can organize this data into meaningful patterns and reports.

We’ve converted to Urchin because of its performance, detailed reports, helpful graphs and the ability to specify date ranges. Whichever traffic report software you choose, you can use it to uncover visitor behavior at your site. Here’s a breakdown of what you should be looking for:

Traffic: Shows you visits or sessions over a period of time and whether your numbers are going up or down. Insight Gained: Did that newspaper ad, radio spot, or Oprah appearance spike the traffic to your site? If appropriate, should you repeat it?

Pages & Files: Shows your most popular pages, and your wallflowers. Insight Gained: What’s important to your customers. These may be areas in which you can create new offerings and business opportunities.

Navigation: Shows where people are entering and exiting your site and what paths they’re taking along the way. Insight Gained: Are visitors leaving your site before you’ve gotten a chance to convert them into customers? Which pages are leaving visitors confused or unimpressed and need to be fixed?

Referrals: Shows where your traffic is coming from, such as other Web sites, search engines, or bookmarks. It can also tell you what search phrases visitors are using at Google or Yahoo to find you. Insight Gained: Knowing where your traffic is coming from can give you insight on where to advertise. Knowing the searches your prospects are using can lead to creating more focused, compelling content that will drive more qualified traffic to your site.

Domains & Users: Shows detailed info on the domains, countries and IP addresses of your visitors. Insight Gained: If a lot of your traffic is coming from overseas, you may want to create language specific pages for that audience. You can also sometimes uncover your competition checking out your site.

Browsers & Robots: Shows which browsers and operating systems your visitors are using. Also shows which search engine robots are visiting your site. Insight Gained: Knowing which browsers your visitors use will remind you to make sure your Web site works for that browser. If a specific search engine isn’t sending its robot to your site occasionally, it may be unaware that your site exists. You’ll need to address that.

Traffic reports aren’t perfect; they often use best guesses in determining visitor behavior. Did a visitor really spend twenty minutes at your site, or were they getting a cup of coffee for most of it? If someone visits a Web site at work and at home there’s no way for the traffic report to know that it’s the same person.

Regardless, traffic reports are an undervalued and indispensable tool for reviewing and improving your Web site and, in turn, your bottom line. Spend half an hour this week reviewing your stats. It might be the best investment you make in your site all year.

If you’d like help understanding your traffic reports, please contact us.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media