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-- by Ian Etra and Paul Silverman
Content no longer dictates success on the World Wide Web. If you can't figure out exactly what is drawing people to your site, slick presentation and ever-changing pages could be expensive red herrings. But with a tool like WebTrends 2.1-which analyzes log files created by your Web server and generates reports detailing who's hitting your site, when they're hitting it, what they're looking and not looking at-you get key information to fine-tune your site. WebTrends supplies a multitude of data, but its poor handling of advertising banners, tricky report generation and lack of a database make it suitable only for simpler or light-traffic sites.
One window accesses all the functions. To let WebTrends know where to find the log files, you have to create an entry in the program. Log files can be located in a local directory or in a remote directory via ftp or HTTP. Since many programs struggle opening up a 20MB file for viewing, you can browse your log files directly. It takes a while for a large file to load, but you can view it as it comes in, or selectively load specific parts of the file (last 15 minutes, from Day X to Day Z, and so forth). Once a file loaded, we scrolled back and forth through it quite smoothly. The log viewer is also color-coded (errors show up in red, filenames in blue) and features built-in search and sort functions.
Running reports was fairly straightforward. Once you specify all the parameters for a report, WebTrends parses through the log files and generates an HTML document containing charts or tables (depending on which you specify). To identify clients by name, it can also perform reverse DNS lookups.
You can track advertising hits and clickthroughs, but WebTrends needs to know specifically which graphics are ads and the script activated when the ad is clicked. This feature, however, is probably most useful on lower-scale sites with ads that don't change often, because you need to reflect the program change every time an ad changes.
Unfortunately, WebTrends does not include any type of database to store your past reports and log data. That missing feature alone makes the program a tool geared toward light-traffic sites. To generate cumulative reports, you need to make all the uncompressed data for the time period that you wish analyzed available to WebTrends. Depending on the size of your site and the traffic it receives, this could quickly become very time- and space-consuming. For example, to generate biweekly reports for the WINDOWS Magazine Web site, we would have to store approximately 300MB of uncompressed log files on our server.
Creating our own report templates was also a confusing task. The standard templates are fine, but WebTrends wasn't intuitive or helpful when we tried to go further. The processing speed on a Pentium 150 with 128MB of RAM was 4MB per minute. Mileage varies depending on your system setup, but report generation was pretty quick considering how large log files can be.
Simply put, what WebTrends does, it does well. If you're not a big player on the Web, but are looking to better focus your site, this product may offer a solution. High-traffic sites with complex advertising schemes need to consider a more powerful product.
Copyright (c) 1997 CMP Media Inc.