Know Who's Visiting
Not only can you monitor what gets through your firewall, you can also track who's visiting your site and what they're doing. Usage-tracking tools either download or directly access log files on a Web server to give you concrete data to gauge your site's success.
The log files, which record data requests by visitors' browsers, usually contain an entry for each request, or hit, including details such as the file requested and requester's numeric IP address. Because the files also record hits for embedded objects-such as GIF or JPEG graphic elements-a single visitor can generate hundreds of hits while browsing your site. The resulting log files are usually too large and awkward to interpret effectively by hand.
Tracking programs typically import this information into a database and distill the results to reveal site activity. By analyzing IP addresses, such programs can identify distinct visitors and the paths they took through your site. You'll get details on the number of unique visitors, their domains and geographic origins, which pages they accessed and site activity, over specific time periods. Some track requests for page elements like ad banners. Others store information about visitors so it's available the next time they access a site. And some include real-time activity tracking and remote and unattended reporting.
Products vary widely in ease of use, flexibility and performance, so you may want to download trial versions first. Here's a sampling of what's available:
Bazaar Analyzer Pro 1.0 ($999; Aquas, 408-737-7122, fax 408-737-1292). Designed to run on UNIX or NT servers, Java-based Bazaar Analyzer avoids download and import delays by keeping log-processing efforts on the server and letting you control analysis and reporting from any Java-compatible browser. In addition to standard usage reports, Bazaar Analyzer Pro shows you real-time activity, including e-mail alerts when specific domains come visiting. A Pro Plus version is expected to ship during the summer with ODBC support, advanced security options and support for additional log formats.
Hit List 2.5 and 3.0 (Standard 2.5, free; Professional 3.0, $1,995; Enterprise 2.5, $2,995; Marketwave, 800-521-8176, 206-682-6801). There's a lot to like in the Hit List line. The Standard 2.5 version offers a simple interface and basic reports-and it's free. If you have a bigger site or more complex needs, look at the new Professional 3.0 version. It provides improved performance, better reports, advertising tracking, ODBC support, remote reporting and event scheduling. For really large sites, there's an Enterprise edition that works with Microsoft's SQL server.
Microsoft market focus 3 (standard edition, from $695 to $7,195; developers edition, from $3,495 to $9,995, depending on software supported; Microsoft Corp., 800-426-9400, 206-882-8080). Microsoft recently acquired market focus 3 from Interse to add to its own line of BackOffice products. With standard and developers' versions supporting Access, Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle databases, market focus 3 provides a scalable family of high-end tracking products that offer detailed analysis and reporting options.
WebTrends 3.0 ($299; e.g. Software, 503294-7025, fax 503-294-7130). WebTrends attacks log processing from a different angle: It reads and analyzes log data first, and then stores the results in its proprietary database. This enhances speed and reduces storage requirements. It's one of the easiest packages to work with, and offers flexible report options and an affordable price. A new version, expected shortly, will include remote reporting, ODBC support, and automatic compression and decompression of log files.