As site designers, webmasters often feel that they have handle on the traffic that their web sites generate. Very successful webmasters, on the other hand, can be sure that they know what’s happening on their websites by taking advantage of the information provided by their web statistics.

Web site statistics can actually be a bit of a misnomer. The name makes them sound like an excel spreadsheet full of boring numbers that don’t relate to website usage … and some web stats packages can be just that: boring — providing only the basic numbers about who’s on your site. webmastershall (Unique visitors, page views, entry pages and exit pages come to mind). But in reality, web statistics have come a tremendously long way in a short time, and are able to paint a very unique picture of what website visitors are doing each and every time they visit a site.

New hosted web statistics solutions that no longer rely on web server log files, are capable of recording, keeping and displaying valuable pieces of information about each user of a website. Most of them allow webmasters and marketers to view the statistical information in real-time and display the statistics in easy-to-use graphical interfaces. Even better, they are now allowing webmasters to go beyond top-level statistical information and drill-down into a specific user’s session to determine how much time they spent on specific pages, what links they clicked on, or to track the exact path they followed from the time they arrived to the time they left.

Even more advanced tools have been developed to help webmasters translate statistical data into graphical representations of web site traffic activity. Heat maps and site overlays are some of the most effective methods to date to demonstrate exactly what type of decisions web visitors make as they look at a particular page.

Heat maps show the web page with a weather-map-like representation of where the “hottest” points on the page are. By viewing a heat map, webmasters can see where the attention on a page is being paid, which they can use to more effectively organize a page to emphasize a page’s most important elements.

Site overlay is a tool that demonstrates where users are clicking by displaying the page, with percentages overlaid on the page that show exactly what percentage of the total clickthrus are being done via that particular link. Like the heatmap, it demonstrates where user’s eyes are going, and can help webmasters understand where people are clicking and deduce why they choose the links they do.

In the end, the importance of the web statistics will only be determined by how much use that the webmaster can make of the information. Can they make effective changes to their site using the statistics they’re provided? With these new tools, web statistics providers have made it much easier to get statistics, and use that information to make their websites a better place for their users.

Enrique Padilla reads his web statistics daily and contributes

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