Friday, January 19, 2007

Tracking Your Website Visitors

Like I mentioned last week, I have an XNA website I put together and submitted it to the search engines. Since then I have also spread the news about the site in other ways as well but the details of those adventures shall remain unknown for now. So now the question is how can I tell if anyone is finding my site? Well the answer to that question is site tracking of course. But, which site tracking service or script do you use? I have tried quite a few of them over the years, both services and scripts, and right now I am using two services and happily recommend them. Why two? Well, read on and I will fill you in.

The first service I chose is MyBlogLog.com. The reasons are twofold. The first is MyBlogLog.com tracks where users came from, how many users there were, what they viewed on my site, and what they clicked on while on my site. The other reason I chose MyBlogLog.com is because of the social side of it. MyBlogLog.com is a community as well. With this community you get to list your blogs or sites, chat, share photos, and you get to network. There are other things the service offers as well such as widgets for your site showing who your latest readers were and tracking your most clicked links.

Networking, for me, is one of the main reason to use any social site. I have friends already, I am looking for contacts (Who I hope to become friends with eventually) who share in the same interests and will help to spread the word about my site. Most social sites have an immature feel to them, just look at MySpace.com. MyBlogLog.com is a community of peers rather than immature friends looking to get "hooked up". It is more about site owners and bloggers who are into growing their site and getting to know their visitors rather than growing their friends list. It is an interesting tool and it has great potential.

The other service I use is Google Analytics. This is a heavy weight tool. There is so much to this service it would take many pages to tell you all of it. That being said, it has it's quirks too. Google Analytics tracks a lot of information about visitors including browser type, OS type, screen size, country, state, city, how long they were on the site, if they are a returning visitor or a new one, etc. The Google Analytics interface is interesting as well giving you a world map marked with where your visitors are from, pie charts showing incoming links and page views, and so many different reports you can read for a day and not be done.

Knowing all these different stats I can tweak my site, for example: Knowing from the stats that most of my users are using a screen size of 1024x768 and have javascript turned on by default I can customize my site for a better experience for users by implementing advanced javascript and AJAX functions to help in page loading, advertising, and other things such as the widgets mentioned above. Of course this does not mean everyone will see these things since some pop-up blockers block script based advertisements as do some browser plugins but it does mean that the majority of my visitors can see or use these things if they want. I will also make sure my site design looks best in 1024x768 since it is the preferred desktop size used meaning a streamlined user interface made for that size.

Google Analytics is missing a few basic things for this type of site. Off the top of my head the most glaring to me is not having referring links in a hyperlinked list. I like to check out what links lead a visitor to my site, I want to know what people think or know what ideas they may have about the same subject, etc and use referrer links to go check these things. I know of no one service that gives you everything I mention here so I ended up using them both. Oh, did I mention, they are both free?

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