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Traffic Reports
What Is A Traffic Report?

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Where The Name Came From
Remember the Information Super Highway? Packets of digital information travel the Internet like little cars. Many servers have red, green, and yellow lights to show "packet activity". Many types of data travel the Internet. All of this packet activity is loosely referred to as "traffic".

(I started running traffic reports in 1995. Recently, it has become more popular to call traffic reporting "Analytics". Due to habit and personal preference, I still call it "traffic reporting".)

This digital activity is recorded in a "traffic log". The log contains a tremendous amount of data. For example, even a small traffic log will be 10MB in size, which equates to about one million lines if you printed it out on letter size paper. For example, in order to compile the 65 traffic reports on this site I had to analyze a little over 800 million lines of code. About 60 lines of code will fit on one standard size piece of paper. That is 13,333,334 pieces of paper for 800 million lines of code. A stack of 500 sheets of paper is 2 inches high. Thus it would take a stack of paper about 4,445 feet high, almost a mile high, to print out those 800 million lines of code.

False Reporting
Some people who hate it when they learn how well our sites are doing like to accuse me of false reporting. Take a look at the above line code numbers. If you can figure out how I can falsify 800 million lines of code on a PC or Mac desktop, let me know. You and I will go into a whole new business venture and we'll put both Apple and Microsoft out of business in the process.

How Does it Work?
Clicking a link in any Web site creates a "get" command, which is your computer and browser requesting the files that make up the Web site you "asked" for.

Every mouse click transmits not only the get commands, but several other data as well. Packets of digital information from your click are "routed" over the Internet from your computer to the server. Each get command "hits" the server and is recorded to the traffic log file along with data relating to the generation of that get command. This is how the very mis-used term "hits" got to be so popular.

What Is A Traffic Log Analyzer?
Information logged from get commands includes what type of computer is used (Mac, Windows, Unix, etc.), what type of Web browser was used (Internet Explorer, Safari, Fire Fox, etc.), what search engine was used, what keywords were used, and a long list of other items.

To extract useful information out of all this data takes special software configured to "analyze" the traffic log. Each log file contains three parts - access information, agent information, and referrer information. The log analyzer extrapolates useful information from these log file sections based on the filters and profiles I set up in the log analytics software. "Analytics" is the process of "running" traffic reports to get useful information.

One important point is that JavaScript based traffic reporting does NOT use an actual traffic log that you can access. And that, in my opinion, ruins any value from a JavaScript based reporting means like Google Analytics. However, for most Mom & Pop operations, Googles application is just fine.

Can I Run My Own Traffic Reports?
Yes, you sure can. However, if you want truly useful, complete Web analytics, it will take a sizeable learning curve. Because many people don't want to spend the time to learn how to run a full report, there are many "dumbed down" applications available, like Google Analytics.

While I have looked at many of these "easy-to-use" Web Analytics for Dummies type products, I have yet to find one that does a really good job. They are okay, they provide the basics, and while you can get a good traffic picture, it will be difficult to fine-tune your entire advertising program with these products. You will not get a report like what you see in this site. Maybe in time the technology will improve. But until it does, I'm sticking with true log-based reporting.

How Accurate Are Traffic Reports?
No matter how good the software, or how experienced the operator, traffic analytics are not 100% accurate. How accurate any given report will be depends on several factors. Regarding the traffic reports in this site they are, as best as I can tell, and as best as my consultants at Web Trends can tell, accurate to within 7% to 10%.

The trick is to know what traffic metrics your business can benefit from. The needs of a small business Web are much different than those for a Proctor and Gamble Web. The Fortune 500s spend millions each year on their Web site and traffic reporting.

The weakness I see with many of the "remote" traffic programs is they are not capable of accurately tracking Direct Entries, one of the most important metrics in a traffic report.

Written August 2008 by Gary Cooley

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