How Do You Measure Website Traffic? (Hint, Don’t Use an Oscilloscope)

  • February 12, 2010 by Corbett Barr

measure website trafficNow that you know where website traffic comes from and when to start building traffic, we should probably discuss how to measure website traffic.

Before we talk about the tools available for measuring your traffic, let’s geek out for a minute (only a minute, I promise) about what those tools will be measuring.

Your website, whether you know it or not, runs on something known as a server. It’s a special type of computer that is designed to handle lots of requests from other computers known as clients.

Your laptop is a client (what’s that? It’s a MacBook? OK, you get hipster bonus points ;) ), your smartphone (you know, iPhone or Android) is a client and your desktop computer is a client. Anytime you type in a web address (known as a URL) or click on a link, you’re sending a request to a server (like you did before you started reading this page).

Along with that request comes a little information about you (about your computer really). Some of that information is sent by your browser and some of it is determined by your IP address (your computer’s address on the Internet).

Software that measures website traffic monitors those requests and stores the information it receives about each. Some of those analytics programs (like Google Analytics) work by using JavaScript on the client, and some programs (like AWStats) work by analyzing the information kept by the web server itself.

Don’t worry, none of this will be on an exam! I thought you might want to know a little about what goes on behind the scenes. It will help you better understand what the analytic data is telling you.

Which Analytics Software Should I Use?

Lucky for you, you don’t have to know much about the technology behind web analytics in order to get the full benefits of using a program to measure it. The best analytics software these days are very easy to install and use.

The gold standard in analytics software currently is Google Analytics. Best of all, it’s free.

Unless you have a specific reason not to use Google Analytics (like your CTO hasn’t approved it), I highly recommend it. GA measures more than you’ll probably care to know, it’s very easy to install and make use of, and by using GA, you’ll benefit from various tutorials and tips around the web.

I use Google Analytics on all my sites and have been very pleased. I used other services before Google Analytics was available, and GA is a big improvement.

This site will assume you’re using Google Analytics, and some of the tutorials we feature will be focused specifically on GA. If you’re using another analytics package, you may have to look for specific settings and reports in different places. Don’t worry though, most packages measure similar things these days, so you’ll still be able to make use of tips featured on Think Traffic.

Google Analytics takes less than 5 minutes to install. Read Google’s installation guide to get up-and-running. After installation, you’ll need to wait at least 24 hours to begin analyzing data.

If you don’t have analytics software already in place, go ahead and do that now. Then, come back and continue the Website Traffic 101 series.

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Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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