You find out how much traffic your site has by examining site logs which are kept by the Web server. Increasing traffic (obtaining more visitors to your site), however, is not as simple.
Web servers keep logs which list every single HTTP request that anybody made to your site. Using this information, you can estimate some useful statistics about the usage of your site.
If you wish to get more visitors to your web site, one thing you can do is ensure that your site will appear in search engines. However, this is not a magic bullet. Traditional methods of getting exposure (like advertising) are much more effective.
Logs track all accesses to your files. Since they aren't in a spectacularly useful format (a huge list of every access to everything, in date order, isn't very readable), you need to use a log file analyser program to make sense of them.
You may have seen counters on some Web sites. These are generally easy to set up and may be acceptable for a personal site. However, there are several disadvantages.
- Most counters are funded by advertising
- Readers of the site do not need to know how many people have viewed it
- You may not want to advertise that only 50 people ever saw your page
- Counters slow loading unnecessarily and may irritate your visitors
- Most counters are unreliable
All quality Web hosting providers provide log files, usually daily logs. These files give information about every single HTTP access for a file from the site.
You should be able download these from their server, and analyse them using special software. Alternatively, some providers may run log analysis software automatically for you, so that you only have to visit a Web page which has the log information.
If your hosting provider doesn't give you log files at all, change hosting provider. Be prepared to pay at least a little for quality Web hosting.
Log file analysers
Log files are not very useful in their raw format. You need to use a program to analyse the files and convert them into a statistical report. The report will contain useful information, such as how many accesses there were to a particular file (say your front page) on a particular day.
A popular log file analyser is Analog. This is a free, flexible, and good program which is available for most different types of computer, but be aware that it was originally designed for Unix, runs from the command line, and is insanely difficult to configure. If that doesn't sound like your kind of thing, search the Web for alternatives. (Be warned: some are expensive. You might have to pay for ease of use.)
There are several statistics used to count traffic. If you want to generate misleading figures, there is ample opportunity to do so. None of the statistics are 'accurate' because of caches and proxy servers.
Terminology varies, but most people consider a 'hit' to be a single request to the server for any kind of file.
If somebody retrieves a page with four images, this would constitute five hits; if somebody with images turned off retrieves the same page, this would only count as a single hit.
Hits are generally considered a particularly stupid way to measure traffic; they are most often used when a large number is desired.
A pageview is a single request to the server for a Web page (usually a .html file).
Since pageviews are not biased by the number of images on the page, they provide a useful basic statistic, especially if you are interested in views of a single particular page (e.g. front page).
The count is not accurate because of caching and proxies (see below).
'Unique visitors' are calculated based on the Internet IP addresses of computers that requested data. If files were requested from 200 different addresses, then that counts as 200 unique visitors, regardless of the number of files requested from each address.
This statistic is intended to show the number of different people who visited a site. It can be unreliable: see below under proxy servers.
Web browsers 'cache' data, storing it for later use. If you view the same page twice immediately, the page is not generally requested from the server a second time. In other words, if a user looks at the same page twice in one session it will only normally count as a single pageview.
Most large Internet providers and many companies, educational organisations, etc. use proxy servers. When a customer's Web browser requests a page, the request is redirected: a request to www.google.com is not sent to www.google.com, but actually ends up at the proxy server.
The proxy server then does one of two things:
- If the page is held in the proxy's cache, it is delivered directly to the user without contacting the real site
- Otherwise, the proxy requests the page on behalf of the user; when the page is received, it is sent back to the user's browser
Requests from a proxy server appear to come from the proxy's IP address, not the user's. This messes up unique-visitor counting in two ways:
- It may cause under-reporting, because multiple visitors could be coming via the same proxy server and would appear to be the same person
- It may cause over-reporting, because a single visitor might be automatically handled by more than one proxy server (because large ISPs will need to share the load between more than one machine) and therefore be reported as two people
Proxies may also cause under-reporting because they cache information for all their users.
One way to attract traffic to your site is to make sure that you are listed in search engines. Many users search for information, so they may find your site.
However, search engine listings are not helpful for all sites, and it is more or less impossible to get a top-10 result for most single-word keywords, never mind the really popular ones like 'sex' or 'mp3'.
Submitting to search engines
You could check the most popular search engines and make sure your site is included. For example, check that you can find your site in Google. (Google is a popular search engine which also powers Yahoo's web search.) Search for some text which is unique to your site, like the site name.
Some search engines have a 'submit your site' option which you can use if the site is not listed. It is probably worth doing this, but only for the major engines - don't waste your time with the others. Avoid any services which claim to submit your site to hundreds of search engines, whether these are free or involve a fee. These will not benefit your site, and such 'spammed' submissions are ignored by most listings services. (In other words, it's basically a scam.)
Achieving good results
If you want your site to be ranked high on search results from the search engines, the first step is to consider keywords you would like to aim for. You need to be selective here: on the one hand, you have zero chance of getting a good rating for most single keywords, but on the other hand, there isn't much point being #1 on a search for powered mobile combat suits with beam cannon because nobody is ever going to type that in to a search engine.
Once you have decided on some target keywords, you can design a page of your site (generally the front page) accordingly. Include the keywords in:
- the <title> tag
- headings (<h1> etc.)
- normal text of the page
- the META keywords tag (see other references for information)
Do not include keywords many times in a row, or otherwise try to 'fool' the search engines. They already thought of that, and your site will actually be penalised for it. It is best if you include your keywords as part of the natural text of the site, writing text so that it includes the keywords.
Google and other engines determine search relevance from links to your site as well as the content of your site. In other words, if popular sites link to yours, then your search rating is boosted.
Obviously, links from popular sites can also benefit you directly.
If you are developing a site for a particular topic, try to find appropriate, popular link lists that cover that topic. For example, if your site is about knitting, there may be some other knitting sites which contain links. If so, and if your site is good quality so that they might be willing to add a link, you could request that your site is added to the list.
Necessary or not?
Many sites do not benefit from search engine positioning. For instance, there is little point (nor chance) of a small local estate agent which only handles one area of one country getting the #1 result for 'estate agement'.
If your site is locally related, don't worry about search engine placement except possibly with locality keywords (for example, you might go for 'Milton Keynes estate agent').
Whatever your site, you should try to make sure that it does come up in search results if people type its actual name, in case people who already know about your site are trying to find it.
(Incidentally, an entertaining diversion is to search for people's real names in Google and see how highly they rank...)
Not sufficient if you really want traffic
If you really want to have traffic on your site, search engines are not the only answer. Your chance of getting significant traffic to a new site from search engines alone is very, very slim.
Reference: Search Engine Watch
The excellent Search Engine Watch provides more detailed information on search engines, including charts of the most popular engines, and tips for achieving high placement.
You can also spend money to promote your site. This is a requirement if you must get traffic to your site quickly.
One key concept is of targeting your promotion. This means that you ensure your message is going out only to those people who are likely to be interested in it.
Targeted advertising should cost less overall, because you don't waste space showing your adverts to people who don't care. However, it may cost more when counted per ad, because the people selling ads know that it is more valuable to advertisers.
Buying search keywords
Search engines sell keywords, so if you really want to appear high in search results for popular keywords, you can pay for a keyword.
Of course, you can expect to pay a large amount if you want a keyword that generates a large amount of traffic. (The cost may be a flat fee for a certain time, or it may be per visitor who clicks a link to you, or per visitor who is shown your link whether or not they click it.)
This can be an effective means of promoting a site, since your link is shown to people who are searching for something related to that keyword, so they are likely to be looking for your product or service.
You can also pay for standard advertising. You could advertise on the Web (for example, with banner adverts), but traditional means of advertising might be more effective.
Make sure to target your advertising appropriately. For example, if you offer a local service, you could consider advertising in the local paper or its Web site; if you offer a niche-interest service, you could advertise in a magazine relating to that interest.
Advertising a Web site is not much different to advertising anything else.
Do not advertise by direct email.
Unsolicited direct email ('spam') is illegal in some areas and many Internet users regard it with a fury usually reserved for crimes like rape and murder. Your firm may be driven off the Internet, out of business, or both, if it sends unsolicited email.
(This is a justified response: imagine if every small business in the world sent emails to millions of Internet users, as spammers generally do - that would be literally thousands of messages each day, probably hundreds of thousands, per person.)
Advertising by spam also puts you in the same category as porn sites, illegal Viagra sellers, loan sharks, pyramid schemes, and many other scams that work by sending unsolicited bulk email. It is not an option for reputable firms.
Some direct email claims to work via 'opt-in' lists, rather than unsolicited email. There are some genuine opt-in email lists, but people were generally suckered into signing up for them by the promise of free stuff, gift vouchers, etc. These cheapskates are probably not the kind of people who will buy your products. More seriously, some firms will claim to send your email to an opt-in list, but actually are simply sending spam.
Of course, you may wish to run your own opt-in email lists, where customers can actively sign up at your site for information on your products. These can be very effective in some cases. (For example, 'Sign up here to receive information when our cool new product is released!', that kind of thing.) Because this is giving customers information that they specifically asked for, it isn't seen as irritating or intrusive like other advertising.
There are various myths about traffic on the Web, most of which are down to wishful thinking.
Build it, and they will come
No, they won't. There are literally billions of pages on the Web, and you need to promote yours.
If you make a very good site that people find useful (this particularly applies to hobby sites) then it is possible to gradually build traffic without spending anything; the people who came to your site tell their friends, make links to it, and your site gradually gets more popular.
You will still need to get the word out initially, for example being part of the appropriate online communities and letting them know.
In order to get traffic this way, your site has to be top quality, and you have to keep it updated so that it becomes better and better.
Search engine results are what's important
Even if your site ranks highly on a search engine, that won't do you much good if the keywords are rarely typed, or if the people typing those keywords aren't likely to actually be interested in your site.
As indicated before, search engine results are less helpful for local (non-international) sites.
Promotion via the Internet is cheap
Although you can create a Web site without very much cost, actually getting people to go there is likely to require spending money.
Traffic is the be-all and end-all
If a small jewellery store receives 200 visitors in a week, and one of them is interested in placing an order, that's a better result than receiving 2,000 visitors, none of whom actually buy anything.
In fact, if your site gets sufficient traffic, you will find yourself having to pay more for Web hosting because of the bandwidth used by sending out all the files - this can be a particular problem if you offer large files like music or video clips.
Traffic figures come from (unreliable) logs
You can obtain figures for traffic by downloading logs from your server, and running analysis software to produce statistics. These statistics are useful, but are never entirely accurate.
Search engine placement
You can get good placement on search engines by carefully choosing keywords and ensuring those keywords appear frequently in the text of your page. It is also useful to have other sites link to yours.
To obtain serious traffic, you will likely need to spend money on advertising of one sort or another.
Do not expect high traffic at your site. Most sites are not visited very frequently.