SST Web Design

Atlanta Web Design/Hosting/SEO

Awstats or Google Analytics?

Every SST Web Design and Hosting customer has access to AWStats to view and analyze their web site traffic. Some customers also elect to have us install Google Analytics on their site for additional insight. What are the differences between AWStats and Google Analytics? One of the main differences is they generate their data using different methods, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. This is why they sometimes generate very different traffic results. Below are some of the reasons for this.

AWStats (AWS) uses log based tracking. Every time users perform actions on your website, the server records or logs details of those actions. AWS puts together log data into a meaningful format.

Advantages:

  • It tracks bots, which is why you see higher traffic numbers than with Google Analytics (GA), sometimes as much as 80% higher. Since GA uses JavaScript to track hits, only real browsers show up (since bots can’t parse JavaScript).
  • It tracks things like PDF downloads, images, Flash files, and documents. GA can't do this.
  • It tracks failed requests, which GA can’t do if the user aborts the page before it gets loaded. This is really important if you want to optimize your website.
  • The data is on your server in standard format so you don't rely on a third party's (Google’s) server.

Disadvantages:

  • If a returning user has file caching enabled on his web browser (usually the case), the request for the file he already viewed will not be sent to the web server and he will view a local copy. So sometimes AWS will not detect multiple visits, because a page drawn from a user’s cache may not result in an HTTP request to the server. This reduces the number of page views reported by AWS.
  • A single page in a browser is frequently a conglomerate of several different files. These ‘include’ files are assembled invisibly via PHP, AJAX and any number of other web technologies. From the server’s perspective (which is where AWS gets its data) each of these requested files is a “page.” The server has no way of knowing that a client-side AJAX script is actually assembling the requested files into a single viewable page in the user’s browser. So AWS reports on every HTML (or PHP) file requested as one ‘page’. The end result is a vastly inflated number of “page views” in AWS.
  • It only has the IP address (and HTTP_USER_AGENT data) to go on, and anyone behind a shared connection or forward proxy will not get counted as a unique user. Same for different users, each with a separate login, on the same PC.

Google Analytics (GA) uses script based tracking. It relies on JavaScript, cookies, and a remotely-hosted piece of code to collect, process and interpret user data.

Advantages:

  • The JavaScript that reports statistical data to GA is embedded once per viewable page. (In this case Google’s idea of a “page” is likely the same as a user's idea of a “page”). The JavaScript is called every time the page is loaded so you can track precisely your users’ behaviors even if they are loading the web pages locally from their cache. Neither GA nor the user have any idea how many individual files were assembled to create the page in the user’s web browser, nor should they care, since ultimately the page is perceived as a single page by the user.
    It can report events that do not involve a request to the web server, such as Flash action scripts.
  • AWS shows information that still needs to be interpreted into business value. GA attempts to communicate business value up front. The executive may favor GA reports over AWS reports.
  • GA has a fantastic ability to collect data from inside the webpage itself. With careful configuration you can analyze form completion/ abandonment rates (plus where the form got abandoned). You can also define a ‘path’ through your website that comprises your preferred sales process, and look at entry/exit points along this path.

Disadvantages:

  • If users have JavaScript turned off (true for about 5% of users out there as of Jan. 2008, although tech-savvy users are more likely to have it turned off), GA won’t track their behavior at all. Same if they don’t allow cookies.
  • User data is collected in real time, and this adds a small but often noticeable delay to the load times of your web pages.
  • Search engine spiders (in fact, many automated agents or ‘bots’) don’t run JavaScript by design. So there’s no way GA can count visits by search engines, which in itself is a pretty important piece of data.
  • The bottom line is that it gets complex, and the only way around it is to make assumptions as to what constitutes a unique user or visitor, and simply accept that inaccuracies are inevitable. Google Analytics reads low, AWStats reads high, and that’s the way it is.

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When you're ready to discuss your needs, please call your sales representative or Sidney McSwain at (800) 967-1412, ext. 225 to arrange a no-cost initial consultation.

 

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