Monitoring Site Statistics


Published on September 27, 2005 at 1:24 PM EST
In the Tutorials category.

This dish offers a buffet-line look at different statistics monitoring packages. Please take a clean plate at every visit to the buffet.

Monitoring your web site’s activity really only serves two purposes: ego stroking and visitor analysis. It’s a lot of fun to watch a site’s visitor base grow, but being able to see what a reader is looking for and how they visit is something that can immensely help your site grow .

Unfortunately, I haven’t found a single statistics analysis package that does everything. There are lots of packages that do lots of different things, all presenting data in slightly different ways. Combine what you can glean from each of them and it’ll become more clear who is visiting your site, what they want to read, and how they came in. Once you know all that, you can better assess what kinds of changes and additions will really benefit your site.

The upside of using several statistics packages is that they all seem to track different data and come up with different results. Alphabetically listed below are several packages, all of which I am not currently using, but have experience with. I currently use Mint and SlimStat primarily, and occasionally check in with Webalizer.

AWStats

AWStats is a great log file analysis program. It uses your server’s log files to determine visits, page views, and all kinds of other good stuff. Since it uses logs it will track “other” files, like downloads of video or audio, photos, and stylesheets. It will also let you filter what is tracked: your stylesheet is likely to be one of the most-requested documents on your site (it’s linked off of every single page) so it shows up high in AWStats list of results; this can be filtered out easily enough.

AWStats provides a lot of data, but figuring out what it means is difficult. There are no “trends” tools to help you spot recent spikes, for example. Installation is a little daunting.

Unfortunately, my host no longer allows AWStats to be run on their servers because of a rash of serious bugs a while back. I could run AWStats on my desktop computer, but the DirectAdmin control panel has recently made the dumb move of rotating logs daily. Daily logs doesn’t prevent me from using them, I just don’t want to have to update AWStats daily. I would be using AWStats if it were more convenient.

bbClone

I’ve read lots of good things about bbClone from others, but I just don’t like it. I find the data to be presented in a very meaningless and hard to understand way.

Mint

http://www.eatdrinksleepmovabletype.com/upload/2005/10/mint-thumb.gif

Mint is a new entry to the stats tool market and was written by the same guy who wrote ShortStat, Shaun Inman. Mint is a fairly simple tool with basic reporting features; it does this well and presents it beautifully. For $30, however, it’s nothing special—just use ShortStat or SlimStat for free.

What sets Mint apart and makes it worth $30, though, is Pepper. Pepper are plugins for Mint and add a lot of extra value, information, and capability. Using different Pepper I can track clicks on other file types (.txt, .pdf, .mpg), see a quick list of errors that might have been encountered, and have some graphs as visual aids. Pepper is really what makes Mint special! Available Pepper are listed in the Mint forum.

Mint uses a “rolling” database, so it’ll never get too big, and data panes can be reorganized into any order you like. The one big negative to Mint is that a “public” view and “administrator” view (to install Pepper, change settings) is not possible—you need to choose one or the other. Since I’m using the “administrator” view (which uses a login with password), my Mint installation isn’t available for viewing.

2006/01/02 Update: I’ve updated to Mint 1.25, which has added a few good features. Most notably, an open client mode in addition to the password-protected administrator mode. View the stats in client mode.

phpMyVisites

phpMyVisites is a pretty good tool. It provides a lot of data in a useful way. Basic trend information over the previous day/week/month is provided in the form of numbers and percentages. When viewing pages, trends over previous weeks are provided in the same way. phpMyVisites will also support tracking multiple sites.

http://www.eatdrinksleepmovabletype.com/upload/2005/10/phpmyvisites-thumb.gif

The database stays fairly small. After using it for about four months, it’s at about 20 MB.

The real problem with phpMyVisites is that it’s written in French. English documentation is a bit scarce, which makes installation a little tough.

2006/01/02 Update: PHPMyVisites is at version 2.0 now. It offers several minor improvements, but nothing substantial. Their demo let’s you have a look at how it works.

ShortStat

ShortStat is a neat little program. It’s very basic in what it reports, but it does that very well. Installation is suprisingly easy. ShortStat development has stopped, and Mint is its replacement.

While ShortStat is still a great little program, I would rather use SlimStat.

SlimStat

http://www.eatdrinksleepmovabletype.com/upload/2005/10/slimstat-thumb.gif

SlimStat is based off of ShortStat, so is similar in several ways, including the easy installation. Improvement are many and significant, though—especially the ability to drill through the data to easily spot trends, spikes and other good stuff. In fact, for the purpose of trend-spotting, I think SlimStat is unmatched!

SlimStat’s database can grow pretty big—after only two months of use, the database has grown to 44 MB. You can view the Eat Drink Sleep Movable Type installation of SlimStat.

Since ShortStat and SlimStat work so similarly, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that they report the same numbers. In other words, I don’t see a point in using both of them.

2006/01/02 Update: I’ve upgraded to version 0.8 of SlimStat which offers a little more functionality and a slight redesign.

Webalizer

Webalizer is an old, crappy log-based analyzer. But, it comes with the DirectAdmin control panel, so I check in with it once in a while. I wouldn’t bother with it if it wasn’t already installed and available.