What is web analytics?
Web analytics refers to the process of collecting, measuring, analysing, and reporting of traffic to your web site for the purposes of understanding how your web site is being used.
There are two classes of web analytics, Logfile analysis and Page tagging. Both have their merits which I will explain below.
Whenever a page on your web site is accessed, that information is recorded in our logs such as the time of access, what page it was, and so on. Every night, that information is extracted from the logs and presented to you in an easy to read format on a web page.
After signing up for a page tagging based analytics service such as Google Analytics, you will be given a small snippet of code to add to all your web pages. Every time a visitor visits one of those pages, Google Analytics will record the time of visit, the name of the page, and other pieces of information similar to that of logfile analysis. The information will then be parsed and presented to you in an easy to read format.
Which do I use?
Both of these methods sound similar but the resulting output can be quite distinct. Logfile analysis caters more towards presenting raw data, and Page tagging towards business intelligence. My recommendation is to use both methods.
Logfile analysis will tell you how much raw traffic your website is doing including all visitors, search engine spiders, and bots. You will need this information when working out how much traffic your site is doing and is useful for forecasting.
Page tagging will capture information from real visitors only. Bots and search engine crawlers are excluded. Google Analytics will also present the data in a way a business would want.
How do I start using it?
You can enable logfile analysis by ticking the "web statistics" checkbox in your control panel. You have a choice of either AWstats or Webalizer. I personally prefer AWstats but try both and see which you like better. Once enabled, allow the system 24 hours to activate and start pulling information from the logs.
Google Analytics is a free service provided by Google. You can visit their page at http://www.google.com/analytics/ to sign up for an account.