Siwek says that in under five minutes, he had “a complete, fully detailed site report,” without hours of training or trying to decipher the interface.
Web Log Analysis function
“You can’t rely on a hit counter to tell you any useful information about your Web site,” Siwek says. “Did an incoming browser hit your home page first or jump straight to another page within your site? How do you know? How do you quantify that traffic?”
WebTrends provides answers to those questions. The Web Log Analysis tools go through the IIS log files and create detailed profiles and analysis of your site’s usage. To run such a report, start WebTrends and click on the Web Log Analysis tab. You can modify an existing sample report, or click on the New icon to create a new report. Specify the location of the IIS log files, give the report a description, specify the URL for the home page, and the report is just about ready to go. You have several options to choose from, but the defaults are probably what you need.
Notice the combo box called Memorized Report Name. If you click on that, you can produce the report in HTML (the default), in a Microsoft Excel worksheet, a Microsoft Word document, or a plain text document. The HTML is the most dynamic: You can jump from section to section with ease. It’s also fast. “My site gets about 45,000 hits a year, and the report took only a few seconds to generate,” notes Siwek.
Another tab, Save As/Mail To, lets you customize what happens to the report after it’s generated. Typically, WebTrends creates a file in the root of your current fixed disk. However, you can also e-mail the report to someone (like your manager or Web administrator), or FTP it to a long-term archive. You can even schedule the report to run at specified times. The Style tab lets you select from English, French, German, or Spanish and change the report style. Styles change the report’s background color, table headings, and other chromatic and graphical elements.
Finally, the Content tab gives you nearly complete control over what goes into the report. You can choose from things like User Profiles by Region Graph, Most Requested Pages, Least Requested Pages, Most Downloaded Files, and other options. You can also specify whether the graphs contained in the report are displayed in 2-D or 3-D.
After everything is set the way you want it, press the Memorize button to save your settings. Then, you can click on the Start button to display the graph.
Siwek has found several practical uses for this report. He was expending considerable effort on multiple sections within his Web site, but he didn’t have a good idea of what section his customers liked the most. By running the Web Log Analysis report, Siwek discovered that a medical pamphlet section accounted for the majority of his traffic. Consequently, he concentrated his efforts on that section and improved the customer’s perception of his site, as measured by his discussions with some of his local Web site users and by the increasing traffic to the pages he tailored.
Siwek also found the report could help justify a server upgrade by providing information such as the amount of time needed to download the Most Requested Pages and the Bandwidth sections. This “gives management hard figures to use to make their decisions,” Siwek says. “It makes it easy for them to say yes.”
WebTrends “has good diagnostic tools,” Siwek says. “You can stay on top of broken links to keep your site error-free.” The WebTrends Link Analysis tab gives you the same level of control over Link Reports that you saw earlier in the Log Analysis reporting. For example, you can control how many broken links to contain in your report (50 by default), or how many new pages to display in the report table (also 50 by default). Creating a Link Report is even easier than creating a Log Report: Give WebTrends a description for your report and a starting URL, and you can get to the customization screen.
When you begin to run a Link Analysis, you see a results progress summary screen that looks a lot like a 1980s stereographic equalizer.
The Link Analysis Report contains good information about the health of your Web site. It includes a summary Link Integrity Report, which gives you a count of the verified, redirected, and URL Not Found references, as well as other errors; a report of broken links for both internal (within your Web site) and external links; and statistics about the kinds of links found within your site. For the latter category, you can determine how many of your links represent HTTP connections, HTTPS connections, FTP connections, and others.
The report also includes an Oldest Pages section. When combined with the log report of Least Used Pages, you can make decisions on which pages to remove. After all, if it’s old and no one looks at it, why let it take up space on your Web server?
This report can also help you tailor your Web site for users with different connection speeds. The Biggest (slowest) Pages section shows the pages that take the longest to download. Also, like many of WebTrends’ features tables or text that reference URLs, you can click on the reference to see the actual page displayed in your browser.
Not only can WebTrends analyze your Web site’s historical aspects, it can also warn you of outages. From the Alert tab, you can create monitoring agents. Alerts are flexible. From the Alerts tab, if you click on New, you enter a description of the alert and select the Device to Monitor. This is particularly useful for sites with firewalls. Many firewalls block PINGs as a protection against Denial Of Service attacks. The downside is that you can’t write simple PING routines to confirm your Web server is operational. WebTrends lets you check your site via a number of methods, including HTTP requests, Finger requests, URL requests, and ODBC requests.
After you make those decisions, you must give WebTrends the host name or IP address and the port (80 for most HTTP servers). You can then set the monitor interval. WebTrends checks your Web server once every second to once every 1,444 minutes (24 hours); after it checks, you can tell it to send an alert from one second after it detects a failure, to 1,444 minutes after it detects the failure. The delay helps guard against spurious errors generated by intermittent communications problems that you may not want to use to trigger an alert. You can also send another alert if the service becomes available again.
Next, you can elect to generate an audible alert. If you elect that method, you can choose from the typical system beep or specify a WAV file. If you have any Star Trek WAV collections, this might be a good application for them. WebTrends offers the option to set a duration and interval for the sounds.
In addition to sounds, WebTrends generates e-mail messages to report alerts. You can specify the recipient’s e-mail address and the message’s subject line. Finally, you can send a pager message to either a pager service or an individual pager. In the latter case, you can send either a numeric or alphanumeric message. Of course, the WebTrends alerting service can check servers other than the one it’s running on.
“As our volume increases, the ability to send alerts if our server goes down will be very important to us,” Siwek says.
WebTrends doesn’t confine reporting to a single server. It can run reports based on the logfiles of any NCSA-compliant (plus a number of other formats) log file it can see. A single WebTrends-equipped server could be the Web site management hub within your organization.
If you have proxy servers from Microsoft, Novell, Netscape, or Oracle, WebTrends can report on bandwidth, most popular sites, most active users, most downloaded files, activity level by various time periods, and more.
Management made simple
Siwek is happy with WebTrends. “The software is easy to install and easy to use. It does what it says it will do without difficulty,” says Siwek.
With the Log Analysis, Link Analysis, and Alerting tools, WebTrends lets Web masters manage their Web sites by evaluating site traffic and usage, maintaining data integrity, and minimizing down time. Finally, WebTrends can also analyze your proxy server to help you manage that resource.
One feature Siwek hasn’t used is the trending part of WebTrends. RDBMS integration features allow you to capture statistical information from your Web server’s logs (IIS, Lotus Notes Domino–according to the WebTrends manual, “all major and most minor log formats”) and store it in any ODBC-accessible database. This information includes the remote user’s IP address, source country, authenticated user IDs, top page usage, and usage statistics on pages last visited. With WebTrends’ ability to schedule tasks, you could periodically capture information and send it to your RDBMS. You could then perform historical trending analysis against that data. If you plan a major Web site change, you could use trending to measure the usage impact of that change. With the competitiveness of most industries, and with the pressure to keep costs down, a product like WebTrends can be important to your success. It’s a tool that can help measure the impact of changes, track usage across time and geographical regions (unless you have a firewall that acts as an inbound proxy), and fine-tune your Web site’s performance and usability.