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Take Off Your Blindfold! Discovering your visitors’ thinking using your log files

Written By: Milana Nastetskaya

After 2 years of designing Web Sites, I decided to take a
peek at one of my customer’s log files. My fear disappeared
after about 10 seconds of looking at it. In the midst of
some weird symbols and long lines of funny characters,
was able to see something familiar. It was the site’s web
address! Of course! That is what people see when they
come to this site and that is what the web server writes in
the log file!

I got very excited because all this time that I have read
about log files, I kept ignoring it. I thought “they are
not for me – they are for the real geeky web professionals
who spend their time decoding this stuff”. Wrong! They
WERE for me. They were meant to help me track my
customers’ success and I never bothered to look.

By the way, if you have never seen a log file, here is one
line from my customer’s web site’s log file:

200.29.64.28 – - [06/Sep/2000:23:20:38 -0400] “GET /
HTTP/ 1.0″ 200 1074
“www.mamma.com/Mamma?p1=1&timeout=4&query=phot
os+seniors&qtype=0&x=1&y=11″ “Mozilla/2.0(compatible;
MSIE 3.02; AK; Windows 95)”

The most important piece of information to you, as a web
designer, in this line is

www.mamma.com/Mamma?p1=1&timeout=4&
query=photos+seniors&qtype=0&x=1&y=11

because it tells you how the user found you. Did he find
you through the link from another web site where you
advertise? Did he just type your web address in the
location bar because he already knew it? Or did he find it
through a Search Engine query?

According to the log file, the visitor went to the web site
www.mamma.com and did a search. What was he
searching for? If you can’t read the text beyond
www.mamma.com, then try this trick:

Open your Internet browser and paste this line

www.mamma.com/Mamma?p1=1&timeout=4&query=
photos+seniors&qtype=0&x=1&y=11

in the location bar. Press “Enter”. Ta-da! Now you should
be able to see that the user typed in “photos seniors” into
the search box, because it is in the box right now. Right
at the top of the web site.

My customer’s web site is number 9 on the first results
page. It is a success! Now, it would not be a success if
the user typed in “jeep photos” and my customer’s site
would come up number 9. Because the user is not looking
for a photographer, which is what my customer is.

That is why you always want to know what is in your log
files. If you go beyond 20 visitors a day, you should
probably get a software that analyzes your log files and
comes up with a report. But to get a feel for how your
visitors get to your site – the above technique is
recommended. If this site was found by someone looking
for photos of a jeep, I would think “there is something
seriously wrong with the site” and immediately improve the
keywords, title and META tags.

About the Author

Milana Nastetskaya is a full time web developer and the
author of two books: “Create Your First Business Web Site
in 10 days”, and “65 Instant Web Design Answers”.
http://www.firstbusinesswebsite.com
http://www.instantwebanswers.com

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