Log File Analysis vs. Web Analytics

Before web analytics came to the scene, webmasters relied on log files. These files are stored on your web hosting account. Log files still have some usefulness, although there are shortfalls when using them. Web analytics use a concept known as page tagging. This requires a snippet of JavaScript to be placed on your website somewhere. It analyzes the HTML markup and records such items as what pages users have visited, when they visited, and where they come from, among many other metrics. A cookie is also tracked to determine if the user has been to your website before. Page tagging has its shortfalls as well, some of which will be explored here.

Log file analysis doesn’t require JavaScript to be placed on your website so it is available as soon as you create your website. When visitors or search engine bots visit your website, this gets recorded in the log file. Although log files are not as widely used today, they can be used as a way to check the validity of page tagging or web analytics data. One major limitation is that your hosting provider may periodically flush the log file. If this happens, you won’t be able to maintain a historical perspective for your website. If the hosting company does not empty the file, it can get quite big over time. If you have too many files and the sizes of those files get large, your hosting company may cry foul that you are violating fair use.

You may be thinking that you need to decipher this log file yourself. The good news is that most of the major hosting companies provide tools right within your account to interpret these log files. Usually, you can run them directly from your dashboard. You should see an icon called Webalizer or Awstats. If these don’t exist, contact your hosting company to find out if there any alternative programs.

Page tagging via web analytics stores the data at the provider’s website. The advantage here is that you won’t be using up resources on your website. You will need to include a piece of code that the provider gives you. As mentioned before, this is usually JavaScript code. Page tagging provides much more data and that data is more comprehensive than what is provided by log files. The biggest limitation with page tagging is if the user has disabled JavaScript on their browser or has an add in that does so, you will not get any data for that user. This is why using both page tagging and log file analysis can be a good check.

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