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3.2. Web Site Metrics and Measuring Traffic

An important component of SEO is getting a handle on web site metrics and measuring traffic. This is not as easy as it sounds, because a great many competing terms are used, and data is not always reliable.

From an SEO perspective, you need to establish a plan for measuring traffic so that you can find out objectively which SEO measures have succeeded.

How much traffic do you aspire to? Another important question, because SEO approaches will differ depending on whether you want to generate tons of general broad traffic, or if you are targeting a narrow (but significant) niche.

A good (and reasonably objective) source of information and metrics about general and high-trafficked sites is Alexa.

3.2.1. Alexa

Alexa, http://www.alexa.com, is owned by Amazon.com.


Note: I mention Amazon's ownership of Alexa because ownership can be destiny, and you should bear Amazon's relationship with Alexa in mind when you read the opinion pieces on the site.For example, when Alexa indicates that Google's traffic is perhaps peaking, and that MySpace's continues to climb, and puts the graph of each togetheras they did recentlyyou might want to consider whether this is unbiased information or speaks to a rivalry with Google.

On the Alexa site, you can click the Traffic rankings tab to see an ordered list of the top 500 Sites updated daily. The Movers and Shakers list is also interesting. It is a snapshot of the "right here and now" on the Web, and is useful for aligning your SEO efforts with Web-wide trends in real time.

It is worth spending time learning about popularity on the Web if you want to build successful sites. Alexa provides the tools you can use to see for yourself what is trafficked, and what is gaining or losing among top-ranked sites.

You can also use Alexa to see traffic statistics for sites that are not in the top 500. For almost any site that has been around a while, Alexa will give you an idea of traffic statistics, and whether it is gaining or losing traffic.

Alexa lets you enter descriptive information about your web site, which others can see if they check your site traffic using Alexa. You can also make sure that Alexa provides a snapshot of your home page along with its statistics. Since this service is free, it is certainly worth entering a site description and monitoring your Alexagarnered statistics.

Alexa works by collating results from users throughout the Web who have installed the special Alexa Toolbar. (If you'd like, you can install the Alexa Toolbar and help with popularity statistics.) There's some question about the statistical validity of Alexa for less-trafficked sites because of this method of gathering dataAlexa's results are probably skewed towards users who are already web savvy and heavy users.

Most likely, Alexa's results are not very meaningful for sites that are ranked below 100,000 in popularity (very roughly, with fewer than 10,000 visitors per week).

3.2.2. Measuring Traffic

The metrics of web site traffic is a huge topic just by itself, and goes way beyond Alexa. There are a number of books just about web metricsif you are interested in this topic, you might want to check out Jim Sterne's Web Metrics: Proven Methods for Measuring Web Site Success (http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0471450502.html), which is comprehensive and excellent, if a little dated. You can also take a look at the "Tracking and Logging" thread on WebMasterWorld, http://www.webmasterworld.com.

There is also, of course, quite a bit of software designed simply to help webmasters gather and understand the metrics of their sites. Also, your web server's logs contain a great deal of traffic information that can help provide you with useful metrics.


Note: You can use your web server logs to find out which search queries most commonly land visitors on your pages.

Measuring traffic is a very important topic: to optimize your site you need to have baseline information, as well as feedback, so you can understand whether changes improve site trafficand to also see which elements in your site draw traffic.


Tip: If you are running Google's AdSense ads on your site, you can use the page impression data that Google supplies as a rough-and-ready measure of web traffic.

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