Bull's Eye

Despite the woes of those NASDAQ darlings who ran with the bulls in the '90s and went belly-up shortly thereafter, the Web is still an important component of our market economy, especially in the camp business.

Just about any camp director will tell you how the Internet has radically altered their search for campers and staff. Camping is replete with stories of time and dollars saved through the myriad of on-line tools available to even the most computer-illiterate among us.

The Internet revolution and subsequent bust has also spawned a more savvy Web space buyer. No longer content to place banner ads or listings indiscriminately, buyers attempting to drive more traffic to their sites through another portal are more demanding.

But, there's still much to learn…

Show Me the Numbers

Hit is an important word on the Internet. It's basically how many times your Web site has been viewed. Lots of hits means lots of people are interested in your site or the site you're listed or advertising on, right? Not necessarily…

"There is no hard and fast definition of hit count. What people think a hit is and what log analysis software measures are two different things," says David Hahn, owner of TechAngle, a computer hardware, software, consulting and Internet company based in Aurora, Colo. "Most people think a hit is someone coming into my site and looking at my Web page. If you pull up CNN there are probably 20-30 graphics that make up that page. Each unique graphic is requested by the Web browser from the Web server individually. If I have one block of text and 24 graphic elements on my Web page, the Web server actually gets 25 separate requests for the data that make up that page from the Web browser. Even though it's a single view by a person it's recorded as 25 requests to the Web server. Often times that's the number given as hits."

Hahn explains that someone may claim 25,000 hits on their Web server, when they may actually have a thousand page views. So the important word hits is replaced by the more-important phrase page views.

Breaking down that page-view number of 25,000, the Web master may have set his homepage to his own Web site. Every time he opens the browser to start up a new window he's created 25 hits to the Web server on one page visit, says Hahn. If he starts his Web browser ten times a day, 20 or 30 days a month, of the thousand page views, he's generated 300 page views himself.

That's not to say that Web masters are intentionally padding their own Web pages, but it gives an idea about how quickly and easily hits can escalate.

"In the long run the only number that is actually important is qualified page views. People are hoping that a million hits is a million interested people. Advertising doesn't work that way, whether it's Web, print or TV," says Hahn.

Many Web sites are crafted in a way that forces, to some degree or another, interactivity on the viewer's part. Some require some type of registration, while others purposely leave out pertinent information so that browsers will call or e-mail the company.

The downside to these approaches is that people may be unwilling to provide any information over the Internet and may be put off by not finding all the information they're looking for and move on.

Making Numbers Work

But using hits and page views to gauge effectiveness is not a lost cause by any means. You can still qualify browsers to the Web site in a number of different ways.

The key is being able to understand Web site analysis reports. Each request to the Web server is logged and from this you can draw statistics and summarize information.

For example, if 95 percent of page views are on the front page or on one page of the Web site, it's likely that page is being pushed out to uninterested browsers, says Hahn.

"What's unique to the Web site form of advertising is that I know the precise number of people who looked at the site, commonly called trend identification," explains Hahn. "Some of the information the Web browser will break down are the number of hits coming from a geographical area, which search engines drove browsers to my site and what key words they used to get there, and what pages are hot and which ones are not."

The Web analysis software used by TechAngle calculates the number of visits, number of unique visitors, visitor duration, days of the week, rush hours, domains and countries, most viewed entry and exit pages to the Web site, search engines that come through the site, and which path people took through the Web site, among other statistics.

The reports should be readily available from any company you're considering buying space or listings with and are typically provided as Web-based text and graphs.

If you're unable to interpret the reports, of simply don't have time, there are a lot of people who will charge a rolling consultant fee to help you.

"Anyone who's thinking about advertising on a commercial Web site should be asking for that information with as much detail as you would like," says Hahn. "And, any reputable provider should give you a list of references that you can call so that they can give you an idea of how effective it's been for them."

You can also craft a gateway or reference page to track the effectiveness of any type of media, including Internet sites you advertise or list with.

"If someone comes from Qwest Dex (an on-line Yellow Pages) it comes from a different portal page than someone who found me on Colorado Consultants," says Hahn. "Or, for example, my gateway page for this magazine got 300 hits, while the gateway page for my newspaper ad got two."

For more information…

Following is a sampling of companies that provide Web analysis software. These companies typically provide a sample report.

AW Stats at awstats.sourceforge.net

Webalizer at www.mrunix.net/webalizer

Livestats at www.deepmetrix.com

Sawmill at www.sawmill.net

David Hahn's company can be found at www.techangle.com. His e-mail address is dhahn@techangle.com.

Bryan BuchkoComment