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The Best Stats are Already Right at Your Fingertips

My site is a blogging site ...with lots of photos. I've been blogging for nearly 10 years on this site and have always been curious about statistics and visitors.

In the beginning, the simple "Visitor counter" at the bottom of each page gave some idea of the popularity of the site. While that was a nice "overview" it didn't give me any insights of the visitors. Then, that same number of visitors exploded, and I was very happy.

For a while.

Then I found out that "bots" from Google, Bing, Yandex and countless others corrupted my visitor count. Big time. It was nice to see that the search engines were getting interested in my site, but not that they were counted as regular visitors.

I started to look for other solutions to get information about my visitors.

At first, I tried doing that by programming it myself. That was not a big success and the site started to feel sluggish and slow. Exit homemade programming.

Then, Google started with Google Analytics and that seemed like a very good solution.

I got information even of the countries where my visitors came from! Cool! But Google has a reputation of "selling" my info or at least catering ads to my "needs". In my searches using google, ads started to pop up that had absolutely no meaning to me but as it turned out, they had more meaning to my visitors I tried to look at.

That was a big no-no to me, I wanted to get statistics, not a better way to get served any ads.

So, I ditched Google Analytics for a different program.

This time, all the stats were hosted on my own hosting space, without any interference of the search engines. The program was called Piwik. It required a second domain name (a free subdomain also worked) and the stats were amazing. Even Realtime stats were possible. Follow your visitors while they are looking at your site, what could be better?

Well, performance could have been better. When I was checking my stats, the site slowed down to a crawl and the recording of the stats was also slowing down my site.

It was not a problem of the site or even the stats software, it was more a question of WHO was doing the stats to begin with.

As it was, my own homemade solution, Google Analytics and Piwik all had that same issue. The site traffic was intercepted to be recorded during the visitor's time on my site.

Then I looked in my cPanel here on Coolcom
and saw something unobtrusive, easy to miss.

It was called Webalizer. It was not activated by default and it did "nothing". Until I activated this. It turned out to be a fairly basic but informative set of graphs that represented my traffic on my site.

Webalizer is a service that is run by Apache, the service that serves your website to your visitors. No interference with your site or visitors to capture the activity. Apache (as used by Coolcom) already has to do the job of recording and serving pages, so no extra time is being used to create your stats.

The stats are derived from the server logs, logging is a must for all web servers around the world.

So, once I activated Webalizer, the numbers started to show up.

First, a simple graph representing an overview of my visitors, how many bytes they had been served, how many pages and of course, how many visitors in the period.

A table representing the numbers themselves underneath it.

I clicked the name of the month in that table and a world of information was revealed. 

The interesting part was the third section of that table, with the error codes and how many times they were triggered. Code 200 - OK is the most common if your site is working properly. The 300 series is of little interest for now, but the 400 series is interesting to say the least.

401 - Unauthorized was issued 11 times here, meaning 11 attempts were made to get to a private part of the site. All were refused access. The firewall I installed on my site is working great to thwart unauthorized access attempts.

404 - Not Found should be of more concern. Until I saw that the pages requested indeed did not exist. Requests for a shopping page, a contact for and other "standard" pages. They simply don't exist on this site and are a frequent access vector for attacks on mostly every site in the world. Trying to get to those standardly named URLs gave a 404-Not Found error on my site. And rightly so.
Normally I would be concerned with the 500 error, but I am not doing live programming on this site, so this is again the work of hackers or bots trying to do something this site was not made for.

A little below this you have the "Hourly Usage" graph and table.

Now there is something interesting... It shows when during the day there are the most visitors. As it turns out, my site has 3 "spikes" in visitors, around 8am, 1pm and 9pm. These times are in server times for Winnipeg.

So, my blog is being read constantly during the day, with extra people reading it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So now I know that publishing a new post should be done earlier in the morning or prefreable somewhere around 1am to make sure my visitors have fresh content for breakfast.

A little below that, you get the Entry and Exit pages.

This part shows where your visitors arrive on your site and from which page they leave. The "no URL" or "/" is the front page of the site. Does that mean nobody reads the articles? Not necessarily, they can read all kinds of pages and posts, then go back to the front page and leave.

The last part of these stats shows where the visitors come from. Well, more or less. Since the server is not doing any IP lookup, it guesses where the user came from based on ISP information. Unfortunately, most ISPs use a .com as their domain so they are all listed as "Commercial" as was the original intention of the .com extension.

So, there you have it.

A simple, fairly basic statistics program, right in your cPanel and without straining your website and the visitors' experience.

Webalizer is there for you. Should you need more, then other programs like Piwik or Google Analytics may be required. In the meantime, Webalizer demands no modification of your site's contents, unlike all the others.

Check out those stats and make your decisions for posting based upon them.