Web Server Log Analysis

2004 April 28
by Karen

This week's lecture for my E-commerce class is on web server log files, which made me decide that wanted to post a little about web server log analysis. All web servers have log files and they are a terrific starting point for figuring out what users are doing on your site. However, in order to successfully make use of your log files you need to do several things.

  1. You need to collect log files. I haven't yet encountered a web server that does do this so your should have them.
  2. Use an web log analysis tool to analyze the log file. Web log analysis tools create a set of reports that synthesize the information contained in your log files. Typically, web log analysis tools generate statistics about numbers of hits and visitors for the whole site and individual pages, what browser was used to view the site, what operating system the user had when they visited the site, and where the user came to the site from.
  3. Analyze the information in the reports from your web server log analysis tool.
  4. Make change to your site based on the information garnered from your web server log files.

This process gets repeated over and over and information garnered from web server log files can often result in questions that you want to conduct very specific usability testing to answer. 

A typical log file looks like this:

2004-04-23 19:10:20 - GET /code_playground.asp - 200 0 509 0 HTTP/1.1 Mozilla/4.0+(compatible;+MSIE+6.0;+Windows+NT+5.1;+.NET+CLR+1.1.4322) ASPSESSIONIDCAARRRDQ=FDAOLNOCIBCBMMGFLFALHMCE http://www.librarywebchic.net/about.asp

This line from a log file for this site. It contains information like the date/time that the user visited the page, their IP address, what page they visited, the browser and operating system, and the page they came from in order to view this page.

There are a lot of great nuggets of information in the web server log files. One that I learned about recently was looking at the referrer in order to determine if people came to your page from a particular search engine and what search terms they used to reach your site.

An example of this is below

2004-04-21 19:55:20 – GET /2004/04/14.html – 200 14975 346 656 HTTP/1.1 Mozilla/4.0+(compatible;+MSIE+6.0;+Windows+98) – http://www.google.com/search?q=%22client-side+includes%22&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&as_qdr=all&start=30&sa=N

You can see here that the user searched Google for “client-side includes” when they found a post I wrote on them back on April 4, 2004.

So, web server log files can provide a wealth of information about what is going on on your website. So if you haven't looked at them before check them out. I'll be posting some more detailed information on web server logs analysis later this week.

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