If there's a first commandment of doing business, that's it. Knowing customers is easy in a brick-and-mortar store. Talk to them, size up their clothing, hear how they form sentences. A traditional storefront owner knows a lot about who's stopping in, but how do companies on the Web know their customers when all they amount to are wispy cybervisitors?
The good news: Every Web site visitor leaves a trail that, when properly analyzed, will tell you the country of origin, browser and platform used (such as Windows 98), Internet service provider and more. This data is collected by Web hosting services in a "Log" file, but only hard-core techies could ever have the patience to scroll through a log, because it contains a mind-numbing avalanche of details. Your Web hosting service probably provides-free of charge-a basic analysis of those logs. If so, the company will run the log through interpretive software and tuck the output in a folder that's usually called "Stats."
Better analysis is easy to come by using third-party software tools designed to dissect log reports and automatically produce spiffy, usable reports that will tell you not only which countries are producing visitors but also those visitors' ISPs and more. Top choices among analysis tools include:
- WebTrends Log Analyzer: This program offers a cool tool set, including a "geographical profiling" tool that allows for tracking visitors' specific cities of origin. Get a trial download from www.webtrends.com. Cost: $399 (all prices street).
- HitList Professional: You can get some 40 types of reports in a few mouse clicks. It's a full-featured, fast and easy-to-use tool. Get a trial version at www.marketwave.com. Cost: $395.
Before deciding to buy, ask yourself whether you really need the level of analysis being offered. Many low-traffic sites don't, and, for them, the free files provided by their servers may be sufficient. When traffic increases to more than 100 visitors per day, you probably need more fine-tuned analysis, and it's time to buy a more sophisticated tool-but not before then.