Keeping track of your Web site

I cannot stress how important tracking your Web site's activity is. This information lets you track how many people are visiting your site and what they're doing. Many different packages are available for this purpose, but the two I use regularly are WebTrends 3.5 and IIS Assistant (IISA) 3.5a.

Tim Daniels initially wrote about WebTrends in his July 1996 Web Development column, "Internet Database Connectivity" (go to http://www.winntmag.com/issues/jul96/webdev.htm), and I first wrote about IISA in my November 1996 WebDev column "Who's on Your Web Site?" (see http://www.winntmag.com/issues/nov96/webdev.html). Both packages, however, have come a long way since these articles. WebTrends and IISA have several new features, many of which make tracking easier and faster.

WebTrends 3.5
The most noTable improvement in WebTrends is the big jump in performance. With versions 1.0 and 2.0, my 200MB weekly log files took 8 hours to 10 hours to process on my 150MHz Pentium Pro. But with versions 3.0 and 3.5, my now 500MB+ weekly log files take about 30 minutes to process on the same computer. According to WebTrends' manufacturer, e.g. Software, this package analyzes and produces a complete report at a speed of 7MB to 9MB per minute on a 166MHz Windows NT Pentium. With my Pentium Pro, I average almost 17MB per minute, which is almost twice as fast.

WebTrends is a 32-bit Windows application that runs on NT 3.51, NT 4.0, and Windows 95. It's compatible with log files that you create using any Web server, including Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS), Netscape, O'Reilly WebSite, Apache, National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and CERN. WebTrends does not have to run on your Web server. In fact, I advise against this practice, because when WebTrends operates, it uses all the server's resources. Any server would have a hard time running WebTrends and serving up Web pages.

To use WebTrends' extended logging ability, you only need to install the appropriate plug-in for your Web server: the Internet Server API (ISAPI) or the Netscape API (NSAPI) Plug-Ins for Microsoft IIS and Netscape Extended Log Files. These plug-ins let your Microsoft IIS or Netscape Web server log additional information, such as referring-site, browser, and OS data. In other words, these plug-ins help you gather important data--data that will help you understand your audience, and, in turn, help you design your site.

Because I run the magazine's Web site from two Web servers, a must-have feature in Web tracking software is support for multiple servers. WebTrends can create one report from the logs of both servers. To look at the big picture at the end of the week, I simply put the two log files in the same directory and tell WebTrends to analyze the *.log file. This procedure sure beats having to make one file out of two 200MB+ files.

WebTrends has the option of creating output in HTML, Microsoft Word 95 or Word 97, and Microsoft Excel 95 or Excel 97. Excel output offers convenience (the numbers are right there; no more cutting and pasting) and flexibility (you can perform any number of analyses on the numbers). With both Excel and Word output, you can create professional-looking, functional reports, complete with graphs. Word reports are ready to be printed, bound, and handed to management.

Of all WebTrends 3.5's new features, the one I like best is the new speed in which the software gets reports to me. But you might prefer one of WebTrends other features. These include:

Automatic compression of log files for Netscape and Microsoft servers. Enhanced plug-ins for Netscape and Microsoft servers let you automatically compress log files. Each time your Web server starts a new log file, WebTrends compresses the old one. If you've ever zipped a log file, you know that compression reduces file volume by as much as 90 percent.

Bandwidth reporting. WebTrends provides Tables and graphs on both hits and bytes transferred to help you understand the bandwidth requirements of your Web site.

Authenticated user reporting. If you require users to log on to the server, you'll find this new feature useful. WebTrends authenticates users' names, and reports this information in Tables and graphs.

Run as a service. An option you can select is to have WebTrends run as an NT service and perform realtime analysis, realtime reporting, and automatic scheduling of users. Because this option runs as a service, it works transparently, even when no users are logged onto the system.

Remote reporting server. With WebTrends, you can bind a built-in remote reporting server to any IP address. The server lets you log on and create reports remotely with a Web browser. You can create reports in HTML, Word, Excel, and text. You can display these reports immediately or email them to anyone as an attachment. The email option is slick. I've conFigured the software at times to start a particular report and automatically email me the results.

Open Database Connectivity (OBDC) support for reading log files from an ODBC database. You can point to an ODBC source and WebTrends will automatically start reading your log files from that source.

Exercise caution, however, when you're installing WebTrends. If you don't use cookies on your site, pay close attention because WebTrends installs a mechanism to start using cookies for user tracking. I'm not one who uses the browser's cookie alarm feature, so I didn't notice its installation. A few vocal users of the site quickly pointed out the error of my ways, and I turned it off.

IISA 3.5a
I have used MediaHouse Software's IISA since the beta version 1.0 and have come to love it. Each new release adds more features to an already impressive package, and IISA 3.5a is no exception.

One noTable improvement in IISA 3.5a is the interface. You can now access all IISA information on your Web server, using nothing more than your Web browser. I suggest that you use Internet Explorer (IE) so that you can take advantage of NT's challenge and response password authentication for security. (Unless, of course, you're going to have your Web site statistics available for all to see, in which case, security doesn't matter.) IISA 3.5a also includes new functionality to simplify securing your statistics. By default, only domain administrators will have access to your statistics. But with IISA 3.5a, you can give permission to other users on different virtual servers or the virtual servers' directories, as shown in Screen 1.

IISA 3.5a provides even more information about your Web site than WebTrends 3.5. It tracks most measurements you need to know about your Web site and reports these measurements in displays such as:

The Who's On page provides information about how many people are visiting your Web site and who those visitors are. For example, it reports on each visitor's IP address and country of origin. With release 3.5a, you can also learn each visitor's company or Internet Service Provider (ISP). How does IISA do that? Once IISA has a visitor's IP address, it looks for the associated company or ISP in an IISA database stored on your server. If the IP address is not listed on your server, IISA contacts the MediaHouse Resolver at MediaHouse Software. If the MediaHouse Resolver doesn't have the visitor's IP address, the Resolver queries a number of name servers by IP address to identify the visitor's company or ISP. Once the Resolver has this information, it updates its records and then updates the database on your server.

The Usage page gives you statistics on individual user sessions, requests made on the server (hits), kilobytes served (bandwidth usage), kilobytes served per user, and hits made per user. You can break down these statistics by specific days, weeks, or months for further analysis.

The Origins page gives you information about the companies visiting your Web site. You can get current and historical data, as shown in Screen 2.

On these and other pages, IISA 3.5a has a new drill-down feature. You can drill down to learn more information on just about every measurement on every display. For example, suppose you're looking at the Who's On page and you see someone from blah.com on your Web site. If you want to know what pages this visitor has been viewing, you simply click the magnifying glass next to that visitor's company name. IISA responds by showing you when that person's session started and what pages he or she has looked at.

Not only is the amount of information that IISA 3.5a provides amazing, so too is the amount of disk space it takes to archive that data. I've been using this package on our Web site since November 1996. The archive containing all the statistics since then uses less than 20MB of disk space. In comparison, the IIS logs use that much space in less than 7 hours.

For me, IISA 3.5a is a must-have package. Up-to-the-minute information about our Web site is at my fingertips at all times. And because this information is available using a Web browser, I have access to it from any machine at any location.


WebTrends 3.5
Contact: e.g. Software * 503-294-7025
Web: http://www.webtrends.com
Email: info@egsoftware.com
Price: $299
IISA 3.5a
Contact: MediaHouse Software * 819-682-9737
Web: http://www.go-iis.com/iisa/iisahome.htm
Email: sales@go-iis.com
Price: $395