When Written: Feb 2010
SmarterStats produces the reports you need to help monitor your web site’s position on the search engines
Once your web site is up and running the work doesn’t stop there of course. It is important to monitor the traffic to your web site and for this a lot of people use Google Analytics, which is a free web based traffic monitoring system. This requires you to place a bit of code on every page that you want Google to track. Whilst this works very well it is somewhat limited and is no use for finding detailed information about what requests the server is actually getting.
These requests are usually written into the web servers log files and can help in fixing bugs and detecting attacks on your web server. To look at these log files it is normal to use a log analyser program as decoding thousands and thousands of lines of log files is more than most mortals can manage. In the past we have used Web Trends for doing this and this program automatically created web pages full of pretty graphs of web site activity for the clients. But Web Trends have changed their licensing policy and it is now based on the amount of traffic and hence the number of entries in the log file. This does not work well for a very active site that does not generate any revenue and hence can’t justify the large licence fee. So we needed to look for something different.
Our php cousins have several free or low cost options available to them. But I thought that there must be something available in .NET so after a little looking I came across and particularly stunning piece of web log analytical software called SmarterStats (http://www.smartertools.com/SmarterStats/Free-Web-Analytics.aspx ). This not only analyses your web logs but creates tables and graphs from the data. You can schedule these reports to be emailed on a regular basis. You can also create custom reports so clients can have the data presented in a clear and concise way. All this is very good but things get better when you start to play with the SEO reporting section of the program.
Here you can enter a list of keywords and ask the system to check each keyword against the web. This is useful before you embark on an adwords or similar campaign where you are ‘buying’ a particular keyword for your adverts to appear under. Another section in this ‘research area’ is competitor suggestions. Once provided with a list of keywords about your site it goes off to the web and returns a list of possible competitors, five of which you can select and the system will generate reports of the performance of your web site against these competitor’s rankings on the search engines.
All very useful stuff, but it doesn’t stop there. Another feature of this software is data mining. With this option you browse to a file on the web server and then you can select a series of questions from a drop down. You can see who visited this file, where they came from and where they went as well as lots of other questions about any one single web page or file. The graphs that this software draws are done using Silverlight and the whole application looks very smart and modern. The way SmarterStats generates the reports is that it imports the web server log files into a SQLServer database and then uses this for the reports. Reporting this way is a much quicker than trying to report from the log files directly.
SmarterStats also gives a web front end for selected users to view and generate reports. Whilst you can run SmarterStats on the live web server I would not recommend this if you are going to allow your users to generate their own reports as this could put an extra load on the server. SmarterStats can sit on a dedicated server and ‘suck’ the log files via a variety of methods from your web servers. SmarterTools ( www.smartertools.com ) are the maker of SmarterStats and they do two versions the Pro and the Enterprise which has scheduled emailing of reports plus custom reports and is the version that I would recommend. In fact their free offering is this Enterprise version but limited to one site only. Upgrading from there is pretty reasonable I think with $499 for 50 sites going up to a 30,000 site licence for $9,999.
If you are looking for an easy to use web analysis tool to run on your .NET servers then this could well be it. I am currently trialling it on a new sever / web site that has just launched and so far it is working very well and if initial impressions continue I shall be purchasing a licence in the near future.
Article by: Mark Newton
Published in: Mark Newton