Reading User Agents to Identify Bot Traffic

by demtron on Monday, February 02, 2009 08:41 AM

Sometimes, it's a real pain to tell the difference between a human visitor and a bot when reviewing a Web server traffic log.  I recently had an acquiantance ask me for information on this topic.  I found a great resource at http://www.botsvsbrowsers.com/category/1/index.html that catalogs nearly 3000 known user agents that are associated with bots.

In many cases, there are identifiers such as GoogleBot, msnbot and Slurp that are easy to spot as these are common bot user agent signatures.  Unfortunately, there's no common identifier among all of them.  I figure that this list could be pulled into a lookup table and used for matching against a server log.  What I wan't able to identify is how frequently this list is updated for new signatures.


Web Site Traffic Quantity vs. Quality

by demtron on Monday, November 17, 2008 09:19 AM

I've had numerous people approach me about how to bring traffic to their Web sites.  Of course, everyone wants more traffic, but is traffic volume really the ultimate goal?

Attracting and retaining the right audience is the most important consideration for any Web site, whether for a business, government, school, non-profit, or informational resource.  Without the right audience, there's no real purpose for a Web site.  Here’s a set of basic steps for getting a handle on understanding traffic quality.

First, determine your target audience.  If you organization has significant off-line operations, does your Web site target the same type of customer or a different one?  For example, a law firm may offer services in several facets of law but only promote one of them on their site, making their off-line marketing needs different from those on-line.

Second, find out the source of your traffic.  This is where a good traffic analytics tool can help out.  A popular and free tool for this is Google Analytics.  Think about the attributes that make up your desired traffic.  Is local traffic or regional traffic important?  Are you advertising on sites related to your industry?  How much traffic is coming from keyword advertisements versus natural searches?

The next question is perhaps the most important.  Which type of traffic is most valuable?  Again, an analytics tool can be used to track conversions.  A conversion is a specific action that the visitor is expected to make, such as purchasing one or more items, requesting more information or free written materials, or becoming a subscriber to a service offered.  Matching conversion rate to traffic types is critical to a site’s success.  Which would you rather have – 10000 hits per month with a 1% conversion rate or 3000 hits per month with a 7% conversation rate?  I'll take the higher quality traffic any day of the week!

Finally, consider whether the current traffic aligns with the strategy of the site.  There are three possibilities: 1) traffic does not align well and produces poor conversions, 2) traffic does align well and produces good conversions, or 3) traffic aligns well in an unintended area yet still products good conversions.  The third scenario is intriguing.  I’ve seen a number of situations where a site generates quality organic search traffic based on keywords or themes not previously considered.  After additional research, it’s possible that this traffic arrives because the topic is poorly represented in search results, meaning that it could be ripe for exploitation on your site by adding more related content.

Web site traffic generation is more that just an exercise in "playing the numbers".  Web site visitors know when they’ve found a site with quality content that separates itself from those that favor extreme traffic generation.  Those visitors will be the most loyal, buying goods and services and returning in the future for more great content.  Understanding how to identify, track and measure your exposure to this target audience is crucial to an effective web site.


Custom Reporting in Google Analytics

by demtron on Thursday, November 13, 2008 09:36 AM
Google recently began offering a beta test version of their custom reporting tool for Google Analytics.  With this enhancement, Analytics just got a whole lot better.

Like any reporting tool, one common complaint with Analytics has been Google’s limitations on reporting data with multiple variables or criteria.  The Customer Reporting feature is a way to move beyond the canned reports supplied by Google and create one that fit specific business needs.

Custom reports are made first by picking dimensions and metrics.  A dimension is an attribute (time of day, geographic location, or page name) to report on.  There is sometimes confusion between dimensions and metrics.  One easy way to remember the difference is that a dimension is like a column title (like "city") and metrics are the numbers that appear in the column (like the number of hits generated from that city).

Any metric can be chosen for reporting.  One important point to note is that not all dimensions can be paired with all metrics.  Google supplies a chart to identify which pairings are possible.  There are some combinations, such as network location, page names, and visits that would be highly useful but aren’t possible.

All in all, this is a great additional to the free Google Analytics tool that is a "must learn" for those that are serious about using Analytics as a reporting tool.

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