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Using your server logs to boost sales and revenue 

In a previous article, I described how to interpret your server logs - a very important part of your online business strategy. Reviewing your logs is a task you should definitely make time for. 

What is a server log?

A server log is basically just a text file that records every request made to your site - each page, each image on a page, each element creates a request and these are individually recorded on a single line in a log.

Many locally hosted and desktop stats applications simply parse (geek for "analyze") this data in order to provide statistics that are easy to read. 

Graphical statistics applications are great for getting at-a-glance data, but poring over your server logs provides so much more valuable information.

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Most web hosts provide access to a general log and if you're really lucky, you'll also have access to an error log, which just records problems that occur; very helpful in quickly identifying errors. If you're not sure on how to access your logs, ask your web host.

Aside from telling you how people are finding your site, what pages they are viewing, where they are coming from, what keywords they used and other juicy tidbits; your server logs can also tell you what people aren't finding for whatever reason - and these problems can be costing you sales and revenue - big time.

404 errors cost sales

A very recent example I experienced was where one the pages on a site I'm working on captured the notice of someone who then posted a link on a social bookmarking site and in their blog. Social bookmarking sites can generate a *lot* of traffic - you can learn more about this in my article; "the social bookmarking effect".

It's always great to get these sorts of links, but I was alerted to it via an entry in my error log which looked something like this:

192.168.1.1 - - [01/Nov/2007:02:35:53] "GET /wrongpage.htm HTTP/1.0" 404 314 "http:/example.com" "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1;  Firefox/1.0.6"

The problem was the wrong link was posted which generated a 404 (file not found - indicated in bold italics above) error on the site -  A more detailed breakdown and description of the various elements server log entries can be viewed in my article; "interpreting server logs

How this was possible I'm not sure as most social bookmarking sites check URL's before they can be submitted. Anyhow, this was generating thousands of 404 errors and even though I already had a custom error page up; it's certainly not the same as having folks land on the right page. Much of that traffic was simply disappearing.

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To address this, it was just a matter of adding a 301 redirect to my .htaccess file e.g.

redirect 301 /wrongpage.htm http://www.y.com/rightpage.htm 

Everyone now winds up where they should be and "kaching" for me - more revenue. Everyone wins!

While the above may sound all a little complex for someone who's relatively new to running a site, by reading the articles linked to in this article, you'll find this is all pretty easy to do.

This is just one of many scenarios where reviewing your server logs regularly can alert you to good and not-so-good things happening on your site. Armed with that information, you can take steps to maximize your advantage or remove a disadvantage.

Even if you're very busy, it really pays to occasionally take a peek at your raw logs to pick up on some issues your graphical stats application may not be telling you. Who knows, you may be losing sales right now due to a similar issue.

In this instance, 30 minutes work has literally returned many hundreds of dollars in added revenue in just a couple of weeks!

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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