Vital Web Stats—And More

WebTrends reporting center and SiteCatalyst allow organizations to learn how a site is really used.

How many hits are we getting? Which are the most popular pages on our site? Where are visitors coming from?

These are the most common questions Web site administrators have on a daily basis about their site. But when it comes down to improving the site for visitors, knowing how your site is really used and getting rid of waste in the site, a lot more information is necessary.

There are many technologies for analyzing and reporting on the massive amount of information generated by busy Web sites. These range from traditional log file analyzers to network sniffers to agents installed on the Web server to services that receive information whenever a page is accessed.

Most small sites can get by with simple tools that answer only the most basic questions. However, large content and e-commerce sites, as well as those in large enterprises, require applications that can provide detailed, flexible analysis capabilities.

For this review, eWeek Labs looked at two products that provide high-level analysis and reporting but take very different approaches.

Representing traditional log file analyzers is the venerable and popular WebTrends Reporting Center 5.0 from NetIQ Corp., a powerful and flexible system that is a far cry from its early days as a simple Windows-only application. For service providers, we looked at SiteCatalyst 8.0 from Omniture Inc. (formerly MyComputer Inc.). SiteCatalyst, which works by receiving information from scripts embedded in pages on a Web site, provides a wide and customizable set of reporting and analysis tools that give sites feedback in real time.

Both products and approaches to Web site analysis have distinct benefits and disadvantages that companies will have to weigh when evaluating them. For some, the convenience and real-time reports of the service offering will outweigh the lack of local control and potential security problems. Others will prefer the centralized control and flexibility of the log analyzer despite its less-than-real-time reporting and the hassle of managing very large log files.