Three Options for Better Usage Data

The usage data reports in WSS and MOSS aren’t terribly useful. I’ve been meaning to find an alternative for awhile and a couple weeks ago a convergence of events drove me to it.

As I mentioned in an earlier post I have a small ecommerce site now and the search engine optimization process is ongoing. I’m using a canned solution that supports Google Analytics. Around the same time the rug store opened, a friend suggested I consider using FeedBurner for my blog. Like Google Analytics, FeedBurner provides some analytics and, most importantly for me, re-syndicates a blog’s list feed. After a few days of using both out of curiosity I took a look at a third option, a web log analyzer. The one I chose after a 5 second internet search is called WebLog Expert.

Both Google Analytics and FeedBurner work by inserting a little Java Script into your site that calls into their services using an identifier that identifies your web site. Both are free and both are owned by Google. Configuration was relatively easy by following the instructions provided by each.

I started by configuring the SharePoint blog for FeedBurner.

With it I can see at a glance how many people are visiting the blog,

what pages they look at while they are here,

and where they came from and if they clicked on any outgoing links.

My only real complaint about the FeedBurner data is that the "Top 20" mode most of the data displays use has no drilldown. So, in cases where you have a lot of instances, like search terms or referrers, that are all tied at 1 each you can’t see all of the information.

I configured FeedBurner on the blog site as its features are all about blogs. But, I have a site collection, and if you look at the incoming report you will see that one of the referrers listed is with 11 referrals. So, the FeedBurner data is incomplete with regards to my whole site.

I configured Google Analytics for the site collection by putting the appropriate java script in the master pages for the root web and the blog.

Analytics provides much more detail and some cool eye candy!

I could spend a lot of time talking about Google Analytics feature set. It has a lot to offer and it’s free. You can see in detail where visitors come from, what brought them there, how they navigated your site, what links they followed, etc. It even offers an overlay of your site that allows you to visually gauge the popularity of your links and the navigation paths. I highly recommend it.

But still, there was one important element of my site that neither of these tools could give me much any insight.

The reason I went to FeedBurner in the first place was to re-syndicate and get information about my RSS Feed.

FeedBurner is great for this compared to SharePoint because it offers no visibility to the list feed at all, but all I can see on FeedBurner are the stats of subscribers since I configured FeedBurner.

This brought me to option three, web log analysis.

When you create a web application in Central Admin, the IIS web site is configured for logging.

For some reason, the log is not configured to store information about referrers by default. You can change this by clicking Properties and selecting the appropriate check boxes.

The biggest advantage to doing web log analysis is that it doesn’t require any special java script on your site and it doesn’t depend on tracking cookies. Your ability to visualize the data is limited only by the tools you select. The disadvantage is that you have to have administrator access to the server to configure it. Higher end tools support report generation and routing. So if you are in a large organization, chances are there is something available and you might be able to talk the folks in the operations center into getting you the data if you ask.

I used a tool called WebLog Expert. Via the web logs it provides the same sort of information I get for Google Analytics, but it gives the most complete and accurate data.

For example,

For now I think I’ll continue to use all three tools as each has strengths the others lack.

I’ve learned a few things from my analysis.

The first is that my request for people to switch to the FeedBurner list feed on October 2nd was completely ignored! As you can see from the chart, the original list feed still accounts for around half of my traffic. However, because the rss links no longer point to it, it isn’t growing.

The second was that I almost never used the term ‘MOSS’ and so unless the search was ‘WSS’ or ‘SharePoint’ people would not find me.

Third, this truly is a World Wide Web. I’ve had a lot of fun with my 5 year old daughter looking at the map overlay to see where our visitors come from and she is learning a little geography in the process!