It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.
George Bernard Shaw
If you are site owner, chances are you have tools to measure and understand the traffic. There is a need to sense how the traffic is working, since this information is used to take strategical decisions and making ‘your next move’. If you are a blog owner, the information is just a termomether to sense your sucess. If you are running a web business, accurate information would allow taking better business decisions, and making your business more profitable.
For other side, you will be confronted with many options to understand your data. I mean, many of them. For the sake of simplicity, I will narrow the spectrum to a few, analyzing three different categories and picking a representative software of each one:
- Log File Analyzers: these tools parses and summarizes activity from web logs. Our candidate will be AWStats
- Statistics Plugins for WordPress: analyzes and summarizes real-time data from the site. Candidate: StatComm
- Statistics Services: This is a Remote Hosted Services, the service captures data from the site and then this information is sent to a remote server for further analysis. Our candidate: Google Analytics.
So, let’s answer this question and see where we going:
Google Analytics provides decent functionality and data, but how much more value is there when compared to StatComm or when using AWStats? .
I will proceed in reverse order, moving from the software closest to the server to the farther.
AWstats is an open source log analyzer based on Perl language that can use a variety of log formats and runs on a variety of operating systems. AWstats main purpose is to provide information to system administrators rather than website business owners, or business on the web, which means that making sense of AWstats data for marketing/business purposes is not very straightforward (at least not recommended). Moreover, the reports are matematically correct but the raw data doesn’t tell you anything about the website behavior and valuable stats to improve your efforts.
Should you compare figures of AWstats with StatComm and GA like, you’ll notice that AWstats figures will be much larger. An important reason for this is the fact that AWstats detects search engine bots that access (crawl) your website to learn more about its content, link structure etc., whereas GA can’t detect this type of traffic (but the statistics plugins can). These days, crawl stats are far less important than back in the past. Examples are Google Webmaster tools and Yahoo! Site Explorer.
Let’s see the Key Factors for this tools:
Target: System Administrators.
Business & Marketing Decision Taker: Low
- Log File Parsers have the highest accuracy since they can process all the information. Nothing escapes to its eye.
- You are the data owner.
- No realtime data. Logs files has to be processed before seeing any reports.
- No relevant data for making market or business decisions.
- Pretty basic reports right to System administrators.
Overall: AWStats will provide the highest accuracy information though the reports are concise oriented for system administrators and away for business-oriented minded.
Statcomm and statistics plugins
If you have a WordPress site, is likely you are using some statistics plugin in your plugins collection. There are plenty options to be considered, just go and look on the repository for free versions of Statpress and alike, Wp-slimstats and Wassup to name a few.
StatComm belongs to the StatPress breed. The plugins get a presence in the playground between AWStats and Google Analytics in terms of features and functionality, providing some unique characteristics like real time information about visitors , realtime filtering, user tracking and more.
The way the plugins captures the data differs from plugin to plugin, but basically they capture and filters the incoming traffic, storing the relevant data. This information is not as detailed and accurate as AWStats but it can be accurate enough to be used as source for analytics engines. In fact, the plugins usually provide a way to adjust filters and drop/clean anything considered useless.
For a web site owner, this kind of plugin provides enough information for the day by day operation. Web analysts can take advantage of the hystoric data to make a short and medium-term decisions.
Target: Web site owners. Entry level marketers and Web analysts.
Business & Marketing Decision Taker: Average
- Real time data for right-now decisions such user tracking.
- Stored data can be used to feed analytical engines and making business/marketing decisions.
- You are the data owner.
- Not as accurated as AWStats.
- Business inteligence in early stages, though the data stored can be used for such purposes.
- Data can take lot of space.
Overall: Nowadays, statistics plugins provides an excellent way for watching site health. With adequate tools the information can provide a very valuable business guidance. Watch plugin evolution going into GA playground.
Whereas AWstats is purely a log analysis tool, and stats plugins are something in between and expanding, Statistics Services are intended to give a measure of business (website) performance and provides you with statistics that you, as a business person, will want to see. With current web analytics tools (of which Google Analytics is a big player today) we’re moving into a grey area between website statistics on one hand and business intelligence on the other.
To be clear, when we are in the field of business analytics, the 100% accuracy, although desiderable, is not needed. What we need is reliable data to reach good business decisions. If we discard the untracked data, we still get enough results to make good business decisions.
Let’s see the Key Factors:
Target: Web marketers and web analysts. Web owners will find GA useful, though to take advantage I suggest you to dig into this tool.
Accuracy: Average. With a careful site configuration, the information collected will be completely reliable and the potential info lost won’t be worth it.
Business & Marketing Decision Taker: High
- Tool of choice when business making is a must.
- You don’t have to deal with storage issues, since data is stored outside your web.
- Relatively lowest trustable data, but is important to mention that in general, the information lost (less than 5%) is completely acceptable for decision-making.
- If you are starting a web site, it will take a while before seeing any relevant information
- Needs a good site web configuration to assure data is always generated and collected.
- You are not the data owner (though you can import it)
Overall: GA provides the most powerful way to make business decisions, though you would learn from the tool to fully take advantage. Weight the pro-cons to consider it.
So which is the best?
This question has to be rephrased for: What is your main need? What is your target? Who are you? Depending on the answers, you will be find one tool more useful than the other.
Although they are three different tools, their functionality is overlapped and the user target is different. Each tool has his strong and weak points and those qualities are directly related with its expertise area.
Choose AWstats if your field tends to be:
- System Administrators
- Forensic analysis to understand potential problem.
- Metrics about bandwidth, and raw data not related directly with business process inside the site.
Choose StatComm if your field is:
- Web site owner, first-level business decision taker.
- Making short to medium business choices
- Needs to complement your business vision with realtime data.
Choose Google Analytics if your field is:
- Web Business
- Business / Marketing decisions driving.
- Trend analysis.
- Keep the three tools working for different analysis.
- Set up Google Analytics if you’re serious about finding out more about what’s happening on your website on the medium and long term and how you can improve it in order to increase profitability. GA needs enough data to start analyzing (it is not just data for right now to be analyzed within half an hour ) so be patient specially the first days.
- Have your systems administrator set up AWstats if it’s not already being used and request at least 4-6 months of the most recent data to get an idea of the stats that it provides. AWstats can save your ass if you run into technical problems.
- Install StatComm and keep it running. That would help you in a day-by-day decisions and for a quick status of your traffic.
Your complete vision should be a data-mix from this three tools. Depending your field, you will rely more on tool than the other, but remember that the information should be complementary to make a complete scenario for your web, network and business.