Web stats programs tend to have different purposes and give different results. I don’t worry too much about the discrepancies between the various programs because comparing say Google Analytics with Webalizer or AWStats doesn’t make sense as it is like comparing a speedometer with a rev counter.
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On any particular day a website could have 90 visitors reported in Google Analytics, 170 visitors in AWStats and 220 visitors in Webalizer – but there are good reasons for the different figures.
A Real Example – Google Analytics, Webalizer and AWStats Visitor Numbers
For example, on 15th July, these two sites had the following stats.
|Stats Package||Time Zone Used||Unique Visits Recorded|
|Stats Package||Time Zone Used||Unique Visits Recorded|
This means that the point of data collection is different – for Google Analytics data is collected on the visitor’s browser (and we know how many of those there are with their infinite configuration, version, platform and addon possibilities), and for the others the data is collected on one single place – your webserver.
In fact, all three may even collect daily data in different time zones so ‘days’ begin and end at different times if you host your site in a different time zone to the one you live in. Your Google Account will most likely be in your local time zone, and your server based reports will be based on the server’s time zone.
Think about that for a moment. In the case of Google Analytics data collected from many thousands of your visitors, from a wide variety of locations and in the other, the information is passively collected in one location, directly from your webserver. And further, there is the possibility of time zone discrepancies. It is obvious that the data cannot possibly yield the same answers.
How Google Analytics Determines Visitor Numbers
- Google Analytics relies on the website owner adding special code to each page of their website. This is easy to do when you use a CMS like WordPress to build sites, but not everyone does of course. Consequently, some sites may not have the appropriate Google Analytics code placed on every page. This would cause inaccuracies if visits to some pages were not recorded because the code just isn’t there.
- Even if a site does have the Google Analytics code on all its pages, if the site loads slowly, the Google Analytics code may not have a chance to run. This can be the case if the code is placed at the bottom of the page (as we’re advised to do).
- Google Analytics relies on cookies to work out a number of things about a visitor. Cookies determine for example, if a visitor is a new one or a returning visitor and also allow Google Analytics to figure out how long a visitor’s visit lasts amongst other things. So, if a user cleans out his cookies, or if he doesn’t allow them to be dropped, Google Analytics will inaccurately record his visit.
- Google Analytics does not record search engine bots and other crawlers on your site. This is good because you then don’t get robot visits confused with human visits. It means you need to look at your server logs if you want to understand which robots are visiting your site and where all your bandwidth is going. For this Webalizer or AWstats is perfect (you’ve just found a reason to use both types of statistics program).
- Google Analytics starts counting a new visit after a 30 minute delay between visits. So if you visit a site, then go to lunch for 31 minutes, then come back to browsing the same site, that will count as two visits.
- You get under-counting of visits in Google Analytics because not everyone allows Google Analytics to run on their browsers and because the old synchronous Google code (which many people are still running), if placed at the bottom of all your pages may not load before your visitor leaves. To fix the code issue, make sure you use the newer asynchronous code for your Analytics.
Google Analytics is a tool for website owners to market their sites online. It helps you understand where an indivudal visitor came from, how they found you, what they did on your site, how engaging they found your content to be, how they left your site and which website goals were acheived. With this information you can make changes to your site to further optimize it for marketing, sales or other conversion.
How AWStats Determines Visitor Numbers
- AWStats interprets your server log files and as such it defines what it thinks a visitor is, based solely on IP address and user agent. So if something visits several pages on your site with a user agent indicating it is a browser such as Firefox say, and on a single IP address, then that will count as a human visitor to AWStats. But if the user agent is GoogleBot, it will be defined as a robot and not count as a human visitor.
- However, some robots don’t identify themselves and although AWStats tries to keep a database of known robots, it can’t know them all. Sometimes robots are counted as human visitors and sometimes, a person who visits a site on a number of different IP addresses in the same session will count as more than one visitor too. And if someone views a page they looked at yesterday or last week (and it’s in their browser cache), AWStats won’t measure their visit at all.
- You can use it to see how much bandwidth various robots and crawlers are using, and where they come from. It is useful for finding out who is crawling your site, not how your vsiitors behave (or even what a visitor is) once on your site.
- The other thing is that without cookies to help it determine which visitor is which on the same IP, AWstats uses a period of time of 60 minutes to gauge a visit. So if one person visits for 30 minutes, then 35 minutes later, visits again, this counts as one visit. But if they visit now for 55 minutes and then visit again 10 minutes later this counts as two visits.
- Mostly, however, you get over-counting of visits on AWStats due to the mis-identification of robot visits as human visits.
AWStats isn’t a marketing tool. But it does allow you to get a good understanding of visitor numbers from both humans and robots, and how much bandwith is being used. You might also be able to detect if someone is hotlinking to your images or document files too, and taking your bandwidth that way. It is a tool for network adminstrators more than marketers. AWStats won’t help you with conversion issues, website goals, nor measure the effectiveness of your SEO or marketing campaigns.
How Webalizer Determines Visitor Numbers
- Webalizer works in a similar way to AWStats – in that it interprets server logfiles. In my tests it consistently reported more visitors than either Google Analytics, or AWStats. The main reason for this this that it doesn’t try by default, to differentiate between robot and human visits. So when people have been used to Webalizer, and then get Google Analytics, they are often perplexed by the steep (apparent) drop in traffic.
- Webalizer sets a visit at 30 minutes duration, rather than AWStsts’ 60 minutes. So more vists will be recorded due to this fact alone.
- You can set Webalizer up to ignore certain spiders or robots, but maybe this isn’t worth doing as you can’t eliminate them all so why bother?
Like AWStats, Webalizer isn’t a marketing tool. It does however provide a simple answer to the question – where has all my bandwidth gone? By default, it lumps all visitors together – human and robot and has only a 30 minute visitor window. It is hardly surprising the numbers it reports are generally higher than those reported by Google Analytics and AWStats.