Web Analysis Services: SmarterStats vs. Google Analytics

An important part of maintaining and optimizing your website involves keeping an eye on your traffic. You need to know what users are looking for when they come to your site, how long they stay, the last page they visit before they leave, and the average amount of time spent on your site. This information is irreplaceably helpful when it comes to highlighting areas that might need improvement or successful page designs you might want to emulate throughout your website. The two most popular services for this analysis are Google Analytics and SmarterStats. The main difference between the two is that Google Analytics is a script-based analyzer, while SmarterStats is a log-based analyzer. What does this mean? We have complied a comparison of facts to help you make the educated and informed decision that will best service your website’s specific needs.

Features unique to SmarterStats:

SmarterStats has the advantage of being managed and installed on your own server and can still be used on firewall-protected corporate internet, reassuring you that you are receiving the whole picture of the statistics. It is able to reprocess historical data from log files and locally process or reprocess log files. It reports on spider and bot activity, server errors, and status codes. SmarterStats provides access to raw data for custom report building, uses SEO reports for analyzing search engine ranking, and offers analysis of competitor reports.

Features unique to Google Analytics:

Google Analytics is able to collect information through tags and uses its integration with Google AdWords to gather more information. It provides Real Time user data, goal configuration and tracking, and visitor flow report.

Features shared by SmarterStats and Google Analytics:

Both analysis services are able to report on paid search campaigns, banner and traditional marketing campaigns, and offer geo-targeted reporting. They analyze visitor session and navigation paths. Additionally both services offer free versions of their programs. The SmarterStats free version limits the use to a single site and one SEO campaign. Google Analytics free version has a limited amount of pageviews it will track. Larger sites with high traffic are required to purchase more of a package.

When it comes to accuracy, Google Analytics can misrepresent or underreport some statistics. The two services process data at different intervals, with Google Analytics using a 30-minute window while SmarterStats uses a 5-minute. Google Analytics only records data on pages with a tracking code. When it all boils down, SmarterStats is more accurate because it reports every request to the server instead of just what tracking code tags.

Blogging In a Nutshell – Part 2

Last article we explored different types of content to create and how to schedule when blog posts go out. If you missed our little introduction, jump back a few days to learn about forming original content for your blog.

Driving Traffic

In business you know that if you have a good product you can create a brand, business, store front – the whole nine – around your product. Buzz is created by your store’s physical location and buzz around your product by word of mouth from passer-byes or customers. It is far more difficult to attain reputation or recognition by passer-byes without a physical location. An example of a passer-by on the internet would be someone who uses a search engine and finds upon your blog – even if by mistake -they read some of your content and have an opinion about it. Whether they share their opinion on your blog, another means online (sharing on social networks) or discuss it offline, all methods create some level of attention around your content.

Similar to traditional media: distribution or syndication is the top communication channel to generate traffic to your blog. There are several ways to go about attaining syndication or distribution. First and foremost, know that Associated Press is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, content provider in the world. (They are a non-profit co-op and depending on the size of your organization and network, they will require a fee to add your content to their regular postings and provide you with access to their content and photos.) While not a requirement to be syndicated by AP, if your content is relevant for them, it won’t hurt your chances of driving traffic.

The simplest ways to distribute your content are easy, cost effective and steps you should take any way to help build your brand (even if you do not write a blog). First, create a dynamic sitemap; most blogging platforms will do this for you. WordPress, for example, has a series of plug-ins available to automatically (and dynamically) publish a sitemap that can be consumed by Google (and other major search providers). Next, claim your blog on syndication sites like Technorati and Google Blog Search, it’s simple to set up an account and both services will pull your posts daily (or by an interval you can set) so your newest content will always be syndicated. Lastly, any social networks (anywhere) that exist to support your company, blog, content or articles approach them about referencing your material, or post quality comments to their content linking back to your material. While link exchanging is seen as a careless method to generate search engine optimization value, having related content will help readers genuinely interested in a topic to find your blog.

Blogging In a Nutshell – Part 1

There are two primary objectives for blog articles: make a point and encourage discussion among readers. For business, there is a third overarching objective: self-promotion. The key to any blog you probably already know: original solid content. With original content your blog will draw an audience; that audience will revisit your blog which will foster discussion around your content. Over the next few days we will briefly discuss in detail how to form original content, followed briefly by means to drive traffic and finally how to foster discussion around your blog articles.

As you are already aware the key to blogging is having original content, good content that your target audience will want to read. Users are able to find the information they want and able to dismiss irrelevant content faster; users bore easier: with tons of resources at their disposal, users will spend 30 to 60 seconds skimming through headlines and initial paragraphs before abandoning your site. For example, at this point in the article, if the content you were looking for is not outlined or easy to find, attention spans are lost. The challenge is in creating and frequently providing content that will keep the attention of your audience. The solution is in planning. There are three types of articles your blog content should be focused on: multi-part series, weekly industry-relevant single posts and ad hoc one-off content.

Forming Original Content

A multi-part series, much like this one, will involve a tutorial, how-to or extended analysis of a technique, software or event. The series should actually be written all at once and broken into smaller consumable pieces after the initial composition. Most blogging software allows users to post-date their articles, which lends itself to a multi-part series very well. The content is already completed and by staggering out the launch dates, what was one longer article is now 5 articles and consumed as regular content for readers.

Each week, post something about what’s going on in your universe or in your industry, something your readers will relate to and already be reading about elsewhere. Weekly industry-relevant single posts are simply reviews, recaps, predictions or brief analysis of a current event or software launch pertinent to your audience. These types of posts are not time-sensitive. For instance a piece of industry news, such as software launch from Google, can be posted a day or two after the actual event takes place. In this example, the author should appropriately evaluate the software, any supporting information from Google’s regular media channels and if possible other bloggers’ reactions to the release of said software; these steps to establish content will allow a higher likelihood of generating solid content. Try to avoid just posting a link with one or two lines of your opinion. For these weekly-posts, try to put some more thought and opinion into your content.

Ad hoc posts should focus on at least one of two things: an account of “here and now” events or brief snippets of information sharing. Micro-blogging, while a concept not covered in detail here, is the act of sharing a link or references to another piece of information – more notably seen and experienced through the deployment of Twitter. Ad hoc posts are similar to micro-blogging: there is an event, an article or some piece of content not featured (or perhaps relevant) to your regular content; talk about it, feature it along with up to five sentences of your own opinion/insight/content. For example, if your blog is about web-based software and you want to feature an announcement about Microsoft’s Sync system, while not directly relevant to your usual topic of discussion an appropriate ad hoc post would: (1) link to the announcement with (2) a few short sentences about why the article is interesting to your audience.

The first key thing to remember is that you are creating solid original content. Your content will entice viewership and greater viewership means more opportunity for discussion. The second key point is having a variety of content. By having three types of posts – regular, one-off and right-now – the content provided to users varies in format enough to be interesting. All three types are essential: regular content users to depend on and expect large-scale content in digestible segments; weekly content allows users to count on and expect relevant regular content; ad hoc posts are the backbone for fresh content in their frequency and tangential relevance.

Scheduling Blog Content

The final challenge when focused on writing a blog is scheduling: when do you write content and when do you post content? Many blogging platforms have the advantage of being able to set the date and time for content to post (similar to full-blown newswires). This works to post content at a previous date and time as well as scheduling when a post will go live in the future. (Briefly: the only reason I would justify launching content at a previous date is to establish credibility during the initial launch of a blog – allowing for simulated longevity of content upon the blog’s launch; however this would demand future posts link and reference the pre-dated posts.) The latter scheduling concept is more pertinent: create content that will be posted at some date in the future. Newspapers used to have multi-editions per day: early morning, mid-morning afternoon, late afternoon and evening, sometimes more; Associated Press often posts out a flurry of articles at 1:00am each morning. Creating content now and planning for a story launch is a perfectly acceptable means of communication through your blog.

Goals for your blog, while not covered in detail here, should include the frequency of your posts. Before you launch your blog, you must have content. You should be prepared to launch your blog with three weeks’ worth of content: one set of content for the week prior to launch date, one set of content for the week of your launch and a final set of content for the week following your launch. At a minimum, the regular articles (the multi-part series or weekly-industry content) should be scheduled and finalized a week ahead of their launch. This way, if your new content is delayed a day or two your users are not affected. By writing content at least a week ahead of time, you allow yourself the flexibility to accommodate your real life. Real life happens: car breaks down, mother-in-law comes to town, and your dog ate your blog. While your readers’ real lives may affect how often they are able to read your content they have no empathy or mercy if your real life got in the way of their content. Your blog lives and dies by its content, no content means no life.

Next we talk about driving traffic to your blog.