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By Jim Gerland and Mark Winer

Check out our bi-weekly Net perspective. Our goal is to make these columns useful for our readers whether they be novice or pro, while still offering a fun to read column. Feel free to let us know what Internet resources you find useful in your personal, educational, or business life - it might just end up in one of our columns!

Evaluating Your Web Site
November 14, 1997

Recently, we gave a presentation to the Manufacturing Group of the WNY Technology Development Center on the topic "Evaluating Your Web Site". We thought it would be a good idea to share some of what we talked about with our readers. The presentation was based on the question "I've had a company web site for about a year, now what?".

One of the first questions we ask any prospective client is "Why do you want to put your company on the Internet?". Usually the answers range from "I read in a magazine that I have to be on the 'net" or "my competition already has a web site" or "my boss told me we should be on the 'net". In some cases these reasons may be justifiable, but each company needs to look further into the reasons for developing a web site.

Many companies develop a web presence in the hopes of saving money. They see the ability to make company information available to millions of people as an attractive alternative or complement to an 800 number staffed by individuals who must manually process requests internally and through the US mail system. This can be a very expensive process both in real costs
and employee time. If your company got on the 'net to save money now might be a good time to look at whether you've actually seen any savings. Have you noticed a reduction in the number of phone calls looking for information that is available on
your web site? Are you looking at the phone calls you do receive with an eye towards adding this information to your web site? Evaluating your web site and updating it should be a continuous process, not just a "once a year" activity. Keep in mind that not every company will notice cost reductions or increased sales from their web site but most will notice increased customer awareness from this additional marketing effort.

One of the best tools for evaluating your web site is your "Monthly Hit Report". We were amazed to find out that only about 5% of our audience was receiving activity reports for their web sites.

This report contains lots of valuable information about your web site including how many times each of your web pages were requested, where those requests came from, what day and time they were requested, and what type of web browsers are being used to view those pages. This information is written to a log file on your Web Presence Provider's server every time any of your web pages get displayed over the Internet.

From looking through your Hit Report you can determine whether the pages you want people to see are indeed the ones that are being viewed. What's the point of developing an area of your web site if people aren't finding and using the information that you're offering. If an important web page is not being viewed you should look at your site and try and figure out why. Do you need to make that page more prominent and easier to find in your site?

Your Hit Report can also give you a good idea of where people are finding your web site. This feature of your Hit Report is called the "Referrer Section". Each time a request comes in for one of your pages the web server makes an entry into its log file detailing the date and time, the requesting domain name, the page requested, and the web address that "referred" your site. This is valuable information because it can tell you whether folks are finding you through one of the major search engine databases, from their personal bookmarks, or from a line on a related web site. This is particularly important if you are participating in a
"reciprocal link" program, where you have traded links with another web site. If you're paying real money for a link on some other web site offers a sure way of making sure your investment was worth it.

Another important piece of information your Hit Report tells you is the type of web browsers people are using to view you web site. If you've designed a site that has tables, or frames, or active elements and other "high-end" features you want to be sure that the majority of people visiting your site can use it. If you find that a large number of visitors are using a text browser (such as Lynx) or older versions of Netscape or Internet Explorer (previous to version 3.0) you should re-evaluate your design and perhaps tailor it to include that audience.

After you have assessed the status of your web site's success or shortcomings, you may choose to add new sections, or delete useless pages. You may also consider taking your site in a new direction, whether it be graphical changes, or new navigational strategies. Whatever it is you've done, hopefully you feel strong about your site's capabilities.

In a future column we'll look at how to increase the traffic to your web site and share some of our tips for marketing your web site.

Finally, we want to continue to help you utilize the Internet in your life. Let us know what you're interested in and we'll check it out. You can email  us, , or fax us, (716) 853-1350 and let us know what's happening on the Internet in WNY or any computing related activities you're involved with.