The Best Free Website Monitoring ToolsWednesday, July 23rd, 2008
Once you have understood the importance of monitoring your website, you need to find software that will allow you to do so effectively. There is a wide variety of tools available on the market, but here we highlight some that stand out from the crowd.
The two main methods of monitoring your website are log analysis and page tagging. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, though page tagging is increasingly popular due to easy set-up and more detailed monitoring capabilities.
There is software that can read the records (log files) of your web server and extract statistics. This software has to be installed on your server and then analyzes the data that is produced as visitors request files and interact with your server.
There are four main free options available, one or more of which are often pre-installed by web hosts (including Real Free Websites!):
Screenshot of AWStats results page
- Powerful software that displays statistics in an attractive manner
- Produces fast and simple reports, but is no longer in active development
- Software that is aimed at a more technical audience
- Another option offering powerful anaylsis
Screenshot of Google Analytics results page by veen
- Google Analytics
- The big player in the pack and a free offering from Google, this provides extensive statistics, in a user-friendly format
- Also free for smaller websites and claims to offer more features than Google Analytics, including live search results. However, for the free version, you are required to put a small image on your website
- Another free option that requires an image on your website. It also offers paid versions with more features
- Open Web Analytics
- A mature open source alternative. It offers all the benefits of open source, including being free, and fully customizable, but setting it up requires some technical ability and MySQL database and PHP support
- Another open source solution with similar benefits and technical requirements.
Whereas the above software is general purpose, the following software is more specialized and does not offer comprehensive statistics, but they can complement or be used to verify other tracking methods:
Screenshot of HitTail results page
- There is a limited free service that allows you to visually see which areas of your webpages are receiving the most clicks
- They offer a simple version that tracks searches in real time for free.
If you use a third-party tool that sends data to another server, you are sharing statistics about your visitors and your website, and, as a result, your business, with whoever is providing that service. This is why Google, for instance, has invested so much in Google Analytics - Google thrives off data, and as many have chosen to use this free tool, Google now has a rich flow of information flooding into their hands. “Knowledge is power”. If keeping your website usage data private is important to you, then you should choose software that is installed on your own server or software that clearly states that your data will be kept private.
Also worth noting is that in Google’s terms of service, Google reserves the right to charge for the service:
Google may change its fees and payment policies for the Service from time to time
Most, if not all, of the commercial software will have similar stipulations. This is something to consider before becoming dependent on any one tool, and is another argument in favor of installing multiple monitoring software.
One final point is that proprietary software also means that the provider will decide what information should be collected and how. Normally, this will be fine for most users, but you may want greater flexibility in using your data. If you want your information analyzed differently, you will have to switch provider or choose an open source model, which will allow you to write your own code.
The solution to this lack of accuracy? There is no bulletproof answer, but if you use multiple tools, you can take an average reading and be confident you are close.
Do you need help installing one of these tools? Real Free Websites can help.