Analyzing Your Web Site Traffic

Any company with an Internet presence wants to know whether its Web site is achieving the intended results. If a company doesn't know who is visiting its site, when they are visiting, and what parts of the site are the most popular, the company can't leverage its Web site to its maximum potential. If your company has given you the daunting task of selecting a product to perform Web log analysis, here are three Windows NT-based software packages to help you narrow the field.

WatchPoint 1.0 Enterprise Edition
AG Group's WatchPoint 1.0 Enterprise Edition is an interesting Web analysis product. The software comprises two parts: a Monitor service and a Console application. You install the Monitor service on the Web server or a computer on the same network wire (subnet) as the Web server, and you install the Console application on your desktop PC. The Monitor acts as a packet sniffer, analyzing all incoming and outgoing data.

Installing the Monitor service is easy; just run the setup program, and select the option to install the Monitor. After you accept the license agreement and enter your user information, you must specify which servers you want to monitor. In my case, I entered the virtual domains of my two Web sites ( http://www.f-body.org and http://www.y-body.org). Next, you select a password that lets the Console connect to the Monitor. You can change the password later through the Console application. After you complete these tasks, the program copies the files and installation completes. No reboot is necessary.

Installing the Console service is just as easy. Start the same installation program, but this time, choose the option to install the Console. After you accept the license agreement and enter your user information, the program copies the files and completes the installation. Again, no reboot is necessary.

The manual comes as a 95-page Portable Document Format (PDF) file on the CD-ROM. I prefer a printed manual with software. I find it frustrating to page through a file on my computer, and I dislike using half of a $30 inkjet cartridge if I want to print the .pdf file. That one gripe aside, the manual content is quite good, with many screen shots and step-by-step instructions for installation and use of the product's various features.

After you install WatchPoint, the Monitor service analyzes all Internet traffic going to and from your server. The program analyzes each packet and stores information in its log files. WatchPoint doesn't use the logs that your Web server generates. To speed up server operation and use less disk space, you can turn off the Web server logs if you have no other use for them. One important thing to mention is that WatchPoint stores its logs in a folder in the Monitor program’s installation directory. The program doesn't give you the option to place the folder elsewhere, and no setting exists to prevent the program from filling up your hard disk. I discovered this fact the hard way when my Web server crashed because of this problem. Keep an eye on your disk space.

The WatchPoint Console is a Java applet (whereas the Monitor is a standard program). You use the Console to view the data that the Monitor service collects. The fact that the Console is a Java applet doesn't affect how it operates, except that it uses single-clicks for most operations, where you would expect double-clicks.

To monitor Web and FTP server activity, you need to run the Console program. When you install WatchPoint for the first time, you must enter the DNS name or IP address of the server where you installed the Monitor service. Next, enter the password you chose during installation. If the password is correct, the name of your server will appear in the Console window. By default, the Console connects to the Monitor on ports 8189 and 8190. Although you can change the ports by modifying the configuration files of the Monitor and Console applications, I hope future versions of the product will let you change ports more easily. Also, after you enter a server name to monitor, you can't delete that server from the list; it's there for good. Because of experimentation, I have five servers listed--four are the same, and one is localhost (the default listing).

When you click the + sign next to the server that appears in the Console window, you'll see a list of options, as Screen 1 shows. Some have a + sign: HTTP Servers, FTP Servers, Report Generation; and some are individual options: All Network Traffic, Monitor Stats, Configuration, and Disconnect. The HTTP option expands to list HTTP Server Comparisons plus the URLs you entered when you installed the Monitor. FTP lists any FTP sites you've entered, and Report Generation expands to Single-Server HTML Reports and Multi-Server HTML Reports.

Clicking the URL to one of the Web sites under the HTTP Servers menu opens the Time Window Summary. As you see in Screen 2, this window displays a graph showing transactions with the server, broken into All Transactions, HTML Transactions, HTML Entry Transactions, and Unique IP Addresses. The default display is for Today, and you can select options for This Week or This Month from the drop-down Time Window. The graph scale runs from midnight to midnight, current to the present time of day. You can refresh the graph at any time by clicking the Refresh button.

Down the left side of the window are four categories of display items, each with a group of options: Usage (Top Pages Served, Top Entry Pages, Top Referrers, Browser Types, IP Tracking); Errors (Error Types, Top Errors Served, Offsite Referrer Errors); Network (Response Times, Protocol Breakdown, Network Utilization); and Transactions (General, By Method, By MIME Type). This myriad of options and the ability to view these options with updated results at the click of a button differentiates WatchPoint from other Web analysis tools. For example, if I click Top Referrers, this selection defaults to the top 10 referring sites. I see that the site sending the most traffic to my Web site is http://www.c5-corvette.com; that site has sent 861 visitors to my site so far this week. The area below the referring sites list shows the various pages on that site that contain links to my site. I don't recall seeing this much detail in any other Web log analysis tool.

You can also generate HTML reports from the data the WatchPoint Monitor stores. If your Web server is multihomed, choose Multi-Server HTML Reports. Otherwise, choose Single-Server HTML Reports from Report Generation in the first screen. The program quickly generates a report containing all the selectable information in the Console application.

WatchPoint 1.0 Enterprise Edition
Contact: AG Group * 925-937-7900
Web: http://www.aggroup.com
Price: $1000 for the Standard Edition; $3000 for the Enterprise Edition
System Requirements: Pentium 166 or better, Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3 or higher or Windows 2000, 64MB of RAM, NDIS3 or higher compatible Ethernet card, Color monitor

FunnelWeb Professional 3.0
If I had to choose one word to sum up Active Concepts' FunnelWeb Professional 3.0 (FunnelWeb Pro), the word would be "simplicity." Installation is quick and painless. Just enter the username, company, and registration number, and the software is ready to run.

The user manual for FunnelWeb Pro is in HTML format and installs with the program. Although I prefer a paper manual that I can flip through at my convenience, an HTML version is easier to navigate than WatchPoint's PDF manual. Unfortunately, the manual isn't very thorough. It's more of a basic reference manual than an instructional manual, but as long as you're technically oriented, you shouldn't have a problem.

FunnelWeb Pro is a traditional Web log analysis tool; it doesn't do packet sniffing or anything special like WatchPoint does. FunnelWeb’s job is to generate reports from log files, and it performs that job well. The product does, however, have a scheduling feature that lets you configure it to generate reports automatically, either at a specific time or at given intervals.

FunnelWeb Pro's main window has five buttons: Settings, Schedule, Process, View, and Help. Clicking Settings opens another window that is similar to a control panel, as Screen 3 shows. Down the left side of this window are the following icons: Report, Filters, Statistics, HTML, Post Processing, Custom Format, Virtual Domains, and Remote Control. Each icon has a separate list of settings.

The Report option lets you set the timeframe for the report, whether to perform DNS lookups, how to sort the data (by Name, Bytes sent, or Requests), and various analysis options, such as streaming media. The Output tab lets you select where you want the program to write the report, what format you want the report in (HTML, RTF, or Comma Delimited), the URL of the site you're analyzing (so that embedded links in the report are correct), and what language to produce the report in. The Filters section lets you select specific data to use in generating your reports. For example, you might want to exclude all .gif images so the program doesn't count them. You also might want to exclude the IP address of your local network or exclude robot access. You can use the Statistics section to select which parts of the reports get graphs. This area is also where you enter hit patterns for tracking advertising banners. The HTML section lets you customize the look of your reports, with custom headers, footers, and color selections. Post Processing lets you configure FunnelWeb Pro to automatically GZip or delete log files upon completion or email a copy of the report to a particular user. The Custom Format section is useful if FunnelWeb Pro can't identify your log format; you can specify the contents for each field in your log file, so FunnelWeb Pro can interpret them properly. Virtual Domains lets you configure FunnelWeb Pro to handle log files that contain data for more than one domain. This area also has options related to report aggregation, realtime report generation, and notification. Remote Control lets you control FunnelWeb Pro from another machine using a local copy of FunnelWeb Pro or using a Telnet client. FunnelWeb Pro has a command line interface for this purpose.

The Schedule button lets you configure unattended report generation. Simply point to a log file or group of files, and tell the software how often to run a report on them.

The Process button begins the report process. You can either click the button and select the log file or drag the log file onto the FunnelWeb Pro window to start the report process. When the analysis is complete, you can click the View button to pull up a Web browser to display the report (if you chose to create the report as HTML). If you need assistance, the Help button opens the user manual in a Web browser.

How well does FunnelWeb Pro work? It does exactly what it's supposed to do—simply and completely. After you've set your options, you just start the program; the software generates reports faster than any reporting tool I've used. I ran all my tests with DNS lookups disabled; otherwise, you're at the mercy of your DNS server's speed. The reports look sharp and are easy to navigate. One particularly useful report is the number of people who navigated to your site via some of the more popular search engines and what keywords they used in those searches.

FunnelWeb Professional 3.0
Contact: Active Concepts * 415-837-5946
Web: http://www.activeconcepts.com
Price: $249 for the Standard Edition; $499 for the Professional Edition
System Requirements: Windows NT or Windows 95, 486 or better, 8MB of RAM, 8-bit video, 5MB of hard disk space

WebTrends Enterprise Suite 3.5
WebTrends Corporation's WebTrends Enterprise Suite has been around for a while. I used the product in its early days, circa 1995. Since then the software has grown substantially, and WebTrends Enterprise Suite 3.5 is a complete enterprise-quality package.

As with the other two Web analysis packages, installing WebTrends is quick and easy. If you run Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) or Netscape Server, you can install extended plug-ins that will let those servers log more detail than they usually do.

When you run WebTrends for the first time, you must enter your registration number. The software automatically contacts a registration server on the Internet to log the installation. I found this feature annoying and consider it a violation of privacy at the very least.

WebTrends comes with many useful features. The product generates reports not only for your Web site, but also for your intranet site, proxy server, and streaming media traffic. It also analyzes your Web site links to check for bad links and monitors your servers, warning you if they go down.

The WebTrends manual is just what I like: thick and meaty. The manual is a 300-page spiral-bound piece that's much easier to read than an electronic manual. I would've preferred a serif font and a less crowded appearance to the text, but the manual does the job.

When you run WebTrends, a window opens that's similar to FunnelWeb Pro's opening window, but larger and with more detail, as Screen 4 shows. The window has a row of buttons across the top: Report, Scheduler, Options, New, Edit, Delete, Style Editor, and Help. The lower half of the window contains various profile descriptions and a row of tabs for grouping the profiles by their intended use (e.g., log analysis, link analysis, proxy analysis).

Configuring WebTrends to generate a Web report for your site is easy. Click the New button, select Web Log Analysis, and click OK. The software asks whether your Web site is on one machine or spread across several machines. My site runs on one computer, so I selected the first option and then clicked Next. Then the system asks for a description, so I entered "f-body," and below that, I entered the location of the log file. The last option is for the type of log file, which I set to Auto-detect.

The next window asks about DNS resolution. I left it set on Quick Mode and clicked Next. Then the software asks for the various filenames of my home page. It defaults to the usual variations in both .htm and .html extensions, plus Active Server Pages (.asp) and Cold Fusion (.cfm) files. Below that, you enter the actual URL to the site, in my case http://www.f-body.org.

WebTrend's Filters window works similarly to FunnelWeb Pro's Filters window, except that WebTrends gives you checkboxes to help you select what you want to filter for or against. I entered my cable modem's IP address to be filtered out and clicked Next. At the next window, I clicked Finish. I now have a profile named "F-Body Log" in the Web Log Analysis window.

WebTrends has a slew of options you can set by clicking the Options button. The General tab has settings for locale, proxy server, remote reporting, the default browser for viewing reports, whether to run the program as a Windows NT service, and SNMP and email settings.

As Screen 5 shows, Web Log Analysis has settings for items such as File Types, Domains, and Cookies. WebTrends also has options for ODBC setup, so it can store its FastTrends data in an ODBC data source such as Microsoft Access or SQL Server. You can also let WebTrends include data from an ODBC data source in Web reports. One example could be the number of people who have signed in to your site using a custom ASP or Cold Fusion application you've written.

When you set up WebTrends' link analysis utility, you can select the number of simultaneous threads the program uses to check the site, the timeout settings, the browser that the link analyzer should use, and the delay between requests. This section also has settings for Language and File Type.

WebTrends has settings for Proxy Analysis. Here you set the DNS Cache Size and User Session timeouts. I don't have a proxy server, so I was unable to test this portion of the program.

The Alerting & Monitoring section enables or disables the alerting and monitoring feature and sets the number of simultaneous monitor threads and the number of retries. The Alerting & Monitoring feature is my favorite part of WebTrends. Yes, I know, WebTrends is a log file analyzer, but this feature is slick. Click New to create a new profile. Then, select the Alerting & Monitoring radio button and click OK. Next, provide a description for the profile, and choose the type of test to use in this profile. You have at least two dozen choices, including PING, HTTP, FTP, Finger, Telnet, virtually all Internet services, plus ODBC and Disk/File monitoring. For this profile, I chose HTTP.

On the next page, you enter the host name or IP address and the port. You then set the monitor timing interval to poll the server at a certain interval and to send an alert after 2 minutes of failure. You can also set the program to generate an alert when the server comes back up.

The next page lets you set audio alerts. You can select your own .wav files, set the duration of the alert, and whether you want the alert to repeat.

The next option lets you enable the email alert and enter your email address and subject line. I changed the subject line to read "F-Body HTTP WebTrends Alert," so I know what I'm getting in email without having to read the message right away. Next, you can enter the name of the mail server that will send the alerts, along with an SMTP or Messaging API (MAPI) server.

Pager Alert lets you set the program to page you if you're away from email. If you don't have a pager, you can have the program send email to your cellular phone instead. The next page lets you enable an SNMP Trap Alert when the server goes down or comes back up.

And finally, you can set recovery options. You can configure the program to make three attempts of the following actions when a device goes down: Take No Action, Execute a Program, Reboot Computer, or Restart a Windows NT Service. So, in the case of monitoring the HTTP service on my server, I can set WebTrends to attempt to restart the service if it goes down, and if that fails, reboot the server. But for now, I'm leaving it set to Take No Action because I'll configure other monitors later to be more thorough. Then I clicked Finish to complete the profile. When I select that profile, the description of the test, the status, and the next polling time appears below the window listing the profiles.

To run a Web report, you double-click a previously created profile. A new dialog box opens that lists the various reports WebTrends offers. You can also modify existing reports and save them under new names for reuse. I selected Default Summary (HTML) and then chose a date range for the report.

Next, you click the Start button to begin your report. WebTrends begins collecting the summary data, which means it's reading your log files. The first time you perform this step, it might take a while, depending on the size of your log files. WebTrends reads the logs and stores them in its database, so future reports take less time. When I run WebTrends on my desktop computer (an AMD K6-2 333MHz computer with 256MB of RAM, running NT Server 4.0), I use the Task Manager to set the task priority on the e_suite.exe file to Low, so it won't bog the machine down to the point of being useless.

After WebTrends processes the log file, it generates the actual report. The status box shows all phases of this process, which is especially useful when running reports on large log files; large reports can take a long time to run.

WebTrends is also a great tool for generating reports on advertising trends. I entered the path to my redirect file and associated information into the appropriate fields in the profile configuration and selected Advertising Summary as the type of report to generate. The ensuing report showed how many ad views and ad clicks I've had during a given period.

WebTrends Enterprise Suite 3.5
Contact: WebTrends * 503-294-7025
Web: http://www.webtrends.com
Price: $1499
System Requirements: Windows NT or Windows 9x, 32MB of RAM, 20MB of hard disk space

Making a Choice
Of the three packages in this review, WebTrends is by far the most complete. WebTrends has more features than I could cover in this space, even if it were the only program in the review. WebTrends is ideal for anybody or any company that wants the most from their Web logs. WebTrends’ complexity, however, makes the program difficult to use and learn to make the most of.

FunnelWeb Pro is a simple, straightforward program that does a good job of generating Web reports, but it suffers from a poor manual. The program has some useful features that could be more complete, such as its ad-clicks reporting section. FunnelWeb Pro is ideal for individuals and companies who need Web reporting without having to sift through dozens of options to fine-tune it to suit their needs.

Even though WatchPoint has fewer features than the other two packages, as a power user, I like this product a lot. It's the only product of its kind that performs packet sniffing specifically for Web and FTP servers. WatchPoint is ideal for power users who like to watch what's happening on their servers in realtime and also generate reports for their superiors. My biggest complaint is that I feel WatchPoint is grossly overpriced in both its Standard and Enterprise editions. For that kind of money, I'd expect it to have all WebTrends' features, plus the realtime analysis features.

I found all three packages useful for determining whether your Web site is achieving its full potential. Table 1 provides a comparative look at the features in each product to help you choose the right package for your needs. I'll continue to use all three products on my Web sites in the future.

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