Log Analyzer Professional Edition

Reviewed by: Paul Schneider, Ph.D., December 2004, send e-mail
Published by: SurfStats, go to the web site
Requires: Windows 95 through XP
MSRP: US$495.00

After you build that web site and manage to get “them” to come, you might start to wonder who and how many of “them” there are. Fortunately for you, your web server keeps a log of all of your web site activity. Unfortunately, log files are messy and interpreting them is something that requires a good log analysis program. There are a number of different log analysis programs on the market that can aid you in this task. SurfStats is one of these tools. The company’s primary business objective is to provide tools that will help you to better understand and cater to your web audience.

SurfStats' flagship product, Log Analyzer, comes in many different flavors including basic, pro, enterprise and ASP versions. For the purposes of this review, I used their professional edition. For the most part, the different versions are fairly similar in terms of features. The primary differences lay in the number of sites each version handles and the processes used to produce analysis results. For a detailed overview of the different versions you can access a comparison chart on their web site. Log Analyzer Professional Edition was reviewed on a Dell Dimension 8250 with 512MB RAM running Windows XP.

One of the most important things to look for in a log analysis program is ease of use. Now granted I've used my share of log analysis programs, but SurfStats definitely shined in this department. The interface is straightforward, with the main options in a left side menu and the results on the right. The Site Profile Wizard steps you through setting up a new site for analysis and although you will need some basic information, such as your site login, address, password and the location of your log files, it makes the overall setup process quite painless. Once you've set up the initial profile, it is saved. You can then clone this profile if you like, for even quicker setups of similar sites.

Besides setting up a site, the most important element of a log analyzer is the type and range of reports it can generate. The reports in SurfStats cover all of the main areas you would expect: Overview, Traffic, Search Engine Results, Visitors, Spiders, Page Reports, Marketing, Browser Information, Watches, Errors and a compilation of the whole report. The reports you generate can be viewed online or output in HTML or Microsoft Word format.

One of the nice SurfStats extras is its range of automation features. Reports can be run manually, but you can also automate many of the steps. Want to have the report results automatically created in Word format and e-mailed to someone? No problem. Adjust your preferences and away you go. Want one version of the report done this way and another version reported in a different format? Use the clone feature to duplicate the setup and make your adjustments on the cloned version. The program can also be set up as a Windows NT, 2000 or XP service to run automatically in the background.

Once you have your basic site analysis down, you can start adding filters, restrictions, ad customizations, add e-commerce reports if applicable, adjust dates and basically refine your results so you can make the best decisions about the effectiveness of your site. The one consistency throughout all of these modifications is ease of use. SurfStats makes generous use of images (e.g., a calendar that allows you to highlight date ranges), and various templates and displays to make each of the setup and analysis steps as painless as possible.

Advanced features include the ability to report in and customize various languages (e.g., Spanish, French and German), a built in FTP tool to transfer your log files (manually or automatically), a DNS database that eliminates the need for the reverse DNS lookup (a terrific time saver), customizable themes for report look and feel, special e-commerce tracking, visitor tracking by cookies and the ability to be run as a service in Windows.

All in all you can probably tell that my overall impression of this product is very favorable. If SurfStats could do one thing better, it would be to add additional help and information on correctly interpreting your log results (along with wizards to help you through the process). This information could then be used to guide you towards obtaining even better information about your visitors and making appropriate site changes. Of course if it did that what would all of those web site consultants do for work?

Although analyzing log files is not the most exciting task I could dream of, finding justification for that huge site redesign you just completed can be quite rewarding! Of course if your results go south, you can always blame (ahem) a 'corrupt' log file. If you are looking at doing analysis on 10 sites or less, take a look at the basic version of LogAnalyzer. Otherwise you'll want to explore the pro, enterprise or SurfStats Live products. Recommended (but remember, good results or bad, don't blame the messenger!).

Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to: whine@kickstartnews.com




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