If you think log files are only necessary for satisfying audit and compliance requirements, or to help software engineers debug issues during development, you’re certainly not…
Before we dive into e-commerce logging, a short history recap: In 1992, avowed book nerd and prescient businessman Charles M. Stack launched an e-commerce site called books.com. Online shopping was a radical concept at that time, and Stack’s business model had little competition. The site was successful and was eventually purchased by major book retailer Barnes and Noble.
Twenty-five years later, it’s clear that Stack created a monster. Today, more purchases are being made online than in any brick-and-mortar store. And despite his status as a pioneer in the field of online retail, there is no doubt that if Stack had opened his e-commerce business in today’s market, chances are it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. The reason? Competition is incredibly fierce, and success is forthcoming only to those sites that function like well-oiled machines.
e-commerce logging and the ability to monitor site performance is now the key competitive advantage in the market. Every broken link or transaction can lead to revenue loss. Site admins and owners need accurate site data to make sure their key pages – like checkout, login, and registration – are loading properly. They need to know exactly who their customers are and when they are shopping.
What services should online retailers seek out to gain these insights? The immediate, knee-jerk reaction is typically Google Analytics or similarly structured web analytics providers. However, the widespread use of ad-blocking software has called this assumption into question.
The percentage of US web surfers that utilize some form of ad-blocking software has more than doubled in the last three years. Shoppers in emerging markets are keen on the ad-free experience as well, with 36% of smartphone users in the Asia Pacific region employing adblocking. These figures are deeply worrisome for online businesses. Ad-blocking software frequently blocks site cookies which Google Analytics, and its competitors, rely on for tracking to extract site data.
Unless established data analytics services are able to dramatically change their tracking methodology, e-commerce site owners will find themselves in an information blackout for a large chunk of their customers. Fortunately, there are other analytics tools that are unaffected by ad-block software, and which represent a more sustainable approach to understanding site performance.
A log file is generated every time a browser requests data from a server, creating a goldmine of actionable insights for e-commerce logging. These log files can then be aggregated according to business-critical information, such as:
Users today are becoming more and more impatient with slow sites. Responses are expected after two seconds, with anything slower likely leading to site churn. Proper e-commerce logging can show the load and response times of each page on a site and indicate the root cause of latencies.
HTTP errors are generated for a variety of reasons, including faulty links and overloaded servers. They can prevent the completion of transactions, spelling disaster for online businesses.
Are potential customers leaving key pages prematurely? How much time do surfers spend perusing a product page before they make a purchase? Knowing session lengths allows for the optimization of underperforming pages and the sales funnels they support.
Understanding where customers come from is critical to maximizing online shopping revenues. Special sales and coupons can be targeted to regions with a large customer concentration. Pages can be translated and localized for countries that generate high levels of traffic and products can be tailored to clients’ cultural tastes.
It’s impossible to schedule accurate levels of customer and technical support without knowing what days and times a site receive its highest amount of traffic. Logs provide not only a clear picture of minute-by-minute traffic, but also the impact that traffic has on site performance. Keeping a close eye on sensitive sections of the site during times of peak activity reveals the site’s ‘breaking points’, and provides clues needed for creating a more robust site architecture.
Log files indicate the frequency with which key pages are crawled, which ultimately influences a site’s search rank. Beyond the crawl count, logs also reveal the error count picked up by search spiders, the top link referrers to a site, and other useful info for SEO.
Logging site data is clearly the most complete and reliable source of insight into an e-commerce site’s performance. But the steady growth of online shopping leads to a parallel growth in the log output. This avalanche of information makes manual log management infeasible and necessitates the assistance and guidance of a dedicated log analysis platform.
An advanced analysis platform automatically aggregates incoming logs into the categories set by site owners. Emergency, revenue-killing issues, like HTTP errors at the checkout page, are intelligently recognized by the platform and forwarded to developers for immediate resolution. And unlike other web analytics alternatives, log files provide visibility no matter what a user has installed on his or her browser.