Just to get some definitions out of the way: what we’re talking about here are services like Google Analytics as opposed to server side logging applications like AWStats or Webalizer. The former is deployed as a tiny program that we embed in the code of your public facing website. The latter are complex server side programs that monitor network traffic. They may come pre-installed with your hosting package. Have you ever wondered what purpose these programs serve and why they offer differing results? You’re about to find out.
What is Google Analytics?
In order to understand the fundamentals, you need to know basic web architecture. Websites and applications use the Client–server model. The page you’re viewing right now is part of a database application, and the data is stored on a computer far away from you (a server). When you enter a URL in your web browser, you are making a request to said computer. This request can be interpreted by the server to run various processes and return a specific output. In this scenario, your computer is the client and kmdg.com is the server.
Web analytics are captured on the client side of this equation, as they should be. What you’re attempting to capture with analytics software is data on the human visitors to your site because humans pay the rent. GA is extremely good at this as it also tracks traffic from referrals and searches. It attempts to filter out web crawlers and automated traffic. It’s the ultimate marketing tool for websites.
What is a Server Log?
AWStats, Webalizer and the rest work with the data on the server side of the Client-server model. This means they track every single request with every technical detail. A server log can be important to a web developer or network administrator. As it touches marketing, it is often useful to know browser statistics so you can be sure to cater to your most popular platforms. Other than that, it is not useful for marketing or promotional purposes, especially because server logs can be faked or manipulated. Advertisers will usually not use data collected server side to determine their strategies. As the provider, you are too much in control of your logs. They’re on your server after all! Google Analytics is more honest precisely because its data is so hard to fake. It’s a distributed model. Server logs are centralized.
The Skinny: Why Are They Different? Which Ones Are Correct?
- They’re supposed to be different.
- They’re both correct, it’s just that their purposes are orthogonal.
- The way they track visits is fundamentally different.
- Google Analytics only tracks pages with the tracking code.
- Server logs include bot traffic.
- You have no idea what the time and date settings are on your server.
The Boring Details
If AWStats and Google Analytics showed the same thing, one or the other of them would not exist. They are mutually exclusive tools which function as intended for their respective purposes. Imagine a scenario where you open a page in your browser, then get a phone call and run out the door to that appointment you forgot. Google Analytics attempts to take this scenario into account. It attempts to collect data on traffic as a human would browse the web. Humans and bots use very different habits when browsing websites. If you have a CMS installed, AWStats will track all that administrative traffic, which is usually going to cause the AWStats numbers to be higher. On point #6 above, server time settings are not always accurate and the server may be in a different timezone. You may not even have a 1 to 1 comparison of days in Google as opposed to your server log.