Doing web analytics is becoming increasingly important. Not only commercial websites need to know who is visiting their websites and what influences their visitor's decision to stay or to leave, to return regularly or to never come back again. Even if you are only running your little private WordPress blog it's good to gain some knowledge about your visitors and their behavior for optimizing your website's features and its contents.
In general, there are three main ways you can do web analytics for blogs:
- Integrated solutions (Plug-ins) Those integrated solutions are typically plug-ins which are added to the blog software. Data collection and analysis (generation of different statistics) is being generated by the same ressources (server) the blog is running on. Typical examples for WordPress visitor statistics' plug-ins are StatPress Reloaded, mySTAT and WassUp.
- External solutions External web analytics solutions can be further divided into (1) solutions that are using the same ressources the blog uses and (2) solutions that are running on foreign machines. The most famous example for an external solution on the same machine is the well-known analysis of the server's log files. Although the log files are generated on the same server, this happens completely independent from the blog that is running on that server. External web analytics solutions that are running on other machines are for example Google Analytics or StatCounter.
- Hybrid solutions Hybrid solutions are collecting visitor data on foreign machines but use interfaces that are provided by the blog software. Usually hybrid solutions do require the installation of plug-ins as well. The most probably hybrid solution is WordPress.com stats.
Now you might want to ask, which of these three solutions is the best to do web analytics for your blog. Well, answering this question is not that easy, because the most adequate solution depends on some of your blog's characteristics. While entirely integrated solutions are capable to provide great insights (eg visitor's names can be identified if they left a comment once, internal searches are tracked, etc.), they tend to slow down the blog, especially when the number of visitors increases. External solutions should guarantee a good performance of your blog but it's hard or even impossible to generate all the insights one can gain from internal solutions. Hybrid solutions try to combine both the advantages of internal and external solutions, but are not that powerful yet (the transfer of internal information is far away from being optimal).