The first step towards implementing a successful SEO strategy is to understand your indicators. There are many, both public and private metrics, available that website owners rely on. Here we will discuss some of the most prevalent out there.
Perhaps the most widely known analytics tool, Google Analytics, keeps it simple. At a glance, a person can see up to the minute traffic or view trends across months and years. Google Analytics also shows the percent of new traffic, the average time spent on site, the bounce rate (measure of users who leave right away without clicking) and average pageviews. One of the best parts is, you have the ability to graph everything, giving you a better visual representation, plus browser and user profiling.
AWStats is an example of a few programs which run locally on the server hosting your website. Although not as slick as google analytics, a logfile analyzer like this is going to provide the most detailed and accurate raw numbers available. Since this program falls in the realm of server management, typically the webmaster or IT are the only people who have access to it. This is probably a good idea for security reasons and business continuity. Reporting is available yet also considers most companies often keep these numbers confidential. Some other notable alternatives include Webalizer and W3Perl. Though not native, all these programs can be run on Windows Server.
There is a handful of companies tracking general internet activity, and Omniture is a big time example. Through opt-in tracking cookies being distributed by major companies such as Apple (possibly iTunes / Quicktime) and Adobe (Flash), this Omniture has been comprehensively analyzing web traffic for greater than 10 years. Membership with them provides a suite of tools, similar to Google Analytics, but with greater depth in their reporting. There is more emphasis on keyword analytics and click-through ratios. Omniture's staff of SEO professionals, are happy to sell you as large a customer service plan as your company can afford or requires. Working with a reputable SEO firm, or adopting their processes into your website, is perhaps the only way to comprehensively understand your site's traffic.
Website owners want to spend less buying ads and make more running them. Ad revenues and expenses are the only numbers some SEO marketers secretly even care about. To that end, the ad management company (or companies) you choose will provide the reporting and analytic tools by which you track those figures. The difference between Doubleclick and Adsense is like the difference between a Lexus and a Camry. Both cars are actually owned by Toyota, meanwhile both Doubleclick and Adsense are both in fact owned by Google. Also both programs basically do the same thing though Doubleclick offers the luxuries that come with greater cost.
Both ultimately allow you to purchase ad space, sell ads on your own site - and track the results online. Facebook has also moved into the game recently, offering PPC campaign deals to the public strictly on their site. And since they are number 5 on Alexa and with 30+ billion page views per month, facebook makes for an interesting side note at least.
In short Alexa is the Nielsen ratings of the web. Surfers voluntarily install the Alexa toolbar which tracks Internet usage. Using that data, Alexa releases a near real time overall site rank list, up to the top million sites. These site rankings are not perfect. Certainly they are skewed by the disproportionate number of tech's who run the toolbar. However, this imperfect list is still the best and most widely accepted measuring stick available.
Your site's Alexa ranking should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, if you can get a handful of frequent visitors to install the toolbar – it can dramatically improve the score for small or new sites. A bustling side-project type website might find itself anywhere between 100k and 300k. The competition begins to stiffen as a site passes the 100k mark. In other words, the frequency of sites actually spending money to promote begins to increase. Meanwhile the top 1,000 places are mostly dominated by companies with infrastructure to support a web business of that size.
The task of reviewing this data is best if shared between a marketing decision maker and the webmaster. The accumulated information not only provides realistic perspective on your site but will likely drive your SEO strategy. The services described above are only the tip of the iceberg.
SEO programs, applications, websites and strategies are a thriving and highly competitive business that has become dense with experiments, theories and sleight of hand.