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Starting an Online Business All-in-One For Dummies®, 3rd Edition by Joel Elad, Shannon Belew

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Collecting the Correct Information

After people start taking advantage of Web site traffic analysis, they sometimes fall into the trap of believing that the software does all the work of collecting the right data. You have to realize that although your Web server collects some types of information, you can collect other types yourself. In this section, we discuss how you can use your Web site to reach out and collect more specific information without your customers having to cough up their Social Security numbers.

Storing data using cookies

Any Web server can create a standard file on a visitor's computer, to keep track of that visitor's activity and interaction with the Web server. That file is known as a cookie because it leaves “crumbs” of information that the Web server can access when the user visits that Web site. A cookie is a Web site owner's friend in many respects because it can show him or her what an individual user is doing on the site. You can track individual behavior and calculate unique visitors and session length much more precisely than by using log files. You can focus on one user for any length of time, from a few days to a few months, to see what the user does on every visit. You can see which Web pages the user looks at and the order of those pages and then correlate that information to the user's orders and sign-up activity.

Cookies help move your focus from a site-specific level to a customer level. When you add cookies to your server log files, you can ...

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