A website’s log file records every request made on the server. Evaluating this data can bring out some stimulating insights and let you know how search engines are crawling and indexing your website.
Request headers are sent to the server that recognises the client, or to the web browser requesting the page with every HTTP request for a web page. The first response, or HTTP source code, is from the web server as well.
These requested logs are recorded and stored for some time.
Log analysis is the most comprehensive way to evaluate how search engines crawl a website.
SEO professionals and web analytics experts use special tools that show diagrams of user behaviour, traffic and conversions.
In this article, let’s dive down into various aspects of Log Files and understand what is the use of Log Files in SEO.
What exactly are Log Files?
In a Log File, a web server writes a row for every single resource on the website that is requested by bots and users.
Every row comprises information about the data. It includes:
resource required (page, .css, .js, …), response time, caller IP, date, user-agent, …
It gets automatically created and maintained by a server containing a list of activities it performed.
A Log File offers you crucial insights that can aid your SEO strategy or solve issues surrounding the crawling and indexing of your web pages.
Log File analysis is a technical SEO task that allows you to notice how web crawlers and users interact with your website.
What data do you find in a Log File?
Within a Log File, you’ll find the following data:
- The HTTP status code of your request
- The URL of the resource being requested
- A timestamp with the date and time of the request.
- The IP address of the requested server
- The method of the request (Get/Post)
- The user agent making the request
In addition, you can also notice the time taken to download the resource, client IP, and the referrer.
How can you access Log Files?
The methods used to access Log Files is based on the hosting solution. Or you can just search their docs, or just Google it.
One can also access Log Files from a CDN or even from the command line. These can then be downloaded locally and analysed from the format they are transferred in.
What is the use of Log Files in SEO?
There are several uses of Log Files in SEO.
- You can know how often Googlebot is crawling your site, and its most important pages (and whether they’re being crawled at all) and recognise pages that aren’t generally crawled.
- Recognise most commonly crawled pages and folders
- Find URLs with parameters that are being crawled needlessly
- You can check whether your webpage is either slow or unnecessarily large
- Check whether your website has moved to mobile-first indexing
- Find repeatedly crawled redirect chains
- Noticing sudden increases or decreases in crawler activity
- Find static resources that are being crawled too often
How to perform Log analysis?
Analysing log information is a complex technical process. It can be summarised in 3 easy steps:
- Gather/export the correct log data (generally filtered for search engine crawler User-Agents only) for as wide a time frame as conceivable.
- Analyse log data to translate it into a format (mostly tabular format) readable by data analysis tools.
- Set and visualize log data as required (typically by date, page type and status code) and parse it for concerns and opportunities.
While log data is usually simple in format, it can swiftly add up to gigabytes even when filtered for requests from crawlers in a limited time.
This data is also too enormous for desktop analysis tools like Excel.
It is generally resourceful to utilise focused log analysis software to analyse, organize and visualise log data.
Optimizations to be made after Log File analysis
Once you are done with Log File analysis and has identified valuable insights, you will find some changes that need to be made on your website.
Here are a few examples of such changes you might have to make following Log File analysis.
- Fixing any redirect chains
- Eliminating non-200 status code page from sitemaps
- Disallowing non-indexable pages from being crawled as nothing useful is present in them for search engines to find.
- Incorporate canonical tags to highlight the significance of certain web pages.
- Review pages that are not crawled often and make sure they are easier to find by adding more links to them.
- Update internal links to the canonicalised version of the webpage.
- Internal links should be pointing to 200 status codes, indexable web pages.
- Push crucial pages higher in the site architecture with significant internal links from accessible pages.
- Evaluate where the crawl budget is being spent and make recommendations for possible website architecture modifications if required.
- Revise crawl frequency to website categories and make sure they are being crawled frequently.
- Make sure there are no critical web pages that accidentally comprise a no-index tag.
Some misconceptions around Log Files analysis
- Log Files analysis is insignificant for small websites: There’s definitely value in log files for small websites. Without them, you’ll keep guessing how search engines crawl your website and how this results in an index page.
- Log File analysis is a one-time thing: Like many aspects of SEO, log file analysis is not a one-time task. It is an ongoing process, as your website continues to change. And search engine crawlers continue to adapt to these changes.
As an SEO expert, it’s your responsibility to monitor their behaviour and ensure crawling and indexing processes run smoothly.
- Google Search Console’s Crawl Stats report is a replacement for log files: While it is definitely a big enhancement in comparison to previous Crawl Stats Reports, the new Stat report only comprises information about Google’s crawlers; it only offers a high-level digest of Google’s crawl behaviour.
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The log analysis isn’t firmly technical. To perform it effectively, one needs to combine technical, SEO and marketing skills.
Therefore, start using your expertise and perform consistent log file analysis to understand how your websites are crawled by search engines and then make optimisations as required.