Log recordsdata have been receiving growing recognition from technical SEOs over the previous 5 years, and for a very good motive.

They’re probably the most reliable supply of data to know the URLs that search engines like google and yahoo have crawled, which might be important data to assist diagnose issues with technical website positioning.

Google itself acknowledges their significance, releasing new options in Google Search Console and making it simple to see samples of knowledge that may beforehand solely be accessible by analyzing logs.

Crawl stats report; key data above and line graph showing trend of crawl requests below
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As well as, Google Search Advocate John Mueller has publicly said how a lot good data log recordsdata maintain.

With all this hype across the knowledge in log recordsdata, chances are you’ll need to perceive logs higher, the right way to analyze them, and whether or not the websites you’re engaged on will profit from them.

This text will reply all of that and extra. Right here’s what we’ll be discussing:

First, what’s a server log file?

A server log file is a file created and up to date by a server that data the actions it has carried out. A preferred server log file is an entry log file, which holds a historical past of HTTP requests to the server (by each customers and bots).

When a non-developer mentions a log file, entry logs are those they’ll normally be referring to.

Builders, nevertheless, discover themselves spending extra time taking a look at error logs, which report points encountered by the server.

The above is necessary: Should you request logs from a developer, the very first thing they’ll ask is, “Which of them?”

Due to this fact, at all times be particular with log file requests. If you need logs to investigate crawling, ask for entry logs.

Entry log recordsdata comprise a number of details about every request made to the server, resembling the next:

  • IP addresses
  • Person brokers
  • URL path
  • Timestamps (when the bot/browser made the request)
  • Request sort (GET or POST)
  • HTTP standing codes

What servers embrace in entry logs varies by the server sort and generally what builders have configured the server to retailer in log recordsdata. Widespread codecs for log recordsdata embrace the next:

  • Apache format – That is utilized by Nginx and Apache servers.
  • W3C format – That is utilized by Microsoft IIS servers.
  • ELB format – That is utilized by Amazon Elastic Load Balancing.
  • Customized codecs – Many servers help outputting a customized log format.

Different kinds exist, however these are the principle ones you’ll encounter.

How log recordsdata profit website positioning

Now that we’ve received a primary understanding of log recordsdata, let’s see how they profit website positioning.

Listed here are some key methods:

  • Crawl monitoring – You possibly can see the URLs search engines like google and yahoo crawl and use this to identify crawler traps, look out for crawl funds wastage, or higher perceive how shortly content material adjustments are picked up.
  • Standing code reporting – That is notably helpful for prioritizing fixing errors. Fairly than realizing you’ve received a 404, you may see exactly what number of instances a consumer/search engine is visiting the 404 URL.
  • Traits evaluation – By monitoring crawling over time to a URL, web page sort/web site part, or your complete web site, you may spot adjustments and examine potential causes.
  • Orphan web page discovery – You possibly can cross-analyze knowledge from log recordsdata and a web site crawl you run your self to find orphan pages.

All websites will profit from log file evaluation to a point, however the quantity of profit varies massively relying on web site dimension.

That is as log recordsdata primarily profit websites by serving to you higher handle crawling. Google itself states managing the crawl funds is one thing larger-scale or regularly altering websites will profit from.

Excerpt of Google article
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The identical is true for log file evaluation.

For instance, smaller websites can probably use the “Crawl stats” knowledge supplied in Google Search Console and obtain all the advantages talked about above—with out ever needing to the touch a log file.

Gif of Crawl stats report being scrolled down gradually
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Sure, Google gained’t present you with all URLs crawled (like with log recordsdata), and the traits evaluation is proscribed to a few months of knowledge.

Nevertheless, smaller websites that change occasionally additionally want much less ongoing technical website positioning. It’ll probably suffice to have a web site auditor uncover and diagnose points.

For instance, a cross-analysis from a web site crawler, XML sitemaps, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console will probably uncover all orphan pages.

You possibly can additionally use a web site auditor to find error standing codes from inner hyperlinks.

There are a couple of key causes I’m pointing this out:

  • Entry log recordsdata aren’t simple to come up with (extra on this subsequent).
  • For small websites that change occasionally, the good thing about log recordsdata isn’t as a lot, that means website positioning focuses will probably go elsewhere.

Easy methods to entry your log recordsdata

Usually, to investigate log recordsdata, you’ll first should request entry to log recordsdata from a developer.

The developer is then probably going to have a couple of points, which they’ll carry to your consideration. These embrace:

  • Partial knowledge – Log recordsdata can embrace partial knowledge scattered throughout a number of servers. This normally occurs when builders use numerous servers, resembling an origin server, load balancers, and a CDN. Getting an correct image of all logs will probably imply compiling the entry logs from all servers.
  • File dimension – Entry log recordsdata for high-traffic websites can find yourself in terabytes, if not petabytes, making them onerous to switch.
  • Privateness/compliance – Log recordsdata embrace consumer IP addresses that are personally identifiable data (PII). Person data may have eradicating earlier than it might be shared with you.
  • Storage historical past – As a consequence of file dimension, builders might have configured entry logs to be saved for a couple of days solely, making them not helpful for recognizing traits and points.

These points will carry to query whether or not storing, merging, filtering, and transferring log recordsdata are definitely worth the dev effort, particularly if builders have already got a protracted record of priorities (which is commonly the case).

Builders will probably put the onus on the website positioning to elucidate/construct a case for why builders ought to make investments time on this, which you have to to prioritize amongst different website positioning focuses.

These points are exactly why log file evaluation doesn’t occur regularly.

Log recordsdata you obtain from builders are additionally typically formatted in unsupported methods by fashionable log file evaluation instruments, making evaluation tougher.

Fortunately, there are software program options that simplify this course of. My favourite is Logflare, a Cloudflare app that may retailer log recordsdata in a BigQuery database that you simply personal.

Easy methods to analyze your log recordsdata

Now it’s time to begin analyzing your logs.

I’m going to indicate you the way to do that within the context of Logflare particularly; nevertheless, the recommendations on the right way to use log knowledge will work with any logs.

The template I’ll share shortly additionally works with any logs. You’ll simply want to ensure the columns within the knowledge sheets match up.

1. Begin by establishing Logflare (elective)

Logflare is easy to arrange. And with the BigQuery integration, it shops knowledge lengthy time period. You’ll personal the info, making it simply accessible for everybody.

There’s one problem. It’s essential to swap out your area identify servers to make use of Cloudflare ones and handle your DNS there.

For many, that is advantageous. Nevertheless, when you’re working with a extra enterprise-level web site, it’s unlikely you may persuade the server infrastructure staff to vary the identify servers to simplify log evaluation.

I gained’t go by way of each step on the right way to get Logflare working. However to get began, all that you must do is head to the Cloudflare Apps a part of your dashboard.

"Apps" in a sidebar

After which seek for Logflare.

"Logflare" appearing in search field on top-right corner, and the app appearing below in the results
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The setup previous this level is self-explanatory (create an account, give your venture a reputation, select the info to ship, and so forth.). The one further half I like to recommend following is Logflare’s information to establishing BigQuery.

Keep in mind, nevertheless, that BigQuery does have a value that’s primarily based on the queries you do and the quantity of knowledge you retailer.

Sidenote.

 It’s value noting that one vital benefit of the BigQuery backend is that you simply personal the info. Which means you may circumvent PII points by configuring Logflare to not ship PII like IP addresses and delete PII from BigQuery utilizing an SQL question.

2. Confirm Googlebot

We’ve now saved log recordsdata (through Logflare or another methodology). Subsequent, we have to extract logs exactly from the consumer brokers we need to analyze. For many, this shall be Googlebot.

Earlier than we do this, we now have one other hurdle to leap throughout.

Many bots fake to be Googlebot to get previous firewalls (when you’ve got one). As well as, some auditing instruments do the identical to get an correct reflection of the content material your web site returns for the consumer agent, which is important in case your server returns totally different HTML for Googlebot, e.g., when you’ve arrange dynamic rendering.

I’m not utilizing Logflare

Should you aren’t utilizing Logflare, figuring out Googlebot would require a reverse DNS lookup to confirm the request did come from Google.

Google has a useful information on validating Googlebot manually right here.

Excerpt of Google article
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You are able to do this on a one-off foundation, utilizing a reverse IP lookup software and checking the area identify returned.

Nevertheless, we have to do that in bulk for all rows in our log recordsdata. This additionally requires you to match IP addresses from a listing supplied by Google.

The simplest manner to do that is by utilizing server firewall rule units maintained by third events that block pretend bots (leading to fewer/no pretend Googlebots in your log recordsdata). A fashionable one for Nginx is “Nginx Final Dangerous Bot Blocker.”

Alternatively, one thing you’ll observe on the record of Googlebot IPs is the IPV4 addresses all start with “66.”

List of IPV4 addresses

Whereas it gained’t be 100% correct, you may additionally test for Googlebot by filtering for IP addresses beginning with “6” when analyzing the info inside your logs.

I’m utilizing Cloudflare/Logflare

Cloudflare’s professional plan (at the moment $20/month) has built-in firewall options that may block pretend Googlebot requests from accessing your web site.

Cloudflare pricing
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Cloudflare disables these options by default, however you could find them by heading to Firewall > Managed Guidelines > enabling Cloudflare Specials> choose Superior”:

Webpage showing "Managed Rules"
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Subsequent, change the search sort from “Description” to “ID” and seek for “100035.”

List of description IDs
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Cloudflare will now current you with a listing of choices to dam pretend search bots. Set the related ones to “Block,” and Cloudflare will test all requests from search bot consumer brokers are authentic, holding your log recordsdata clear.

3. Extract knowledge from log recordsdata

Lastly, we now have entry to log recordsdata, and we all know the log recordsdata precisely mirror real Googlebot requests.

I like to recommend analyzing your log recordsdata inside Google Sheets/Excel to begin with as a result of you’ll probably be used to spreadsheets, and it’s easy to cross-analyze log recordsdata with different sources like a web site crawl.

There isn’t any one proper manner to do that. You should use the next:

You may also do that inside a Knowledge Studio report. I discover Knowledge Studio useful for monitoring knowledge over time, and Google Sheets/Excel is best for a one-off evaluation when technical auditing.

Open BigQuery and head to your venture/dataset.

Sidebar showing project dataset

Choose the “Question” dropdown and open it in a brand new tab.

"Query" dropdown showing 2 options: new tab or split tab
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Subsequent, you’ll want to put in writing some SQL to extract the info you’ll be analyzing. To make this simpler, first copy the contents of the FROM a part of the question.

FROM part of the query
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After which you may add that throughout the question I’ve written for you under:

SELECT DATE(timestamp) AS Date, req.url AS URL, req_headers.cf_connecting_ip AS IP, req_headers.user_agent AS User_Agent, resp.status_code AS Status_Code, resp.origin_time AS Origin_Time, resp_headers.cf_cache_status AS Cache_Status, resp_headers.content_type AS Content_Type

FROM `[Add Your from address here]`,

UNNEST(metadata) m,

UNNEST(m.request) req,

UNNEST(req.headers) req_headers,

UNNEST(m.response) resp,

UNNEST(resp.headers) resp_headers

WHERE DATE(timestamp) >= "2022-01-03" AND (req_headers.user_agent LIKE '%Googlebot%' OR req_headers.user_agent LIKE '%bingbot%')

ORDER BY timestamp DESC

This question selects all of the columns of knowledge which can be helpful for log file evaluation for website positioning functions. It additionally solely pulls knowledge for Googlebot and Bingbot.

Sidenote.

If there are different bots you need to analyze, simply add one other OR req_headers.user_agent LIKE ‘%bot_name%’ throughout the WHERE assertion. You may also simply change the beginning date by updating the WHERE DATE(timestamp) >= “2022–03-03” line.

Choose “Run” on the prime. Then select to save lots of the outcomes.

Button to "save results"
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Subsequent, save the info to a CSV in Google Drive (that is the most suitable choice as a result of bigger file dimension).

After which, as soon as BigQuery has run the job and saved the file, open the file with Google Sheets.

4. Add to Google Sheets

We’re now going to begin with some evaluation. I like to recommend utilizing my Google Sheets template. However I’ll clarify what I’m doing, and you’ll construct the report your self when you need.

Right here is my template.

The template consists of two knowledge tabs to repeat and paste your knowledge into, which I then use for all different tabs utilizing the Google Sheets QUERY perform.

Sidenote.

If you wish to see how I’ve accomplished the stories that we’ll run by way of after establishing, choose the primary cell in every desk.

To start out with, copy and paste the output of your export from BigQuery into the “Knowledge — Log recordsdata” tab.

Output from BigQuery
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Observe that there are a number of columns added to the tip of the sheet (in darker gray) to make evaluation slightly simpler (just like the bot identify and first URL listing).

5. Add Ahrefs knowledge

If in case you have a web site auditor, I like to recommend including extra knowledge to the Google Sheet. Primarily, it’s best to add these:

  • Natural visitors
  • Standing codes
  • Crawl depth
  • Indexability
  • Variety of inner hyperlinks

To get this knowledge out of Ahrefs’ Website Audit, head to Web page Explorer and choose “Handle Columns.”

I then suggest including the columns proven under:

Columns to add
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Then export all of that knowledge.

Options to export to CSV
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And duplicate and paste into the “Knowledge — Ahrefs” sheet.

6. Test for standing codes

The very first thing we’ll analyze is standing codes. This knowledge will reply whether or not search bots are losing crawl funds on non-200 URLs.

Observe that this doesn’t at all times level towards an difficulty.

Typically, Google can crawl previous 301s for a few years. Nevertheless, it could spotlight a problem when you’re internally linking to many non-200 standing codes.

The “Standing Codes — Overview” tab has a QUERY perform that summarizes the log file knowledge and shows the leads to a chart.

Pie chart showing summary of log file data for status codes
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There’s additionally a dropdown to filter by bot sort and see which of them are hitting non-200 standing codes the most.

Table showing status codes and corresponding hits; above, dropdown to filter results by bot type

After all, this report alone doesn’t assist us clear up the problem, so I’ve added one other tab, “URLs — Overview.”

List of URLs with corresponding data like status codes, organic traffic, etc
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You should use this to filter for URLs that return non-200 standing codes. As I’ve additionally included knowledge from Ahrefs’ Website Audit, you may see whether or not you’re internally linking to any of these non-200 URLs within the “Inlinks” column.

Should you see loads of inner hyperlinks to the URL, you may then use the Inner hyperlink alternatives report to identify these incorrect inner hyperlinks by merely copying and pasting the URL within the search bar with “Goal web page” chosen.

Excerpt of Internal link opportunities report results
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7. Detect crawl funds wastage

One of the best ways to spotlight crawl funds wastage from log recordsdata that isn’t because of crawling non-200 standing codes is to search out regularly crawled non-indexable URLs (e.g., they’re canonicalized or noindexed).

Since we’ve added knowledge from our log recordsdata and Ahrefs’ Website Audit, recognizing these URLs is simple.

Head to the “Crawl funds wastage” tab, and also you’ll discover extremely crawled HTML recordsdata that return a 200 however are non-indexable.

List of URLs with corresponding data like hits, etc
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Now that you’ve this knowledge, you’ll need to examine why the bot is crawling the URL. Listed here are some widespread causes:

  • It’s internally linked to.
  • It’s incorrectly included in XML sitemaps.
  • It has hyperlinks from exterior websites.

It’s widespread for bigger websites, particularly these with faceted navigation, to hyperlink to many non-indexable URLs internally.

If the hit numbers on this report are very excessive and also you consider you’re losing your crawl funds, you’ll probably must take away inner hyperlinks to the URLs or block crawling with the robots.txt.

8. Monitor necessary URLs

If in case you have particular URLs in your web site which can be extremely necessary to you, chances are you’ll need to watch how typically search engines like google and yahoo crawl them.

The “URL monitor” tab does simply that, plotting the every day pattern of hits for as much as 5 URLs that you would be able to add.

Line graph showing daily trend of hits for 4 URLs
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You may also filter by bot sort, making it simple to watch how typically Bing or Google crawls a URL.

URL monitoring with dropdown option to filter by bot type
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Sidenote.

You possibly can additionally use this report back to test URLs you’ve just lately redirected. Merely add the previous URL and new URL within the dropdown and see how shortly Googlebot notices the change.

Typically, the recommendation right here is that it’s a nasty factor if Google doesn’t crawl a URL regularly. That merely isn’t the case.

Whereas Google tends to crawl fashionable URLs extra regularly, it’s going to probably crawl a URL much less if it doesn’t change typically.

Excerpt of Google article
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Nonetheless, it’s useful to monitor URLs like this when you want content material adjustments picked up shortly, resembling on a information web site’s homepage.

In truth, when you discover Google is recrawling a URL too regularly, I’ll advocate for making an attempt to assist it higher handle crawl fee by doing issues like including <lastmod> to XML sitemaps. Right here’s what it seems like:

<?xml model="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">

  <url>

    <loc>https://www.logexample.com/instance</loc>

    <lastmod>2022-10-04</lastmod>

  </url>

</urlset>

You possibly can then replace the <lastmod> attribute at any time when the content material of the web page adjustments, signaling Google to recrawl.

9. Discover orphan URLs

One other manner to make use of log recordsdata is to find orphan URLs, i.e., URLs that you really want search engines like google and yahoo to crawl and index however haven’t internally linked to.

We will do that by checking for 200 standing code HTML URLs with no inner hyperlinks discovered by Ahrefs’ Website Audit.

You possibly can see the report I’ve created for this named “Orphan URLs.”

List of URLs with corresponding data like hits, etc
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There’s one caveat right here. As Ahrefs hasn’t found these URLs however Googlebot has, these URLs might not be URLs we need to hyperlink to as a result of they’re non-indexable.

I like to recommend copying and pasting these URLs utilizing the “Customized URL record” performance when establishing crawl sources in your Ahrefs venture.

Page to set up crawl sources; text field to enter custom URLs
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This fashion, Ahrefs will now take into account these orphan URLs present in your log recordsdata and report any points to you in your subsequent crawl:

List of issues
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10. Monitor crawling by listing

Suppose you’ve carried out structured URLs that point out the way you’ve organized your web site (e.g., /options/feature-page/).

In that case, you too can analyze log recordsdata primarily based on the listing to see if Googlebot is crawling sure sections of the location greater than others.

I’ve carried out this sort of evaluation within the “Directories — Overview” tab of the Google Sheet.

Table showing list of directories with corresponding data like organic traffic, inlinks, etc
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You possibly can see I’ve additionally included knowledge on the variety of inner hyperlinks to the directories, in addition to whole natural visitors.

You should use this to see whether or not Googlebot is spending extra time crawling low-traffic directories than high-value ones.

However once more, keep in mind this may increasingly happen, as some URLs inside particular directories change extra typically than others. Nonetheless, it’s value additional investigating when you spot an odd pattern.

Along with this report, there may be additionally a “Directories — Crawl pattern” report if you wish to see the crawl pattern per listing in your web site.

Line graph showing crawl trend per directory
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11. View Cloudflare cache ratios

Head to the “CF cache standing” tab, and also you’ll see a abstract of how typically Cloudflare is caching your recordsdata on the edge servers.

Bar chart showing how often Cloudflare is caching files on the edge servers
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When Cloudflare caches content material (HIT within the above chart), the request now not goes to your origin server and is served immediately from its world CDN. This leads to higher Core Net Importants, particularly for world websites.

Sidenote.

 It’s additionally value having a caching setup in your origin server (resembling Varnish, Nginx FastCGI, or Redis full-page cache). That is in order that even when Cloudflare hasn’t cached a URL, you’ll nonetheless profit from some caching.

Should you see a considerable amount of “Miss” or “Dynamic” responses, I like to recommend investigating additional to know why Cloudflare isn’t caching content material. Widespread causes can be:

  • You’re linking to URLs with parameters in them – Cloudflare, by default, passes these requests to your origin server, as they’re probably dynamic.
  • Your cache expiry instances are too low – Should you set brief cache lifespans, it’s probably extra customers will obtain uncached content material.
  • You aren’t preloading your cache – Should you want your cache to run out typically (as content material adjustments regularly), relatively than letting customers hit uncached URLs, use a preloader bot that can prime the cache, resembling Optimus Cache Preloader.

Sidenote.

 I totally suggest establishing HTML edge-caching through Cloudflare, which considerably reduces TTFB. You are able to do this simply with WordPress and Cloudflare’s Computerized Platform Optimization.

12. Test which bots crawl your web site the most

The ultimate report (discovered within the “Bots — Overview” tab) reveals you which ones bots crawl your web site the most:

Pie chart showing Googlebot crawls site the most, as compared to Bingbot
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Within the “Bots — Crawl pattern” report, you may see how that pattern has modified over time.

Stacked bar chart showing how crawl trend changes over time
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This report will help test if there’s a rise in bot exercise in your web site. It’s additionally useful when you’ve just lately made a major change, resembling a URL migration, and need to see if bots have elevated their crawling to gather new knowledge.

Last ideas

It is best to now have a good suggestion of the evaluation you are able to do along with your log recordsdata when auditing a web site. Hopefully, you’ll discover it simple to make use of my template and do that evaluation your self.

Something distinctive you’re doing along with your log recordsdata that I haven’t talked about? Tweet me.



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