|IP Addresses and AOL|
I've been promoting a site for a client. This is the first time I've tried very seriously to get search engine placement, and we're having some success now in the 5th week after launch. Up until now I was pretty much a desinger only.
The reason for this post is what I'm seeing in the server logs from AOL visitors. I happened to run an analysis of a short piece of the log recently, and I noticed that the total page views number was only 1/3 of the unique users number. That does not compute with me.
Looking at the raw log data I noticed something that seemed really weird. For some sessions the IP Address was changing with each HIT. This makes a single page view look like 20 or more unique users. I've looked through more logs and I only see this behavior with visitors coming from AOL Search.
I showed the log to the owner of the web hosting service I use. He's an Internet veteran who goes back to early Arpanet days. He said he's never seen anything like this, and he hopes it stops soon.
Can anyone shed any light, and most important, can anyone suggest ways to analyze the logs around this distortion? I checked the logs for two other clients who are hosted on other servers and I see the same thing, but their percentage of AOL Search traffic is lower, so it's not as big a deal.
This is something very common, in fact: a sufer opens a second browser window and is assigned another, different dynamic IP by his or her ISP. Or, the IP is even changed halfway when loading the web page. We have literally seen dozens of ISPs working that way, very big, major players among them, AOL being a case in point, German Telekom (world's #4) another.
Of course, it spells havoc for server stats, traffic monitoring services, hits counters, etc. In the long run it will also probably mean the end of impression based advertising rates ...
The only surprising thing being that so little (if anyhing) is being made of it - we actually pointed this out in various places months ago. So what you're seeing is perfectly normal, frustrating though it may be from a webmaster's point of view.
There is also the AOL proxy cache server that will work into the mix tedster. Unless you are running a cache busting counter, most of the AOL traffic you will never see. Ever look at the AOL domain names you are getting hit from? Often they will include 'spider' and agent names will walk down through every known standard client you can think of. It is a pain to deal with, but if you are running impression based advertising, it is a nice surprise to record 10k pulls to a page, only to find out your advertiser recorded 13.