Performing log file analysis for SEO

Log file in the context of SEO means thoroughly vetting server logs to see how search engines crawl a site. The resulting data provide insights into how search engine bots interact with a Web site, allowing SEO experts to adjust their strategies to obtain higher search results and become more visible to visitors.

Collect log files

Log files act as a detailed diary for the server. They record every action that takes place on the website. The goal is to provide clear and precise insight into which pages search engines visit and in what frequency. Any problems encountered by search engines are also recorded.

Log files provide insight into the interaction between a Web site and its visitors. These can be both humans and bots. You can see the URLs visited, IP addresses, status codes and the exact times of the visit. Using this data, you can analyze search engine behavior and come up with a targeted SEO roadmap.

Collect log files

Collect the log files for a more complete overview. By logging into the Web server or a Content Delivery Network (CDN), log files can be collected and exported. Regular backups are necessary to later see historical data and analyze trends over the years. Collect log files using the roadmap below:

  1. Choose which log files are needed. Focus here on the Web server log files, which search engine crawlers record.
  2. Ask for access. You can access the website’s server via FTP, cPanel or a direct connection to the hosting provider.
  3. Identify the location of the log file. It is important to know where the log files are stored. Often this happens in the logs directory.
  4. Export log files. Download log files and export them to the local system. Use .txt or .log files for this purpose.
  5. Save. Always save the downloaded log files properly and keep track of them by creating different folders.
  6. Automate the process. To have constant access to recent data, it is a good idea to automate the collection process via scripts or the hosting provider.

Tools to use

A variety of tools exist for analyzing log files, from simple text editors to specialized software for deep analysis. The latter category includes Screaming Frog Log File Analyzer or Semrush. The tools filter and visualize large amounts of data at a rapid pace and provide insight into site operations, which helps improve SEO.

You can also go directly to the hosting provider’s website, but that’s just a bit more complicated. Furthermore, this way you get insight into the real data. An example of a hosting provider is TransIP.

What insights do log files provide?

Log files show how healthy a server is and whether it is functioning properly. Log files also provide insight into any errors that may have an effect on performance. If the log files encounter errors, they are addressed immediately. Examples of errors are slow response times or server errors. The Google Search Console can partially help detect and address errors.

Log files show data not only from Google Bot, but also from other user-agents and visitors. Some SEO specialists always deploy Google Search Console to save time.

Identify crawl issues with log files

When studying log files, you can also identify crawl issues. Watch for error codes like code 500 (server error) or code 404 (not found) and keep an eye out for page skips. This is how you recognize technical problems that might otherwise be overlooked.

However, you don’t have to do the studying yourself. There are handy tools for this, such as Screaming Frog. The tools generally work faster and more accurately.

Relationship log files and search engine crawlers

Log files help provide insight into how search engine crawlers navigate a Web site. They show which pages are visited most often and the exact frequency. This is valuable information for determining which aspects of the site are valued by search engines and which need a little more attention. Using this information, determine how to better tailor your content to crawlers and get higher in Google with your website.

Crawl budget optimization

Log files also show how the crawl budget is being spent and whether it is being unnecessarily duplicated. Use this data when structuring the site and adjust the robots.txt file to maximize crawling. This fits an optimal SEO package.

Log files record every crawler action and provide insight into which pages are indexed and their frequency. This information indicates whether the crawlers are leading to the right content or not and whether any changes in content strategy should be made.

Is Google Search Console a good alternative?

Instead of analyzing the log files yourself, Google Search Console can help with this. Google Search Files shows how all bots interact with the site and identifies errors in crawling. This takes less time than analyzing log files yourself and is therefore cheaper. Moreover, it improves website indexing.

Common mistakes in log file analysis

When using log file analysis, sporadic errors are frequently overlooked. The impact seems low, but in the long run these errors do have a negative impact. These are not only big mistakes, but also small irregularities. These lead to bigger problems in the future. Moreover, numbers alone do not say enough; their context is also important. These are the most common mistakes made in log file analysis:

  1. Outdated log files. It is important to always keep the log files up-to-date. Outdated log files can provide misleading information about the current state of the Web site.
  2. Focus on one aspect. Just looking at HTTP status codes is not enough to get a good picture of a Web site’s health. Also pay attention to load times, crawling frequency and craw lb budget.
  3. Not keeping track. Just be careful not to pay too much attention to details, so as not to lose the overview. Always store found information in a structured manner in organized folders as well.
  4. Not looking at the context. Looking only at numbers misinterprets data, sometimes causing SEO specialists to act incorrectly. Therefore, always look carefully at the context to have the whole thing clearly in mind.

Summary

Using log file analysis in an efficient way, offers a lot of benefits for SEO optimization. Experts can spot problems early, make the website more responsive to search engine requirements and optimize the crawl budget.

Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
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I have been working for 10 years as an independent SEO specialist for companies (in the Netherlands and abroad) that want to rank higher in Google in a sustainable manner. During this period I have consulted A-brands, set up large-scale international SEO campaigns and coached global development teams in the field of search engine optimization.

With this broad experience within SEO, I have developed the SEO course and helped hundreds of companies with improved findability in Google in a sustainable and transparent way. For this you can consult my portfolio, references and collaborations.

This article was originally published on 27 March 2024. The last update of this article was on 10 July 2024. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.