FAQ: Tracking Exit URLs

How can I tell where visitors went when they left the site?

Short Answer

Normally, you can't. However, you can set up "reflector" pages if you need this information.

Long Answer

Sawmill can show you the last page visitors hit before they exited the site, but it cannot usually show you where they went. The reason is that when they click a link on your site leading to another site, their web browser contacts the other site (not your site) for the new page--your web server is not contacted at all when someone clicks a link to leave your site. So the hit appears in the remote site's log files, not yours, and Sawmill cannot report on it because it's not in your log files.

Nevertheless, you can track exits from your site if you're willing to set up "reflector" pages. A reflector page is a page whose sole purpose is to reflect a visitor to another page. This can be done with a trivial HTML page containing only a META RELOAD tag in the HEAD section. For instance, the following simple HTML page will cause a visitor to be immediately redirected to http://www.flowerfire.com:

  <meta http-equiv="Refresh" content="0; URL=http://www.flowerfire.com/">

By creating a page like this for every exit link on your site, and changing your links to point to the reflector page rather than the actual destination page, you can track exit link usage. When a visitor clicks the exit link, they will be taken to the reflector page, and then immediately reflected to the actual destination. This will happen quickly enough that they will not notice the reflection happening--it will seem to them that they went straight to the destination page. But your log data will include a hit on the reflector page, so you will be able to see which exit links are being taken. In the "exit pages" view, the reflector links will show which links were taken when leaving the site.

A more sophisticated way of doing this is to create a CGI script (or other type of script) which generates the reflector page on the fly, given a URL parameter. If you do it that way, you won't need to create a separate reflector page for each link; you can just use the same script for all your external links.