What to Look for in a Hit Counter
:::It's All About Numbers::: If you want to know how many people are coming to your website; if you want to know how "sticky" your website is; if you want to know what pages of your website are attracting most attention, you have to know numbers. And to get numbers you need, you need a hit counter that does more than just give you a head count.
Having a hit counter (or stat counter) on front page of your website is nice, but most web savvy individuals know that those numbers can be artificially inflated. While a big number can be impressive, you as a webmaster need something more than a head count. You need to know what those numbers mean, and what changes need to be made, if any, to improve your site's popularity.
:::So, what does a good stat counter do?::: A good stat counter counts. No kidding, right? True, but key to a good stat counter lies in what your stat counter counts. A good stat counter should track following kinds of statistics:
* First time visits * Return visits * Page loads * Visitor path * Popular pages * Entry/exit pages * Visit length
A first time visit is exactly that. It's a visit from someone who has never been to your site before. Most stat counters will create a cookie for people who come to your site. If a visitor comes who has no cookie, they are counted as a first time visitor. Now that's not foolproof. If person deletes all of his or her cookies and then returns to your site later, he or she will again be counted as a first time visitor, but then again no system is 100 percent perfect.
A return visit is someone who has returned to your site within an allotted amount of time. Again, a cookie is used to measure this, and most good stat counters will let you set amount of time between visits. For example, you might not want to count someone as a return visitor who has only been away for ten minutes, but you may want to count them as a return if they have come back after thirty minutes or more.
A page load is every time a page from your website is loaded on a user's screen. This is where numbers can really become artificially inflated. Let's say you use a meta tag to refresh your page every two minutes. Every time page refreshes, it will count as a page load. So if John Q. Public is visiting that page and he's there for six minutes, his visit will count as three hits instead of one. What's harm in that, you wonder, it makes for great numbers. While you do wnat to keep track of page loads to determine things like page popularity, equating page loads with actual visits will give you a reading not based entirely in reality. You need to know if 1,000 page loads is really 1,000 actual visitors, or just twenty people who are really click happy.
The visitor path is a good way to find out where your visitors are coming from and what advertising campaigns and hit-for-clicks programs are paying off. A good stat counter will show you what path a visitor followed to get to your site. Did they come from a a Google or Yahoo search, did they come from one of your hits-for-clicks programs, did they come in through a web ring you joined, or did they just happen to blow in? Knowing visitor path can give you a good indication about whether your search engine optimization is effective, or if a particular ad campaign or banner is paying off.