Free Stuff: Counters
If you are a webmaster and you are not examining the statistics of your site
regularly, then you are running blind. If you are serious, then you must be
examining your site statistics regularly to find out which pages are being
visited, where the people are coming from and what they are doing while they
are on your site. You have two ways to do this: log files (the recommended
and far superior method) and counter scripts.
The absolute best option is to place your site with a web host which gives
you complete access to your log files. Most web servers keep (at the system
managers discretion) a detailed record (called a log file) of every single
thing that happens on the site. Every page visit, every image load and even
every single error is recorded.
Since log files are already created automatically for you, why not take
advantage of them and get the detailed statistics they provide? This has the
added advantage that you are not adding the additional overhead of recording
statistics that are already being recorded by your web server. Log files are
also invisible to your visitors (it's really none of their business how many
hits you are getting) and require no setup of any kind.
A number of options exist to analyze your log files. Virtually all web hosts
that allow you to access these logs also provide some online tools to view
them in an organized manner. Usually these tools consist of some routine
thatruns each night and creates graphics and charts which you can examine at
You can also find a number of programs (shareware and professional) which
will help you determine exactly what is happening on your site. These
programs generally cost money, which is beyond the scope of this article.
Personally, I am not sure why anyone would want to include a locally hosted
counter script on their pages. I mean if the web host allows CGI (or ASP,
PHP or similar technology) scripts to be executed he almost certainly gives
you access to the log files. So why add the additional overhead and
complexity of a local script? The only reason that I can think of is to
include a counter on the page - which I would not recommend anyway since I
do not see how a hit counter improves a site. The way I look at it, if you
are getting the hits you don't need to brag (and your visitors may not
believe you if you told them what you were getting anyway). If you are not,
why would you want to tell you visitors that no one is visiting your site?
Frontpage is a product sold by Microsoft which does a reasonably good job of
web site editing. This product includes a number of extensions, and one of
those allows for hit counting. I must take just a minute to explain my
feelings on this counter: it's one of the worst counter implementations that
has ever been created. Don't use it. If you do, you will regret it.
If you cannot get access to your server log files (which is generally true
for sites on free hosts such as GeoCities and FortuneCity), then your best
option is to use remotely hosted counter and statistics scripts. If your
site is hosted on a free host, they will most likely provide access to a
counter script of some kind. You can use that script if you desire, or you
can use one of the scripts listed later in this article.
Remotely hosted scripts are extremely inferior to examining the server log
files for the following reasons:
1) Since the script is on a remote server, it tends to slow your page load.
Sometimes this slowdown can be very significant.
2) The scripts usually require an image load from the remote host, which
introduces the possibility that your site statistics are being used for
marketing and advertising purposes. In this case, the script and associated
image load are acting as web bugs, with all of the associated privacy
systems. Many people now simply do not want cookies, so you are introducing
additional reasons for people to leave your site.
4) The counter companies usually make money by indirect means such as
advertising and selling marketing research information. This makes them very
vulnerable to the whims of advertisers (and the stock market). You could
find yourself replacing all of your remotely loaded scripts more often than
you would like simply due to company turnover (and quite a few of these
companies have gone belly up in the year 2001).
There are not that many advantages to using these scripts. In fact, the only
real reason that makes sense is simply that you have no choice because you
do not have access to the server logs. Another reason is if you really want
a hit counter displayed on your pages.
If you must use a remotely hosted counter script, be sure and look at them
all before settling on one. Why? Since the code is embedded within all of
your pages, it can be quite a pain to change later. So take the time to find
a script which gives you all of the data that you need to manage your site.
Some remotely hosted scripts are listed below.
Simple counter with a variety of styles.
Bravenet Web Services
The counters come in various sizes and colors, and increment when new
visitors come to your web page. When you click on your counter it will take
you to several pages of useful statistics.
Very advanced tracking service. You will be able to tell exactly what your
visitors are doing if you add this service to your site. Some of the
features include: real-time reporting and extensive referrer tracking.
This service from bCentral gives you a simple, fast counter. Nothing fancy,
just a variety of styles. Not much reporting capabilities.
A very good tracking service with lots of features. With Freestats you will
be able to know exactly what your visitors are doing on your web site, how
long they've been there and where they came from.
By far the best tracking service on the internet. If you want to find out
exactly what your visitors are doing, where they came from and how long they
stayed, this service is for you. Note: this service does require a bit more
setup than most.
A good counter with lots of statistics.
Site Meter is a free, fast, and easy way to add a web counter to your web
page. Not only does it display the number of visitors to your web site, it
also keeps statistics on the number of visits each hour and each day.
Reasonably good statistics package. Easy to install, easy to use.
Implementing a WebTracker on your page lets you count visitors to your page.
You gain informative data on what browser they are using, the operating
system they are running, and can even tell if they are a return visitor!
Find out what days of the week are hot at your site, and find out what time
of the day visitors come to your site. Note: limited to sites with 500 hits
per day or less.
Constantly collect and analyze statistics
You MUST collect and analyze statistics about your web site to determine
what is working and what is not.
Watching Your Visitors
If you are a webmaster, then you need to know what your visitors are doing
on your web site.
Web bugs are little graphic images inserted into web pages, emails and other
web-aware documents to allow companies to gather information about you
without your knowledge.
About the Author
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets at
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