Friday, 26 July 2013

How to Know Your Visitors

Most Bloggers, and publishers of other websites, shouldn't just write content, blindly. They need to know who reads the content too.

Some folks learn about their readers from the comments left by them. If the website is a blog, and if comments have been enabled, then some readers will feel moved to leave comments about specific posts. Both Blogger and WordPress, and probably other blogging services, provide for comments. For regular websites, and for blogs without comments activated, you may be able to use Disqus. Disqus provides commenting on non-blog websites, and on blogs where more control (and separate from Blogger connections) is desired.

As an alternative to commenting, some blog / website owners may prefer a GuestBook for their blog or website. There are quite a few free GuestBook products available, such as A-Free-Guestbook, and UltraGuest. GuestBooks are different from Comments - Comments are generally left for a specific post, while GuestBook entries apply to an entire website.

But we can get better information about our visitors, using specially designed visitor activity logs and meters.

Both Comments and GuestBook entries suffer from one major flaw. They require active feedback from the reader. Why is this important? Simply this - not all visitors will feel inclined to leave any comments, good or bad. During a typical month, I might see a dozen entries left in my UltraGuest account. During that same month, both SiteMeter and StatCounter will record hundreds of unique visitors, and thousands of page views, on my websites. Alternatively, the Blogger Stats product will provide statistical information, that no competing product can possibly provide.

Both SiteMeter and StatCounter are free services, reasonably easy to install (in an XML based Layouts / Designer template), and both provide invaluable information about the visitors to your websites. To understand the difference between these complementary yet competing products, and what they can tell you about your visitors, you need to know about the difference between unique visitors and page views.

A unique visitor is a single person, viewing many pages in the website, during an arbitrary time period (generally 1/2 hour, for both products). A page view is generally one article or post being viewed, whether from cache (on the reader's computer), or retrieved from the website, by any visitor. Analysing both types of information is essential to proper knowledge of your readers, and how they view your websites.

And this is where SiteMeter and StatCounter differ, and thus complement each other. SiteMeter records unique visitors, and specific page view details about each visitor. StatCounter records individual page views, and aggregates information about each visitor, from the page views. SiteMeter limits itself by unique visitors - the free SiteMeter service will show you information about the latest 100 unique visitors to your website. StatCounter limits itself by page views - the free StatCounter service will show you information about the latest 100 page views from your website.

Both SiteMeter and StatCounter provide a limited amount of complementary information.SiteMeter provides first and last page viewed, for 100 unique visitors. StatCounter aggregates information about the unique visitors, for 100 page views. But both are equally useful. Fortunately, both are equally priced - free. And both will provide more data, for various fees.

SiteMeter makes it easier to spot trends. With StatCounter, at any time, you can see information on only the last 100 page views. Since you hopefully have, on the average, more than 1 page view / unique visitor, the information recorded by StatCounter is overwritten, more often, by newer information. So you will find yourself checking StatCounter more frequently, to get information about trends. SiteMeter has a graph of page view and visitor counts, by hour, for the day in question, that is not provided by StatCounter.

StatCounter, on the other hand, provides more detail about each visitors viewing of your website. SiteMeter identifies only the first and last page viewed from your website. StatCounter identifies each page viewed, in sequence, and what page (yours or anothers) led to that page. So StatCounter will help you learn the specific needs of each individual viewer.

A third product which I use, FlagCounter, provides a very simple count, by country, of visitors. From their statistics for your blog, behind a link "Page Views", you can see a useful histogram showing daily page view counts during the last week.

The idea here is that, by using these services together, you can know more about your visitors, and their needs, and make them happy that they visit your blog. This helps you improve and tune your blog or website, get more visitors, and better search engine placings. This in turn leads to still more visitors. With more visitors and page views, you will feel encouraged (and maybe become more able to afford) to purchase expanded service from either, or both, product. With expanded service, you'll get better tools, giving you the ability to tune your website more effectively - and to make your visitors happy. This will lead to still more visitors and page views.


  • Besides keeping a watch on your visitors that you get from search hit lists, you need to watch for incoming static links to your website.
  • You may want to selectively allow others to view your stats too.
  • Anybody who wants to prevent his IP address from being known can do so with ease. And blocking any determined attacker will be like playing Whac-A-Mole.
  • And even knowing your reader's actual IP address won't put you on his doorstep, or even in his town, with any accuracy.

Installing each product isn't complicated. Both FlagCounterSiteMeter and StatCounter have wizards, where you select what options you want, and provide JavaScript for you to use. One useful option is to identify your own computer(s), by either IP address (range of IP addresses), or by a cookie placed on your computer, so you accessing your blog won't be counted in your statistics.

  • With SiteMeter, you select "Manager", then "ignore visits". To ignore by IP address, you then select "ignore visits by IP address".
  • With StatCounter, you select "Settings" (the wrench), then "Edit Settings" (to block by IP address), or "Create blocking Cookie" (to block by cookie).
Note that neither cookie nor IP address blocking are 100% persistent and reliable.

Having selected the options that please you, the JavaScript for your counter is generated. You copy the JavaScript, and paste it into an HTML / JavaScript gadget, in your blog. Then position the gadget where you like. You can, alternately, get fancy and arrange visitor counters (and other objects) next to each other, in one gadget.

Besides FlagCounter, SiteMeter, and StatCounter, you'll want to look at the native Blogger Stats product. Stats needs no installation - it's there with its own link in your dashboard - and has been there, since 2009 (or whenever you started your blog, whichever came last). Since Stats is not installed, it has its own peccadilloes.

Note that any visitor meter provides statistical information, not absolute detail. You gain more from any visitor meter as you are able to compare what it tells you, over a period time, and a longer period the better. And you gain more from comparing each different visitor meter with its own figures over different periods of time. You will gain very little, by comparing different meters with each other.

To be truly useful, a visitor meter has to be consistent, persistent, and stable. A visitor meter that goes offline next week won't be very useful next week (or even the following week). Try to select a visitor meter that will remain online for a useful period of time. Select a less mature or popular meter, and you may end up with no data, as various bloggers found out in January of 2009.

Having said all of that, we should note that your visitor meters only work from direct visits to your blog. People reading your blog from a Newsfeed Reader will read the feed from your blog, which doesn't include the visitor counter, so they won't show in your visitor logs. If you want to keep a count of visitors using your newsfeed, you'll have to create a custom feed, using a feed aggregator.

And if your readers are mainly bloggers, you may encourage a sense of community, and gain ability to surf each others blogs, by using Following, the new Blogger fusing of Blogger profiles, blog newsfeeds, and the "Next Blog" link. Here, you get to know your readers, or at least their pictures. And, understand the difference between followers, readers, and subscribers.


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