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Technology > Counting our visitors...
Counting our visitors...

Counting the visitors of a web site has always been an interesting task for all webmasters, from those who administer a large scaled portal with thousands of unique visitors on daily basis, to those who just blog for fun an have very limited traffic to deal with. The accuracy of a counter plays a very important role for those who have integrated advertising scripts and try to make some money out of their web site. But still, even if one has no intention of using the visitors' hits to earn some extra money, accuracy counts as an objective meter of publicity of the web site.

Most hosting plans provide built-in counters that are theoretically the most accurate engines, but only a few of them can provide live and "eye-candy" stats to be displayed within a web site. Most users seek for free or low cost counters that display the number of visitors to their web site or even geographical data, meaning the origin of the visitors' IP addresses. Other services like Technorati have a different orientation, mostly categorizing online content than displaying detailed statistics about anything. Most frequently used services are the numerous free counter buttons, of different built and feel. No one can tell how many tools of this kind are available out there.

The purpose of this short article is to explain which are the most appropriate tools according to the authors view for keeping track of users and other valuable statistics on a personal site like The Technorati engine and other equivalent scripts seem more appropriate for blogs. A web site that has a complete structure and does not consist only from a typical blog is more compatible with classical counters and there are hundreds of them available. Of the 10-15 services tested by the author three managed to impress with their features. Lets get started with free and eye-candy Clustrmaps. The user is able to display on a small world map the location of the site's visitors. Really interesting, good looking and free; apart from the geolocation tool there is a counter as well, but according to the writers experience it has shown a very bad rate of accuracy, since it double-counts visitors and boosts the visitors number to a non realistic level. Despite this fact, it would be advisable even to spend some money, about 13,50 euros for 2 years in order to be able to zoom on the map and track the exact location of the visitors. Remember, Clustrmaps is a great geolocation tool that is displayed as thumbnail on a web site but not a very good counter!

Moving forward, the author tried two of the most popular services available, Google Analytics and Sitemeter. Google Analytics has a more impressive appearance, is totally free and provides some more sophisticated tools for monitoring visitors, tools that add an "economic" orientation to the stats, giving the opportunity to the user to control and predict the web site's traffic more professionally. But there is no live interaction of these statistics with the web page, meaning that Google Analytics is a silent invisible engine that is implemented through a script and does not have the ability to provide live output to a graphical user interface, something that most users want, for example a visitors counter. So if one is searching for an invisible counter that provides good looking stats, Google Analytics will do the job easily. The accuracy of this service is not tested yet, but the available reviews are generally good.

Last and according to the author's opinion the best solution, is Sitemeter. Sitemeter is available at a free and premium (paid) account level. The free level is more than enough for most users. The quality of the tools is great and there are more statistics to be shown that Google Analytics, although there are no "marketing tools" available, at least at the free subscription level. Best part of this service is the discrete and pro-looking button that redirects to the statistics page at Sitemeter. The user is able to choose from a satisfactory variety of buttons and live counters to add to a web site. What was really impressive for Sitemeter was not only the pre-mentioned quantity and quality of services, but the accuracy of the live updater; no fake visitors, neither missed hits. Everything was precisely logged into the statistics database.

Coming to a final conclusion about how and which monitoring services to use, the author would propose the extremely cheap and really good-looking Clustrmaps+ plugin, combined with Sitemeter. If one feels it is essential to have tools like those offered at Google Analytics, the parallel usage of the service is fine as well. The site's loading time is not affected that much, only some milliseconds more. The rest tools tested on this web site were not of this quality like the three pre-mentioned. Of course there will definitely be more tools available, maybe better than the tested ones (around 10-15), it is impossible to test everything!

Before closing this article, it is essential to underline the fact that no internal plugins that fit into the CMS system XOOPS were tested, because of their limited interoperability and their software orientated dependencies.

This web site uses Clustrmaps+, Sitemeter free and Google Analytics (experimentally). Rest of the tested tools proved to be less accurate or less attractive at the GUI level.

More updates will be added later from the ongoing experience with these tools.

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