Site counters are useful tools for personal sites and blogs. And they can be loads of fun too!
Some do it once a day. Others do it twice a day. Then there are those who are obsessed with it and might do it thrice a day!
We're talking here of the practice of checking site statistics and referrer logs to personal sites and blogs using a harmless looking tool called the site counter. Easy to install and usually free, a counter keeps track of how many people visit your site, where they come from, browsers (IE/Netscape/Mozilla) visitors use and what time of the day you get the most traffic.
And it's not just big sites, clocking a million hits, who need to track their users. Even personal sites, with hits in the hundreds, worrry about their readership.
He now customises his writing for his audience and times his posts to catch peak traffic. Atlanta based writer, Jeneane Sessum, says it helps her to gauge readers interest in what she writes about.
Another indication that Kiruba gets from his site counter is the reliability of his server. "If my traffic drops drastically, I'd know my server has a problem."
Financial analyst Sid M installed a site counter about a month after setting up his blog. Sid uses his referrer logs to check out new blogs and even found a long lost friend. Hits to his page increased sharply when he was featured on the RediffBlogs home page.
Like Kiruba, Sid noticed a lot of traffic from the US. Now he keeps that audience in mind while writing. "For example, I include Fahrenheit along with Centigrade when I am talking about temperatures," says Sid, who checks his statistics a few times every day.
Statistics are much more than a morale booster; they also provide valuable information. "Feedback is a very potent tool," comments Sid.
Adds US-based Kaushik Banerjee: "Over and beyond that, it is a very good yardstick for figuring out 1) what you are doing right 2) which of your posts have been popular and 3) who has been linking to you. It is nice to be able reciprocate that compliment wherever possible."
For some, it can also be a cause for mirth. Like Chennai based Prasenjeet Dutta, who uses sitemeter.com, noticed that some of his visitors were searching for 'Visio activation crack' and 'Bengali porn'.
Jeaneane noticed the CIA lurking around once (and admits it spooked her out a bit!) and has weird referrals like 'roped slips underwear' and 'chin porn'. Sid recently noticed unusual traffic from Romania. "They read every page, including the archives, return frequently, and finally left a comment and sent me an email," he says.
Jeneane also has some fun. "Sometimes I play a little game in my head. I see how low the site visits go, and then I blast off with some really good writing and see how far and how fast I can bring the stats up."
Site counters are much more than just an ego booster, she says. "It's an important tie in to the community. You see who you've touched, track your regular visitors, find someone new and start a conversation. And it helps the community grow."
Prasenjeet uses his site logs to watch the browser/operating system information to make sure that his site is accessible to users who don't have Win/IE.
Making new friends through referrer logs is also not uncommon. "I often add sites I've found in my referrer log to my blogroll. Then my readers and their readers come together and read one another. It's beautiful that way," says Jeneane.
Shanti Mangala from Dallas, Texas, frequently adds new blogs to her roll using referrals. Statistics she feels are a motivator and helps mold site content to better suit visitors.
Kaushik says he would use the statistics to stay tuned to what readers are saying about what he writes. "But if it turns out that the traffic is dropping because my content is diverging from what readers are looking for, I don't think I would change that. I write about what interests me," he adds.
Prasenjeet has another view: "If your trends show visitor count spikes every time you write about Persian carpets, you're probably well on your way to becoming an Internet pundit on the subject. You should write more about that subject if you can!" Jeneane asserts that she would not change anything on her site because of what her statistics reveal, but she does experiment with the format of her content and timing of her updates.
Sameer G, follows his statistics with interest, at least a few times every day. Some occasions bring about a quantum jump in traffic and then there are single digit days. "It really feels great when I notice that there is an especially large number of visitors in a day," says this young Mumbai based 'average techie' (as he describes himself!).
Kaushik says a huge spike in my readership would alarm him, but because of another reason. " I'll check regularly to ensure that I am not exceeding my bandwidth quota with my service provider."
For Amit Agarwal, Webalizer, a standard feature on every Linux server, provided by his Internet service provider solves his purpose. Besides the usual statistics, he also gets additional information like unique site, total files, hits per hour, total unique referrers, etc.
Amit feels that free tools tend to slow down the Web page and hinders page design. For referrals to his site, he uses a very simple script from Little Green Footballs, a favourite choice of most bloggers who have access to run private customised scripts.
Weekends seem to be a sore point with most though. The decline in numbers, Sameer says, is an indication that people tend to visit blogs from either their place of work or from their colleges.
Jeneane's site counter makes her rather unhappy over the weekends: "I dislike the feeling of the slow down. Feels like I'm trying to power the Web by myself on Sundays. I'm forever clicking the email send/receive button, checking my site stats, looking for comments - anything to help me feel like I'm not the last person on the planet."