Why Hit Counters Are Misleading

A client designer recently requested that we put a site counter on one of their customer’s websites. I asked why the customer didn’t just use the web server logs with a web analytics tool to see what the traffic for the site was. The answer was first, no one had access to the raw log files, and the hosting provider used for this site in particular didn’t generate any type of web reports. It turns out the customer is paying $500 a month for web advertising, and has no idea if it is even helping.

Having a site counter can be misleading, especially if you are using it to decide if your web advertising campaign is worth it or not. Why?

1) Hit counters are incremented for anything that visits your site, including web crawlers like Googlebot, Yahoo! Slurp, and MSNBot. MSNBot has been hitting many sites like crazy, and so a hit counter could reflect 1000 hits in one day, but they are all from nobody, effectively.

2) Hit counters only show a small part of the picture when it comes to traffic. There are many other metrics that need to be considered. Examples are unique IP addresses, page views (impressions), and source of click-throughs are just the tip of the ice berg. Your traffic could be coming from many sources, and assuming that a hit counter showing a high level of traffic means your web advertising campaign must be working is flawed thinking and could lead to many wasted dollars.

3) Hit counters can be manipulated. If someone goes to your site and hits the refresh button in their browser 10 times, guess what? The hit counter goes up by 10. Not very useful.

So what is the solution?

All customers hosted by MagicLamp Networks have web reporting available to them as a small upgrade to their web hosting package. These web reports are generated by a tool called Wusage, and it by far one of the most extensive reporting tools available.

If you have access to your web logs, there is are several free tools available:

WebLog Expert Lite I use this tool from time to time, it’s numbers are a bit suspect, but if you stick with this as your primary tool, you can get reliable over-time statistics.

Analog Very basic, but provides the most crucial numbers about your traffic. Don’t expect to figure out things like where people are stopping in your shopping or lead generation process, but again, it will get you started.