A lot of people who run websites like to play around with Statistics.
I confess I am no exception but I have always had a problem – which service do I use for gathering statistics? I decided to run a block of them in parallel on the same site to see how their figures compare. The figures I quote are all from precisely the same time-block.
The first off is Awstats. This is preinstalled on most web servers and is generally accessed via the control panel. It is the only server-based service on my list.
AWStats is fine for keeping an eye on such things as bandwidth, but beyond that is of little use unless you are running a very basic HTML site. Its problem is that it counts everything and that would include the myriad of crawlers and spiders out there.
The Hits figure above is completely meaningless as it counts every single file downloaded from the site including all images. Its only real value is as a bragging point if your audience is not fully aware of the meaning of “hits”!
Google Analytics is a free service and is widely used. What I like is its stability, and the fact that it now gives live updates (up until a while ago it only updated on the hour). Its interface is not very intuitive as it is obviously aimed as much at the business user as the occasional hobbyist. Once you have climbed the learning curve however, it is an immensely powerful tool.
Google Analytics figures
Statcounter is another free web based service. Like Google it gives a lot of information through a fairly simple interface. It is a lot more intuitive than Google’s, at least.
Histats is another free web based system which I recently discovered. This has a simple rather attractive interface which provides all the essentials. One feature of Histats which is quite clever is that it compares the current day’s figures on a live basis and compares them with previous figures to give a reasonably good prediction of the full day’s figures. It also provides an insight into “live visitors” with such details as their location, what they are currently viewing and for how long.
I have been using Woopra since they were in Beta testing, a few years ago. Their service is web based, though I still prefer and use their [sadly obsolete?] desktop application. Woopra is free for any site up to 30,000 page impressions per month. After that, you start paying! They too give a live view of visitors, showing what they are doing on site, to the point where you even see what they have typed into a comment box. The live view shows their geolocation, number of previous visits and visit history as well as OS, Browser, Platform etc.
This service provides the facility to send any visitor a live message when they are on-line. Apart from trying it with a friend or two (who were pre-warned) the only time I ever used this facility was to send messages to a Troll who was annoying the site. That was extremely effective. No more Troll!
One area where Woopra falls down is in their historical figures (hence the lack of “Visitors” figure above. Maybe this is available in their subscribed version?
Recently I was introduced to HitSniffer. This is another web based service which has a very attractive and simple interface. Like Woopra, it provides details on live current visitors and their history with all the relevant data – geolocation, Browser, OS etc. It also names each visitor by their web “moniker” even if they haven’t commented on a blog, however they do that? Some of their historical figures can be more than a little suspect. As an example, my Hitsniffer shows zero visits to this site from a Linux platform, when I know this is patently false.
Errors apart, I love this system as the interface is clean, crisp and live. It comes with a very large range of features including a neat and simple historical graph laid over the current week, so trends are immediately obvious. It does however come with a drawback – it isn’t free! Not only that but the basic package (at $5.99 per month) cuts off at a mere 10,000 page impressions per month, whereupon the price ups to $10.99 a month for the next 10,000 pages. This would price it out of the market for your average blogger, except for the really dedicated or wealthy.
Summary of the figures
Of course the big problem with all of the above is which one is showing the correct traffic?
The only answer that satisfies me is “none of them”!
You can see from the above figures that absolute figures vary wildly from system to system. Ignoring AWStats, is the site getting 15,227 or 43,047 page impressions? Why is there such a huge disparity? Maybe someone can give a definitive answer, but I can’t.
To the average user, absolute figures aren’t important. Absolutes only come into play when offering a site for advertising. The important thing is the relative figures. It is quite important to know if your traffic is climbing or dropping. It is quite important to know where your traffic is coming from and what countries are visiting.
Which package shall I continue to use?
My preference would be HitSniffer, but to avail of the package which would suit my needs, I would have to spend more than my entire hosting and domain registration budget.
I’ll probably stick with Google!