Monday, December 25, 2006
Web tools for writers: Website stats
For some time now, I've been meaning to blog about a handy new tool I found: website stats.
I started out a couple of months ago by looking for a way to track visitors to my myspace page. I already had a counter on my main website page, which was provided for me by Doteasy, but I hadn't yet discovered anything else. However, my search for a tracking device for my myspace page eventually led me to look for a free website stats tool for my website.
There are a lot of free counters available on the Internet, but not as many services that offer full website statistics. Moreover, some of the services that do offer full website stats suck. Finally, though, I found a couple that I liked, and tried both.
OneStatFree.com was one of the services I tried. I liked it at first, as the reports that it gives are pretty detailed and pretty easy to navigate. However, I ended up passing it over for a better, more convenient free service.
Active Meter is a free website stats service that is superior to anything else I found. For one thing, it is very convenient: it allows you to choose both your own name and password (whereas OneStatFree.com assigned you a user number, which is much more difficult to remember). For another, you can remain signed into your account on your computer, which makes Active Meter very easy to use.
Another benefit to Active Meter is that you can have two separate "projects" under the same free account. (Any more than two requires an upgrade to a paid account, which I think - at $9.99 a month - is really expensive. However, the free one is just the right price...) Also, Active Meter allows you to export the reports on your account as a Excel, XML, or CSV file. This makes Active Meter not only a very convenient and user-friendly tool, but also very useful for anyone who wants to know their website stats.
And finally, Active Meter offers a great deal of privacy to its users. You can choose not to have anything appear on your web pages - not a counter, not a logo, nothing that your visitors can see. Also, your website stats are not available to everyone (as some free accounts are) - Active Meter requires your user name and password in order to access your account.
There are downfalls, of course. For one thing, Active Meter's free account only holds information on 100 hits at a time. Because my website gets anywhere from 50 to 100 hits every day, it means I have to check my account daily if I want to see any useful information about my visitors, such as what pages they are coming to my website from, and what keywords my visitors use to find me. Other information that I can get about my visitors includes their location (right down to the city), their ISP address, and basic information about their computer system. The basic information - such as how many hits I get each day, how many returning visitors, etc. - does not seem to be subject to log size restrictions.
So what's important about this information? Well, first of all, it tells me who is linking to my pages: Active Meter tells me my visitors' referring pages. I try to be relatively active in the online freelancing community, and my website stats reflect this.
Another advantage to having this information is being able to tell - from the keyword searches my visitors use to find me - what information they are looking for. For instance, I was able to verify that my wedding blog is quite popular, even though for a while I wasn't updating it very recently, and that a lot of my visitors to that blog get there from the search engines. Armed with that information, I made more efforts to update it, and added some posts with links to sites that I've found helpful in my own research... And whaddya know? My little wedding blog has suddenly made it to the top of the second page when you Google the keywords 1920s wedding!
Website stats also give me a terrific advantage in my job search. For example, when I send out a bunch of resumes, I can tell who actually looks at my profile by following the link contained in my email. (Unless the link is clicked on within a web browser type of email, such as a hotmail account, Active Meter reports these clicks as "Referrer not available," same as it does when visitors use a favorites link. One of the advantages of OneStatFree.com was that it specifically noted when the page was accessed from a saved favorites list.) I can also tell how many pages they viewed, which pages they viewed, how long they spent looking at my portfolio, etc.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that as a writer, you have no need for Internet gadgets such as website stats. Trust me - a good, free website stats account is one of the most useful website tools at your disposal!