Blog Traffic Metrics
Warning: What follows is likely of no interest whatsoever to non-bloggers. And maybe not even to bloggers.
Recently, N.Z. Bear wrote a piece at TCS analyzing the decline in traffic that most blogs experienced after the election. A footnote at the end of his piece provides an important disclaimer:
[I]t should also be noted that not everyone in the weblog world believes that SiteMeter data are perfect, or even the best counter available. Some bloggers scoff at SiteMeter, claiming that the results it provides undercount the actual traffic they see by measuring traffic more directly from their server logs. These complaints may or may not be true: I frankly don’t know. But more to the point, neither does anybody else. Debates over SiteMeter reveal a more significant underlying problem in the blogosphere, which is that there are absolutely no established standards for measuring traffic, and (to my knowledge) there have been no studies done to rigorously measure the accuracy of SiteMeter or any other of the many popular weblog traffic counters.
This is a real problem, and one that will only grow in importance as weblogs continue to take their place alongside traditional media as a source of information and entertainment. Blogging is no longer exclusively a hobby done for the sheer pleasure of it: for some, it’s a business, with real money coming in from real advertisers — who want to know exactly what real traffic they’re paying for. And accurate measurements of traffic are important for other than financial reasons: a new blogger can bootstrap himself into a position of greater visibility and influence by demonstrating credibility based upon their audience levels — if the metrics are available, and more to the point, believable.
For now, though, we make do with what we have. And while questions may exist around whether SiteMeter provides perfectly accurate absolute measures of traffic, it seems reasonably safe to use SiteMeter data for the relative comparisons that I have provided here.
Michael J. Totten was surprised by this assertion:
This is news to me. IÃ¢€™ve used SiteMeter ever since I started this blog and always assumed it was reasonably accurate. Maybe itÃ¢€™s not. So I checked my traffic level using Webalizer (which is installed on my server), something IÃ¢€™ve never done before. And I was shocked. SiteMeter says the average number of visits per day on my blog is 3,200. Webalizer says my daily average is almost 6,000 for the same time period.
WhatÃ¢€™s the deal? How can these two traffic counters be off by so much? Does anyone have an informed opinion? (Both SiteMeter and Webalizer claim to count a single visit as all activity on my Web site from a single IP address with less than 30 minutes of idle time in a row between clicks. So itÃ¢€™s not like theyÃ¢€™re comparing apples and oranges.)
A wonky discussion ensues in the comment section.
In my own experience–having used SiteMeter for just under two years now and having stats from my site host going back nearly as far–SiteMeter is very useful for a free hit counter but it has many serious drawbacks. It’s frequently down and often several hours behind. It crashes constantly. This past Saturday, it was down all day at my site and I wound up with something like 1500 uniques counted, less than a third of a typical Saturday.
SiteMeter isn’t even internally consistent, with its total count often well off of the cumulative count of the hours/days/months. During the Nick Berg traffic spike, several of us “lost” tens of thousands of visits on the total as compared to the daily figures. Indeed, it went down on my site and Jeff Quinton’s, that I know of, that morning and didn’t come back into normal swing for a couple of days.
Further, SiteMeter is on multiple servers so not really a good comparative device at all. I’ve had it be down all day at OTB and see it working fine on other sites–and vice versa.
Because of its ubiquity, SiteMeter is the best device we have for comparing Web traffic across the board. But that’s not saying much.