Saturday, October 17, 2009

StatCounter and BlogSpot

Overview on installing StatCounter; free software for tracking website hits. This is similar to a product called SiteMeter, which I have used in the past, and Google Analytics. See this software in action, live, by clicking this link or by seeing the icon in the "About" section, bottom-right on this screen.

If you blog but don't watch visits and user-counts then you are missing one of the most enjoyable and fun aspects of this profession. Because I don't have a real life, I get a kick watching who comes into this site and what they are searching for. A site-counter makes this possible.

In the past I've been using SiteMeter, which is a wonderful product, but on a lark, I decided to switch to StatCounter. I literally made the switch as I was writing this article and spent about 5 minutes on the entire project -- including the customization. Writing this blog entry was by far more time-consuming. This same tool works on all websites, not just blogs.

Free: Really

StatCounter, like other companies in this same category, offer their product for free. They make their money on banner advertising (never on your site) and on selling subscriptions and other services. For a nominal fee, you can get more advanced features with more reporting -- but for my needs, the default most-recent 500-visitors seems adequate.

See your session, right now

You can view your real-time arrival on this very article now. Click on the "View Stats" link on the far, bottom right of this blog - scrolling down about 12 more inches. Your actual session, along with (hopefully) hundreds of other smart and like-minded people, will be at the top of the list and you can read all about your PC, where you came from, your IP address and other statistics.



As you look, glance at all of the features on the left-column (illustrated), which are all available, even on the free version:

Click Image for larger view; click Back to Return.

One feature I particularly like, is the Visitor Paths. StatCounter keeps track of visitors and if they leave and return, it combines them into one record -- making it easy to see how people jump from page-to-page in your site. It also keeps stats on how many times they have returned (this count is an estimated count due to various technical reasons).


Setting Up a StatCounter

To begin tracking, go to StatCounter.com and register a free account. During registration, a wizard walks you through the installation and setup steps. Registration only asks for a user-ID, an email address (to send reports to), and a time-zone. You will find the wizard was nicely done and it takes about 2 minutes. They do not sell or distribute your account information. When done, you will have your website already programmed and it will begin tracking immediately.

During this process, the wizard presents a small snippet of HTML, along with instructions on how to place the code into your website. In my case it recognized BlogSpot and gave precise instructions. I cut-and-pasted the code into BlogSpots's normal widget screens and a moment later I was done. Installation was super-simple.

I won't bore you with the details on how to use the software because it is all self-explanatory, but I will say this much: Finding StatCounter's configuration screens was confusing and it took several minutes to figure out. Here is the hint: Click the icons on the horizontal list; the icons at the bottom are a fake-legend. This was the hardest part to figure out in this entire setup.

Click the bar-graph icon to see your current statistics.
Click the tool-icon for configuration.
Click the email icon to have a weekly report sent to you.

Lost Statistics during the Cutover:

Switching from SiteMeter to StatCounter meant I lost some statistics. Although I was able to start StatCounter at 9,800 hits (which is where Sitemeter was last set), I did loose other counts such as my monthly traffic counts and I will have to wait for them to rebuild. But because Keyliner is generating about 1,500 hits a month and the stat-buckets will fill soon enough.

Changing how users peek into StatCounter:

By default, clicking the "View Statistics" link from your site takes the reader to the Stats page, and away from your site. I prefer to have this link open in a separate window (I really don't want you to leave my blog -- all part of my evil plans...).

As you paste the supplied HTML code into your site (Blogspot), make this minor change, inserting the text target="new window" (quotes required):


where: "View Stats" was the phrase I typed when filling out the Wizard. It would be nice if this were made as an option during the installation steps. Outside of this minor issue, this software works wonderfully.

Blocking your own Traffic:

When visiting your own site, your machine will be recorded in the statistics. This can be blocked with a StatCounter 'Blocking Cookie'. From the StatCounter "My Projects" window, click the "Blocking Cookie" link. This builds a cookie that stops your machine from triggering a statistics-event.

But if your computer is setup like mine, you only allow session cookies and it will be deleted when you close your browser. Do the following to preserve the session cookie:



1. From StatCounter's "My Projects" window, click the "Blocking Cookie" link and build a cookie.

2. If you are using Firefox, select Firefox menu: Tools, Options, Privacy.

In that window, click the Cookies "Exception" button.
Add "my.StatCounter.com" -- set to "Allow"
Add "My1.StatCounter.com" through "my9.StatCounter.com", setting each to Allow
(I am unsure if wildcards can be used: "*.StatCounter.com").

3. With Internet Explorer, make similar changes: Tools, Internet Options, Privacy; click the Sites Button. Allow the same list.

Conclusions:

StatCounter is a neat product with more splash and features that SiteMeter and it is easier to install. I am looking forward to many hours of snooping. As always, your comments are welcome.

Related Articles:
SiteMeter and BlogSpot
Tame WebBrowser Cookies (to block advertising sites)
Writing and Improving Blogs
For fun: Frankenputer Comics

1 comment:

  1. Go one further and try GoStats. It's best IMHO. I found that statcounter was always cutting my data off at their limit. gostats doesn't have such a limit so I can keep it all.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are moderated and published upon review.