|Counters and Trackers|
|Thursday, 18 February 2010 07:38|
By Chris Beasley on sitepoint.com
Early in the life of the Web, counters were fairly popular. A counter is a simple script that records the number of visitors to a site in a text file or database and then displays the total, either textually or graphically, on the Website. You still find them on some amateur pages, but for the most part, their use has died out -- primarily because site owners wanted more complex information about their traffic, but also because these counters have come to be seen as unprofessional.
Now most professional or commercial sites use tracking software. Tracking software tells you more than just the number of visitors -- it can break visitor statistics down by date, time, browser, page viewed, referrer, and countless other values. Trackers are so named because they can more or less detail for you the path a visitor takes through your Website, so they do more than just count your traffic: they track it. You can choose from three main types of tracking software -- let's look at your options.
The Three Flavors of Tracking Software
1. Remote Tracking Services
So try to avoid using these services unless you don't have the ability or expertise to execute tracking scripts of any kind on your own server.
2. Logging Programs
This is my preferred method of traffic analysis. Logging programs are scripts that you install on your server, which then generate both log files (either in flat files or a database), and reports. I prefer this type of program over a log analysis system (discussed below) because logging programs afford the site owner more control -- you decide what is logged and what isn't, and only track those pages you want to track.
The downside to doing this is that you must maintain your log files, and if your site is popular, they can grow rather large. On one of my sites (which logs over a million impressions a month) the log file grows by about 15mb a day so I usually rotate it every 3 days. Now, if you use a log analysis program you'll still be battling large log files, however these are your server's log files, and thus they are automatically rotated and maintained for you.
Another added feature of this type of program is that you can sometimes use them to track links from your site as well, so you can identify exactly how much traffic you send away in a link exchange.
3. Log Analysis Programs
These are programs that analyze your server logs and then create traffic reports accordingly. Some may include advanced filters, which allow you to specify what exactly you want reported, but most will simply report everything in the log files -- usually covering total hits, impressions, and uniques. Of course, the quality of the reports generated will depend on what software you actually use.
Some log analyzers are free and come preinstalled on many hosting accounts, while others can cost a good deal of money.
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