100,000 Visits per Month Sound Low?

HitTail News Apr 1, 2007

Welcome to another reason to love HitTail–an honest measure of how active your site is…

…among NEW visitors!

We took almost 8 months to decide what that traffic level was going to be under which HitTailing remains free. And we categorized just about every website in creation into this free category. You can find this as your “Visits/Month” figure under the “My Account” tab.

Impossible, you say? My sites is WAY over 100K hits/mo. you say? And we’re only reporting 5,000? Well, let us explain why we might be the only honest traffic monitoring tool company you deal with. The spoiler is that we only count initial referrers and search hits against this number, de-duped based on user sessions.

That’s so much mumbo-jumbo for most people. So, if you’re a tech-head and don’t get it, read on.

If you’re NOT a tech-head, forward this to one of your buddies who is, and they’ll explain it to you.

We must open the discussion with the fact that almost every number quoted in measuring web traffic is SUBJECTIVE. Let me count the ways…

First, there are infinite “paths” through the Internet whenever you load a web page, so no one in that path can accurately measure the overall traffic to any given site. Not even the ISPs and companies, like HitWise, who strike deals with those ISPs. They have part of the picture, but not all. Folks like AT&T; and Level 3 who sit on big chunks of the “series of tubes” that comprise the Internet are in a slightly better position to measure this… but they don’t… at least not for YOUR purposes.

Second, there are “caches” all over the Internet, keeping the TRUE page-load activity unclear. There are caches at the local level (your own PC), cashes along the way (squid), and cashes at the hosting level by content distribution networks, such as Akamai and Panther. And finally, your own ISPs, such as AOL also cache. There’s just no way that even your own web log files contain the true referrers. This is why so many tracking systems such as HitTail rely on JavaScript-based code embedded into the HTML pages themselves to overcome this caching problem. It’s marginally more accurate.

Third, even once you have a decent record of activity on your website, there’s the artful process of filtering it down to MEANINGFUL traffic and an OBJECTIVE measure of hits. The problem is that there are spiders and crawlers belonging to Google and other content-monitoring companies all over your site looking like users. To make it worse, for every page-load, there is sometimes dozens more hits as the graphics for the page are also fetched for the same user. In fact, here was a time when people would quote “hits” as just a count of the number of lines in their log files, in which case sites with lots of small graphics would be totally overinflated. Even with the best of intentions, deriving an HONEST and OBJECTIVE measure of hits is a subjective and artful practice.

With all that background, it’s time for…

…even MORE background! Sorry, but it’s got to be done in order for you to understand why HitTail is so much more honest, and therefore better, than other systems at measuring unqiues and therefore giving you unique insight into the minds of your prospective audience and customers.

It’s why HitTail under-reports hits, and is therefore better (better in this context, where we’re asking you to take actions to make that number go up).

Once you strip out all the garbage of Web crawlers and graphics loads, you are left with a nearly-objective count of uniques, right? Wrong, what you’ve got is a nearly-objective count of page-views (sometimes also known as page-loads, which I’ll user interchangeably). For you see, there are TWO nearly-objective numbers for the activity on any website. And NEITHER ONE is a count of uniques. The first, is he aforementioned count of page-views. The other is the count of initial referrers.

Initial referrers are sort of like uniques, in that for every visit to a website, there is only one page-load that was your first page-load of the session. And IF you came from somewhere else on the web, that page-load carries a piece of data known as the initial referrer. 9 times out of 10, this is Google, for well-optimized sites. 9 times out of 10, this is the first person to link to you for brand-new sites. As sites age, their initial referrers gradually shifts from being “non-search” links to “Google hits”. And the initial referrer number is maybe 10 times smaller than your page-view count described above.

“But wait!” cry all the experienced Web marketers out there. If the average page-views per session for a website visitor is 5, then how can initial referrers be 10-times less? Shouldn’t it only be 5-times less?

The answer comes in all those bookmarked pages, links in email, and websites that are directly typed-into the browser (factoring out social bookmark websites and web-based email, which DO carry initial referrers). And there’s a heck of a lot of these referrer-less visitors–at least as many as come from links and search engines. These “initial referrer-less” visits are completely invisible to HitTail, as they carry no competitive keyword intelligence. But once you’ve subtracted out subsequent page-loads by the same visitor AND initial referrer-less visitors, you have about 1/10th your page-load number. And you also have a nearly-objective number, known as initial referrers. And finally, THAT’S what HitTail cares about, measures, and reports in the Search Hits tab.

So, if a site receives the nearly-objective number of 1 million page-loads per month, chances are that your initial referrer number is going to be about 100,000, and exactly the HitTail cut-off for a high-volume site. If your site has 10,000 page-view per month, then your initial referrer number is probably about 1,000, and disappointingly lower than you might have thought. And FAR from the HitTail cut-off for free service.

But we DO have our share of HitTail users in this 1,000 initial referrers/month range that contact us in a panic because their “high volume” site is going to be over the limit, and they’re worried they’ll be forced to pay. Sometimes, you have a site with a small base of incredibly addicted users. The site owners think they’re sitting on an active-site gold mine for advertisers, who pay based on page-loads. But the truth is, they have a tiny, fanatical group of readers, and nearly NO INFLUX OF NEWBIES–which, in the end, are the lifeblood of any site.

And so simply put, HitTail’s measure of uniques is our measure of initial referrers–which we call “Visits/Month” under the “My Account” tab. The only difference between our “unique” and other analytics software companies’ version of uniques is the delusion that cross-session persistent cookies can be trusted. They can’t. They violate privacy. We don’t use ’em. And initial referrers is so close to other peoples’ count of uniques, that it’s not worth the trouble.

As a result, HitTail triggers off no security warnings. Our non-persistent cookie, required only to “hush” HitTail and network chatter subsequent to the initial referrer event, makes for the most polite and lightweight tracking system on the Internet.

You should feel good about adding HitTail as that “one more piece of code.” It’s the one more piece of code you SHOULD use, because we planned it that way.

And you should also feel good about how we report how active your site is. Because if someone is telling you that your site is optimized, and HitTail tells you you’ve only got 5,000 visitors/month, well then, you’re not as well optimized as you think.

And thanks to Jon of WickedFire, and one of the best Affliliate Marketing guys I know, for prompting me to make this post. He wanted us to show that our Visits/Month number was a measure of Search Hits, and not Page-Loads, as many affiliate programs use.

I guess I could have said it more simply, huh?

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