It seems that every other web site we visit has some sort of hit counter on the main page, supposedly telling us how many people have been there before us. This week we're going to address this popular trend, explain why you don't need one, and what you should be doing instead.
Most Internet marketers will normally implement a hit counter on their site for one or both of two reasons -- to give them a rough estimate of the number of visitors, and/or to give visitors the impression that their site is popular and thus worthy of a good look.
Let's consider the first reason. There is nothing wrong with wanting to know how many people have visited your web site, in fact it's something that you really do need to know. But putting a visible hit counter on your home page is not the answer, especially not one of those free services.
For one thing, the free services require you to in some way promote their site. For another, they are normally slow and increase the time it takes for your pages to load. But most importantly, a hit counter doesn't provide you with all of the information you need.
Just look at any of the top web sites on the Internet. We promise that you will not find a visible hit counter on any of them! That alone should tell you that the common hit counter is worthless. If a visible counter was worthwhile, don't you think Yahoo or Infoseek would have one?
You just can't win with a visible hit counter. If your site does not get many visitors, all it's going to do is make sure that the visitors you do get know that they are not visiting a popular site. If anything, all this will do is discourage them from exploring your web site in detail.
On the other hand, maybe your site gets 50,000 visitors a day and you think that letting people know this via a hit counter is a good idea. Not really. If your web site gets lots of traffic it is because you are doing something right, and having a hit counter isn't going to affect this.
Unfortunately, what normally happens is that the misguided Internet marketer will set up a visible hit counter on their home page and then artificially inflate their visitor count. This is done in the hopes that it will impress people, but it's a terribly bad idea and does not work.
In the early days of the web it was "cool" to have a hit counter on your home page, but they are so commonplace these days that no one pays them any attention anyway. No matter what your reason for using a visible hit counter, we say dump it and start tracking!
Tracking Visitors' Footsteps
While Yahoo and Infoseek don't have visible counters on their pages, rest assured that they know your every move. No other advertising medium allows you to do the things the Internet does, and it amazes us that more marketers do not take advantage of serious site tracking.
Part of the problem seems to be that many Internet marketers are only concerned with promoting their web site and getting more people to visit. More visitors equals more sales right? Well yes that is true, but only if your web site leads visitors through the sales process.
Before you even begin promoting a web site, you should have in your mind the path that you want visitors to take through your site. Sales is a process. One step leads to the next, until finally the end result is hopefully that what was once just a prospect is now a customer.
Tracking your visitor's footsteps throughout your web site is the best way to determine why they didn't take the action that you wanted them to take. Who knows, maybe 80% of your visitors aren't even making it past your introductory page? You'll never know unless you track them.
Consider this another Internet marketing rule that is written in stone. If you're not tracking your entire web site and tweaking it on a regular basis, you're throwing money down the proverbial drain. From a profit standpoint, it is critical that you know the answers to questions like:
1. How do visitors find your site
in the first place?
2. How many of them make it past the main page?
3. Which page of your site is the most popular?
4. How long does the average visitor stick around?
5. What is the average number of pages viewed?
6. What path do visitors take through your site?
7. What links do they use to leave your site?
If you don't know the answers to these simple questions, here's an easy way to increase your profits starting immediately. And the good news is that it may not cost you anything other than some time. We're going to show you how to use free CGI scripts to ultimately increase sales!
While you don't really need to learn anything technical to use the scripts we're going to suggest, you do need to be able to run CGI scripts on your web server. If you have no idea what CGI scripts are, ask your ISP. If they say no, we strongly suggest that you find a new ISP.
If you haven't realized it by now, we are a big fan of CGI scripts because they are what allows you to add interactivity to your web site. But CGI scripts can also help you do many other things, like track your visitors' footsteps. Let's see what we can get for free at CGI-Resources ...
1. Go to http://www.cgi-resources.com
2. Click on "Programs and Scripts"
3. Click on "Perl"
4. Click on "Logging Accesses and Statistics"
You'll be presented with no less than 30 CGI script packages which will help you gather valuable information about your visitors, and believe it or not, most of them are free! We looked at all of them, so we'll save you the time and suggest the two we like best to help you get started.
One of the first scripts we tried, and still one of our favorites, is AXS by Fluid Dynamics. It's one of the first scripts listed and you can't miss it. You can download it for free, and with a minimal amount of effort you could be tracking your entire web site within the next few hours.
The direct URL to the AXS script is http://www.xav.com/scripts/axs -- rather than going into detail about it here, we'll let you discover it for yourself. It's a great system and the only thing we don't like about it is that it creates it's own log files, and they get huge if your site is busy.
The alternative is to use something like Darryl Burgdorf's WebLog. The direct URL to this great script is http://awsd.com/scripts/weblog -- and it does everything AXS does, but it runs off of your existing server logs which makes it easier to set up for most. It's also more efficient.
Both AXS and WebLog will give you all of the information you could ever want about your visitors, and both display this information in a way that is easy for you to interpret using graphs, etc. We encourage you to download and set up one of these scripts to track your web site.
My Site Is Being Tracked, What Next?
The point of tracking your site is to act on the information you gather and use it to improve your web site's effectiveness. If you discover that 80% of your visitors aren't making it past the first page, or that the average person leaves within 2 minutes, you now have your work cut out for you.
The real value of tracking your visitor's footsteps is that it will help you determine why they did not take the action that you wanted them to take. Once you see how most people navigate your web site, you can then make changes until the path they take is the one you want.
Spend some time implementing a good tracking system on your site, because if you can increase your visitor-to-sales ratio even just a few percentage points it will be more than worth your time. Remember, it doesn't matter how many hits you get if your site doesn't do its job.
Originally published in IMC's Internet Marketing Chronicles.
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