Nearly all website owners monitor their statistics and traffic levels. This is essential to gauge the success and growth of a website. From a business perspective, it is necessary for calculating the ROI of a given marketing initiative. From a personal level, it is encouraging and motivating to watch traffic climb over time. The gratification from hours of hard work speaks for itself in numbers.
Every type of website measures (or should be measuring) different statistics depending on the nature of the site. A blog and an e-commerce site, for example, should not be tracking the same numbers. The former is probably focused around RSS subscribers and page views, while the latter is focused around conversions and sales.
From a personal standpoint, I am mostly focused on RSS subscribers and unique visitors for Mapping The Web. I’m not so focused on page views, as I choose to display entire posts. This eliminates visitors from having to read a snippet, then click to read the rest. Also, I always make a note of checking inbound links and traffic, as well as search traffic. These important sources let me know where my visitors are coming from.
Having said all that though, I still think that a majority of website owners are focused on 1) page views, and 2) unique visitors.
Sites that rely heavily on AJAX technology and “on-page” interaction are an interesting case. Take Google Maps, for example. If you are simply measuring page views, you might only record one per visitor. However, the length of time that that visitor spends on a given page is likely to be significantly higher than on most sites - say, 3-5 minutes. For this reason, a site like Google Maps might want to measure average stay (in minutes) or some other ‘attention’ statistic.
Websites that engage in offline marketing tactics and campaigns should be looking at geographic data. In other words, what city and/or country are visitors coming from? Is there any correlation with the offline strategy? There should be. If not, a re-evaluation of the campaign is necessary.
Keep in mind that statistics can be deceiving at times. Some sites boast higher numbers than actual, in an attempt to appear larger than reality. Furthermore, the misuse of terms can skew perception as well. During the 90’s, the term “hit” was used universally as a substitute for what we now know as a “page view”. The problem was that a “hit” described (by definition) the loading of any file, whether it be an HTML page, an image, or a video. In other words, if you had an HTML page that contained 100 images, one page view might also be classified as 101 hits. What a sham. Companies used this common misunderstanding to boost numbers and create false impressions. Eventually the term was dropped after Internet users discovered the truth. Nevertheless, people still use the term today - once again, usually describing a page view.
More recently, problems (and even anger) have arisen around RSS subscribership. FeedBurner is the big gun in this area, and most big blogs choose to display the company widget. Critics are arguing that given tallies are inaccurate at best and do not accurately reflect the readership of a blog. This many be true to some extent, but it does give you a general idea of the overall popularity of a given blog.
If you are looking to implement a web statistic or analytic service on your website or blog, I would highly recommend Clicky or Google Analytics. Both are free services and offer an incredible array of features. Clicky is my personal favourite, but I’ve used Google Analytics on the occasion and it’s been great too.
So… what statistics do you measure and why?