The basic SiteMeter service is free. It shows detailed statistics for only the last 100 page views. Nevertheless, it suffices to give you an idea of your site’s traffic. Its reports may not be comprehensive, but at least the information is instantly available and up to the minute. If you have to depend on log analysis tools that come from your web host (typically Awstats) your information will be up to 24 hours old.
So SiteMeter mostly works, even if it is imprecise and occasionally slow. It satisfies my curiosity to know how heavily trafficked my blog is and if a particular entry is spurring any interest. Lately though, SiteMeter has been failing me. My statistics are collected on their sm1 server. It experienced problems on March 3rd and SiteMeter is still trying to recover. (It looks like they may lose all my historical data.) As a result, I have not been able to get my daily buzz from examining my metadata.
SiteMeter will probably get their act back together in time. In the interim, I decided to try a similar service. With a little Googling, I found StatCounter. I have been running it for a few days. I am trying to decide if I like it better than SiteMeter. Like SiteMeter, its free version limits detailed information to the last 100 page views.
SiteMeter takes you right to the pay dirt. You are instantly shown a statistics page showing things like the number total visits and page views, along with today’s total number of visits and page views. StatCounter has the same information, but it makes you dig for it, and you frequently have to log in first. This adds a lot of unnecessary clicks and keystrokes. However, StatCounter’s summary page shows more information and includes both graphical and textual statistics on the same page, including textual page and visit counts. SiteMeter has this information in graphs only.
SiteMeter has a convenient “who’s on” link that tells you how many visitors you have had over the last X minutes, as well as some high level details about each visit. (You get to configure the value. The “who’s on” feature is misleading. The World Wide Web is inherently stateless, so there is no way to really know if someone is actually viewing your page at a given moment.) StatCounter has essentially three variations of this report, but with more detail than you probably want. Nor is it quite a “who’s on” feature because you cannot limit the recent visitors or page views to a given time period. Instead, you have to pick one of the “recent” reports.
SiteMeter has a traffic prediction feature. Based on your current traffic it will infer how many page view and visits you will get over the next hour, day, week or month. StatCounter has no such feature.
SiteMeter allows you to view visitors by details, referrals, world map (it places dots on a world map for recent visitors), location, entry pages and exit pages. StatCounter offers similar features but again provides more detail. SiteMeter does offer an out clicks feature. This can be quite useful. Unfortunately, StatCounter does not offer it.
SiteMeter offers handy graphics showing traffic by month, week, day and hour. StatCounter has the same information, but it also shows quarterly traffic. In addition, it provides the exact numbers, rather than just a graph. However, it is harder to find these graphics. You have to select the Summary option, and then look for the links.
Overall SiteMeter offers more ease of use, but fewer details and features. Stat Counter does offer some unique features. These include reports over date ranges, area graphs, better drill down features, tracking by search engine, icon hiding, export features and IP labeling. It also offers information on how many visitors are returning, a feature I find quite useful. Its recent visitor map is actually a Google Maps mash up, which is more useful and navigable than SiteMeter’s service. These extra features make it more cumbersome to use and navigate. For many people it will be TMI (too much information).
I cannot speak to StatCounter’s reliability and accuracy compared with SiteMeter’s. To be fair to SiteMeter, my recent problems have been the first in three years that have been severe. Its other past problems were annoying, but considering the price, I could live with them. If I do end up losing all my historical statistics, I will be upset with SiteMeter, since I will have lost the yearly history that shows traffic growth for this blog.
If you value simplicity, SiteMeter is the better service. SiteMeter’s categorized links makes it much easier to navigate to essential information. If you value depth of information, StatCounter is probably the better choice, even though its screens are often unnecessarily busy. Either solution is free with upgrade options if you want to track details for more than the last 100 page views, so it does not hurt to add code for both. Now that I have started using StatCounter, I will continue to use it. However, I will not get rid of SiteMeter either. Both have their uses. Some months of experiencing both side by side will give me a better appreciation for the features of each.