The Thinker

More problems with SiteMeter

I first started metering my blog using SiteMeter back in 2004 because it was free and it did not have much competition. It solved the general problem of knowing who was accessing my web site in a simple way that still seems quite elegant. Create a SiteMeter account, slap some code into your site’s templates and you were done. The only alternative we had back them was to hope our web hosts had installed a package like Awstats. In many ways, SiteMeter was better than Awstats because it filtered out a lot of the noise. Awstats was not that good with determining “real” visits and page views vs. “fake” visits and page views. “Fake” visits and page views are any access by search engines. They don’t represent an actual human being reading your site. SiteMeter and similar services can tell real viewers from fake viewers because it depends on the browser to read and execute some embedded Javascript. The Javascript in your browser essentially “pings” a remote server, passing on information about your access. Search engine robots generally cannot be bothered.

Over the years, I have developed my suspicions about how accurate SiteMeter was. However, it was at least a common benchmark, since SiteMeter was also metering most other prominent websites. At least it gave you some idea of your relevant web traffic. Back in 2006, Google became a serious player in the site analytics business. In 2007 I began also monitoring my site with Google Analytics.

Over the last few months, it became clear to me that SiteMeter was missing many page requests. While it came close to matching the number of visits to my site, it was way off in the number of page views. For example, here are some statistics over the last six days for my site:

Date Google Analytics SiteMeter
Visits Page Views Visits Page Views
3/22/10 174 286 147 212
3/23/10 167 418 152 201
3/24/10 150 319 165 190
3/25/10 127 296 143 176
3/26/10 143 369 146 189
3/27/10 87 289 91 144
Total 848 1977 844 1112

What explains the difference? One small factor is that Google Analytics tracks days in Pacific time, while SiteMeter tracks in Eastern time. However, Google Analytics is reporting more than forty percent more page views that SiteMeter, 865 more page views over the same six-day period!

I really don’t think Google Analytics is creating artificial page views. As best I can figure, SiteMeter is either not getting notified of these additional page views or, more likely, one or more page views per visit are getting lost on the Internet and not actually arriving at SiteMeter. Why would this be? This is speculation, of course, but Google has much deeper pockets than SiteMeter. I suspect they have more servers listening on the edge of the cloud than SiteMeter. If correct, this means that for Google Analytics to collect a “ping” there are fewer routers to hop through on its journey, so they are more likely to be recorded. Part of the problem may be SiteMeter’s more precarious revenue stream. I don’t pay SiteMeter for monitoring my site, which means the only money they make from me are from serving me ads when I (or others) visit SiteMeter to see my statistics.

There are other issues with SiteMeter that show that they are getting sloppy. SiteMeter is also including the Google Search engine as a visitor, which artificially inflates my page view. If you are being metered by SiteMeter, you may be affected as well. Look at Recent Visitors by Details. If for example you see “googlebot.com” as the domain and a large number of page views, it’s pretty obvious that these are not human beings reading your site and the Google search engine is indexing your site instead. This problem has persisted for months and I have brought it to SiteMeter’s attention. They clearly don’t consider fixing it a priority, which implies they are not very concerned about the accuracy of their statistics.

I can understand that keeping track of the myriad search engines out there is a large challenge. I am sure Google has the same issue, but I am also confident that Google has the resources to make sure my statistics are clean. It sure appears that SiteMeter does not, or gives much lower priority to us non-paying customers.

SiteMeter is still useful to me as a quick way to check usage on my site. It gives me an idea of whether a certain post has gained in popularity and who has visited the site recently. However, it is clear that it is, at best, a rough record of actual usage of your site and is probably underreporting your site’s actual numbers of page views. You would be wise not to read too much into its statistics. If you have not added Google Analytics tracking code, you might want to do so.

 

One Response to “More problems with SiteMeter”

  1. 5:56 am on April 5 2011, Norm said:

    Thanks for the info! I’ve often wondered about that google bot. They seem to be on my site every day… multiple times …sometimes for just a few minutes and other times for thirty or forty minutes with multiple page views. I have noticed that after some of their visits that some parts of my post is missing. It may be for lack of permmission or recognition on my part but they do pull stuff quite frequently. Also, Google archives everything. I once took one of my posts down but was able to find it again by clicking on the “Cached” link on Google’s search page. Obviously I’m using Google’s blogspot which is free so I guess they have the right to monitor my content.
    Norm

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