I was rummaging through WordPress’s Support site yesterday, trying to learn about uploading photos. One thing led to another and soon I was reading this post by TimeThief about what makes a blog sidebar effective.
More things led to even more things, none of them involving uploading photos, and then I was learning how to tracking unique visitors, as opposed to repeat visitors, and trying to find out how many people are following me via RSS feeds. By the end of the day, I’d tidied up my sidebar and installed a couple of counters.
Here’s what I learned.
1. There’s no definitive way to determine the exact number of unique visitors because counters can track only visitors who have cookies enabled, so WordPress doesn’t do it, at least on the .com free version I’m using.
2. WordPress doesn’t yet have a “track RSS subscribers” feature, although Hanni from WP Support emailed me this morning to assure me that “we’re discussing it.” [RSS = Really Simple Syndication = your computer automatically checking blogs and other websites you’ve subscribed to for updates. The mechanism for doing this is a “feed” reader such as Google Reader or the one that might be a feature of your browser (in Safari, for instance, see “RSS” in the Preferences menu).]
3. The dirty little secret about freebie third-party counters is that apparently you can set the display to start with any number you want, which makes me wonder about blogs with counts in the six- and seven-figure range. I suspect a lot of those meters are counting hits, not unique visitors (you can set for either stat). I also suspect some of the numbers might be a wee bit inflated.
4. I installed the WordPress hit counter and free versions of two third-party counters, Pax and Site Meter, at the bottom of my sidebar. I set Pax and Site Meter to track unique visitors rather than hits. I told Pax to start at 43, the number of home page views from the time the blog went public on February 14. There might be a few repeat visitors counted in there but the figure seems to be advancing in tandem with Site Meter, which I set at 0 to see how closely they compare.
UPDATE: The Pax hit counter went missing on 7/17/2012, so I deleted it. Its numbers always were significantly higher than Sitemeter anyway, so I think it counted a fair amount of spam.)
5. I also added a Contact Page and a couple of sub-pages to the About page.
6. It’s easy to become obsessive about this sort of thing, especially when you should be trying to nail down a plot or a character or at least a working title for what I would call the Work in Progress if there was any progress to report. Right now the WIP is mainly a 3000-word file of notes that basically add up to: It’s a YA novel. No, it’s SF and it’s a short story. No, it’s a literary novel for adults that chronicles the death and rebirth of a very specific culture. No, it has to be a YA novel! No… hey! Why don’t I just drop by the blog to check the stats again!
I’m hoping I get over this in a week or so.
February 22: The Pax counter doesn’t seem to be working. I thought it would start registering when the Site Meter caught up with it, but the numbers haven’t changed. Maybe it doesn’t like sharing the widget box with Site Meter?
February 23: The Pax count hasn’t budged, so I moved it to its own widget and set it to match Site Meter.
February 24: The Pax counter still doesn’t register new visitors. I asked someone who hadn’t visited yet to log on this afternoon as a control, and nothing happened, not even after I emptied the cache, so I deleted it and installed a fresh one, set to 0. If this works, it will be interesting to see how long it takes to catch up with the Site Meter. (Note: it seems to register 3 UVs at installation. I noticed this the last time as well. I thought I’d set the Pax at 43 initially, but it showed up on the page as 46. And just stayed there.)
February 28: The two meters seem to be playing nicely together; whenever Site Meter updates, so does the Pax. I’m guessing it will take a couple of weeks for Pax to catch up with Site Meter, and then it will be fun to see if they stay together.
March 9: The Pax counter caught up with Site Meter today at 2 p.m. US Central Time, at 172 Unique Visitors each. So now the fun begins. Will they advance in tandem?
April 2: Apparently not.
April 23: Pax might be counting the spam that WordPress catches; the number of spam comments caught by Akismet (and deleted by me) is pretty close to the difference between the Pax and Site Meter counts. I’m going to track this more closely until the end of the month, but I suspect Site Meter is the more useful measure of unique visitors.
© 2010 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go