Free Software: Six Reasons I Like StatCounter

March 16, 2006

Let’s talk about free web analytics.

While Google Analytics are really awesome (I’ve worked with customers who already have them), I’ve been on their waiting list since November. So I don’t even bother to recommend them to customers anymore. If the website is mission critical but not a profit center, I recommend NetTracker or ClickTracks. (Note: I hear that NetTracker 8.0 is going to “do money.”) For e-commerce, SiteCatalyst is my weapon of choice, although I’m sure I’ll love HBX eventually. And there are lots of other great packages that I haven’t touched upon. But for customers who have ten-page sites, I really encourage the use of StatCounter. Here are the top reasons I like it:

#1. Most other free analytics are server side, i.e. you have to have access to the actual web server to be able to install the software and then run it against your logs. Ten-page sites are almost always hosted at some ISP, and installation of StatCounter is much easier.

#2. StatCounter makes it really easy to exclude your own computer from the analytics, even if you have a dynamic IP address.

#3. StatCounter provides rudimentary clickpaths, so I can watch how people come to the site and then where they go (and if they reach a “Thank you very much” page, how they convert. It’s not Omniture, but one has to keep the price/performance ratio in mind.)

#4. StatCounter has drilldown. So, for example, I can choose the referrer tab (what they call “recently came from”) and next to each referrer, I can click on the spy glass to see the IP address, which is often resolved into a company name that I recognize. It’s not NetTracker, but again, there’s that price/performance ratio…

#5. In addition to drilldown to IP/domain, StatCounter shows you where the visitor is physically, on a map. Or at least, where her computer is.

#6. On their summary page, StatCounter lets you choose the time period you want to measure.

It also does all the things you would expect of a free package. Entry pages, exit pages, search terms, etc. Of course, there are lots of things StatCounter doesn’t do. Other than letting you choose a time period, you can’t customize anything – no customized dashboards, no campaign management. And one should never forget that, like many client-side analytic packages (i.e. the kind where you don’t need server logs), they don’t collect data about bots (like the GoogleBot), because most bots don’t read javascript. So for the first time today, after I had a new client put up a “coming soon” site, I wrote the developer and said, “Please load AWStats. [A log-based, not-as-interesting-but-still-free-package.] My only goal right now is to see if the bots/spiders are coming to visit.”