About the Site Meter Widget

Site Meter is a company that provides a web site widget that tracks visitors and page views for web sites. I've used their widget on KeenerTech.com and a few other web sites now. I think I've used it enough to provide a fair and balanced review of their widget.

Site Meter: A widget for tracking web site traffic

There are two basic flavors to the widget. There's a free Basic version and a Premium version that, quite naturally, costs money. This is pretty standard for widget providers. They have to monetize their product somehow or they'll join the long list of defunct Internet companies.

The Basic Widget

We'll start off by covering the basic widget.

To create a widget, you go to the Site Meter web site. Once you sign up for a free login account, you can quickly and easily generate embed code for your widget. The code that's produced is a just a typical snippet of JavaScript code.

To start using the widget, simply place the generated embed code on all of the pages of your site for which you want to track traffic. Generally, you'll place the code in one file where it will then be automatically included in all of the site's pages, e.g. - in an include file for sites that use Server-Side Includes (SSI). Most technologies for dynamically creating web pages (Rails, Python, .Net, etc) typically provide some mechanism for doing this.

The widget shows as a small, unobtrusive graphic. I've generally placed it at the bottom of the page, in a well-defined footer area. Every time a web page with the widget is displayed, Site Meter will be able to track information about the page view and the visitor.

Site Meter provides a generic summary that shows you the number of visits, the number of page views and a few other useful statistics. It provides a number of reports allowing users to view the number of visitors and page views over various intervals of time. There's also a nice Predictions report that attempts to predict a site's likely upcoming page views based on recent statistics.

What if you want to know your traffic stats, but you don't want to make them public? The widget is a link to the Site Meter web site, which is clearly one way that they advertise their widget. By default, users can see all of the reports associated with the site.

Since this is obviously not what all site owners would want, Site Meter provides three levels of security. The lowest level allows full access to the traffic reports for all users. The second level provides access to only the top-level Summary report. This tells users the total number of visitors and page views, but doesn't give them any information about which parts of the site are getting the traffic. The highest security level restricts information so that only the widget owner can access it. In this case, the widget links to Site Meter's home page rather than a report page.

It was easy to create an account, generate a widget and incorporate it into a web site. The Basic version of the widget produces some simple reports, but they're fine for owners of small and maybe even medium-sized web sites who just want to know how much traffic they're getting. However, the reports won't be terribly useful for anybody attempting to do search engine optimization or any type of web site tuning.

The Premium Widget

The Premium widget simply adds more reports. Users can view traffic for individual web pages, as well as traffic coming from search engines, search engine keywords, etc. There are quite a number of reports, and they're easily accessible. There's also information on traffic from search engines, search keywords used to find the site, etc.

Is the Premium version of the widget worth it?

Quite frankly, it depends. The widget is nice in some respects because Site Meter takes all the drudgery out of tracking traffic. On the other hand, there really aren't any reports that can't be generated using a free, open source package like AWStats, which is provided by many hosting companies as part of their hosting solution.

In the end, it depends on the sophistication of the organization behind a web site. If the organization has a dedicated IT staff, or something like AWStats is provided by the hosting company, then Site Meter isn't really needed. On the other hand, if an organization or web site owner doesn't have a real IT staff, or isn't comfortable installing and managing open source packages, then Site Meter is an easy, low-risk, low-cost solution.



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