Web Traffic & Audience Share
Audience share is the portion of a group that an advertiser
has an interest in and that actually receive the message.
When it comes to Internet audience share, a prominent statistician
examining www traffic responded, "What you are trying to
do is like trying to count the stars in the sky."
Traditional audience metrics were fairly simple. For instance,
a newspaper publisher would count the number of subscriptions
to get a basic number of readers. But, what about a newspaper
that is delivered to a library? Or, how about a magazine
that is delivered to a dentist's office? Because of these
types of variables, algorithms were developed to estimate
In the realm of traditional media, calculating an ads "reach"
became fairly standardized. However, as media became more
interactive, calculating audience metrics became much more complex.
In fact, it may be fraudulant for a business to represent
that it can provide audience share numbers, advertising metrics,
Internet traffic statistics or any other "eyeball" counts.
Like Counting The Stars
At best, a rough estimate of advertising effectiveness can be
provided for a website's traffic. The similarities to the "counting stars"
example can shed some light on counting a webpage's viewers.
Q: How many stars can an observer count in the sky?
A: It depends.
It depends on many variables. What time of day is it?
What are the atmospheric conditions? How is the observer's eyesight?
Is the moon full or new? Will the observer use their naked eye?
If it can be agreed that the observer will go outside on the darkest
and clearest night, it still is not possible for a human to count
that high. Therefore, a procedure for estimating must be established.
No matter how thorough a procedure is adopted, an exact count is not
The same principles holds true for counting a website's "hits."
Aliens From The Stars
When you talk about counting stars, the terms are usually familiar
to most people -- atmosphere, clouds, light, telescope, etc.
When you talk about counting hits, the terms become much more alien --
robots, crawlers, spiders, proxy servers, cookies, caches and Google. It
is enough to boggle the mind. Without a clear understanding
of how the web works, counting hits is like counting stars on
a cloudy night.
Way back in 1995 one of the world's first websites was shut down by
a freak of nature. The physicist and computer expert that was consulted
explained it was a mad robot. A mad robot? What is a robot and what
is it angry about? His reply, "No. Not an angry robot. Rather,
a robot that is out of control. Whomever is responsible for that
robot needs to put it on a leash."
A robot is a computer program that searches the world wide web for
files. Variations of robots are also known as crawlers or spiders.
People, or companies, run a program that crawls the web like a spider
looking for content. In this case, the robot was out-of-control
and kept calling for file after file until it shut the server down.
On the surface, it looked like a million people were all descending
on the website like a hoard of locusts. Quite to the contrary,
the millions of hits were all being registered by a robot. Not a
single eyeball had viewed a webpage.
This is just one small example of how difficult counting hits can be.
The Hit List
The following is an abbreviated list of terms that need to be understood
before trying to measure a website's traffic:
- Robots, crawlers and spiders
- Search engine results
- Proxy servers
- "Snapshots" of the web (such as, archive.org)
- Java and scripting
- Unique viewers
- IP used as Intellectual Property
- IP used as Internet Protocol address
- Domain Name Service (DNS)
- Decentralized domain names
- Hypertext Markup Language (html)
- File extensions, such as, .html, .htm, .mp3, .ogg, .mpg, .avi, .jpg and .gif
- Uniform Resource Locater (URL) [also known as Universal Resource Locater]
- Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http)
Does Counting Hits Count?
Given the complexity of counting hits, is there any value in attempting
to measure traffic? Yes. There can be some merit to audience metrics.
A highly trained team can draw some conclusions from a traffic analysis.
However, the value has less to do with "sales" then it has to do with
"savings". The mad robot is an example. By studying the traffic
created by the mad robot, it could be shut down. By shutting down
the mad robot, more real "eyeballs" could reach the site. In the process,
a huge cost savings was realized through reduced bandwidth and hardware.
On the other hand, the best method for determining hits isn't
counting the number of files pulled from a server. The best method
for measuring hits is an advertisement's effectiveness.
That is the beauty of the world wide web. Unlike traditional media,
the web is an interactive medium. That interactiveness is much easier
to measure and results in increased business.
If the interest is in sales,
the audience share that a website
posses is much less important than the effectiveness of the site.
So, if you want to register lots of hits to a website, just put
up some pictures of naked people. If you want to increase the
effectiveness of a website, forget about the number of hits and
find a knowledge based team to help you improve sales.
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