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Why Sitemeter is Not a Good Measure of Blog Traffic (and Proof Lowell Feld is Wrong)

As most of you know, I have been compiling a weekly ranking of the political blogs in Virginia since the first of the year. But I began doing research to try to come up with a fair and accurate way of doing a ranking several months before I began doing the rankings. One of the first thoughts I had on the project was to use a free service called Sitemeter that several blogs already use, and the thought was that I could persuade those that don’t already use Sitemeter to do so. But when I looked into the free version of Sitemeter, I immediately discovered a serious flaw. The free version only tracks the last 100 visitors. As the 101st visitor hits a webpage, the first one is deleted from the log. What that means is that visitor 101 could have also been visitor 1 for the day and would be counted a second time in the same day.

Now for a site that receives under 100 visitors per day, Sitemeter would be pretty accurate, but a site receiving hundreds of visits a day would see a large number of return visits counted multiple times per day. They have a pay for version for $6.95 per month that remembers the last 4,000 visitors which would be ample for most of the Virginia political blogs, but there was no way I could ever get blogs that have over 100 visits a day to pay $6.95 per month to get an accurate count. Sitemeter also counts pageviews from the same computer over and over, even for the same page. It appears that a second refresh of the same page is counted if 30 minutes have passed.

In addition, Sitemeter recounts the same visitor as a “hit” after approximately 3 hours even if 100 hits have not been registered.

Now if a blog tends to have traffic that visits once per day, and only once, and reads the pages they want to read in that first visit, Sitemeter would be accurate if that reader does not return that same day for another visit.

But what if a blog is also a social hangout with several dozen readers that like to comment or read comments all day long? Typically, if a topic is rather interesting, a single reader might post a comment and check back every few minutes to see if there are any responses. Like on Facebook. They hit refresh over and over again, perhaps on more than one post. But what does that do to the hit count? Well, the counter only remembers 100, so if you 101 readers sitting on the blog hitting refresh every 15 minutes, these 101 visitors will log 400 visits in one hour. And every 3 hours, even if your IP address is still in the log file on Sitemeter, you are a brand new visitor anyway.

So, for blogs that receive more than 100 hits per day with a number of return visits, Sitemeter is totally inaccurate. For that reason, I turned to other methods to compile a ranking for Virginia Blogs.

I turned to the sites that rank blogs all the time. There are issues and problems to overcome with each of these, but none of the methods are perfect.

For 6 months I have produced a blog ranking with a question or comment or two here and there, but the positive comments and emails far outweigh the negatives. For the past 6 months, while doing the weekly rankings, I have been working on a far more complex method that involves the top 4 ranking services, and I was nearing completion of Ranking 2.0 when an interesting thing happened.

First and foremost, this project is intended to promote Virginia Blogs no matter the political leaning. It goes hand in hand with Old Dominion Blogs, that pulls down an excerpt from every blog, color codes it pink (Right) or Blue (Left) and allows readers to easily see what is happening on all of the political blogs in Virginia, all that I know about anyway. This is a totally non-partisan effort funded entirely by personal funds to promote blogging in Virginia.

Ranking the blogs is a part of the same project. It has taken a lot of time and effort to write the programs and database that collect the data each week and compile it into a ranking. This has been a time consuming project. But the result of the multiple links on Old Dominion Blogs and the Blog Ranking Project has been an increase in the ranking of search engines such as Google and Yahoo and has sent far more traffic to all of the Virginia Blogs than they would have received had I not undertaken this project.

What do I get out of it? Strengthening the blogging community is good for all of us. Higher ranking in search engines drives more traffic and greater awareness to all of the blogs on Old Dominion Blogs and those in the Blog Ranking. (By the way, BlogRolls are now completely ignored by the search engines. Only links appearing in the actual posts are considered.)

Now one positive effect has been to encourage one blogger, Vivian Paige, to reconsider her plans earlier this year to take something of a hiatus due to her busy schedule. Perhaps I give my efforts too much credit, I don’t know. But Vivian’s “All Politics is Local” blog settled at the number one position in the rankings, and I have noticed she has continued to post at a good rate and has maintained her top ranking for most of the year. Vivian and I don’t see eye to eye politically, but I respect her a great deal and if these rankings had even a small part in encouraging her to keep up the good work, then I consider that a great accomplishment.

I have also heard from others that have found posting more and writing better commentary has elevated their standing and encouraged them.

No matter if you agree or disagree with me politically, I think you would have to admit that my efforts have had some positive effect on Virginia Blogs.

Lowell Feld at Blue Virginia might be the one exception. Lowell and his faithful attacked me this week with a number of comments, criticisms and accusations concerning the Blog Rankings. As I said, this is entirely non political on my part, but Lowell appears to doubt my motives and methods. The fact that Bearing Drift – which had been second since the beginning – rose to the number one position and Vivian Paige fell to number 3 (and then rose to number 2) seems to be the impetus behind his attacks.

I attempted to explain the flaws with Sitemeter in comments on Blue Virginia, and I might as well have been arguing Free Market over Keynesian Economics with him.

The bottom line is this: Sitemeter favors blogs like Blue Virginia that have dozens of social media types that use the blog as an online discussion group. Now there is nothing wrong with that, but his Sitemeter hit count is inflated by between 33% and 50%. He is counting the same visitors over and over. Blogs that are not online social forums may have more unique visitors, but a lower Sitemeter count.

One thing I have learned over the years is it is impossible to reason with Feld. I tried. I figured I had to at least do that much, but there is nothing anyone can say to convince him he is wrong… about anything. He is absolutely a lost cause on this (and most things).

So, for those not named Lowell, here are the results of a little experiment I did to prove the inaccuracies of Sitemeter and it’s vulnerability to over-counting visitors who refresh often to see new comments:

  • I wrote a simple program that opened a previously unused domain, www.varight.info and refreshed the browser every 15 minutes.
  • I loaded the program remotely on 3 computers with different internet accounts. One was in my home using Comcast Business account, a second was in my Richmond Office several miles away, and the third was in Tidewater on a computer connected to a Cox Business account. The only page loaded was the main page.
  • I set up a Sitemeter free account
  • I ran the test for 24 hours from around 3 PM on Saturday, ending at 3:00 PM Today.

If Sitemeter were accurate, what I should have seen, despite the refresh every 15 minutes was 3 visits on Saturday and 3 on Sunday with 3 Page Views each day as well.

So, what did the tests show as far as visits?

  • 7 visits yesterday (in 9 hours)
  • 12 visits today (in 15 hours)
  • A total of 19 visits from 3 computers

Over 3 times the expected 6 visits! This is a clear indication that despite never reaching 100 visits, Sitemeter considers a refresh to be a new visitor after a few hours. Even though I would never exceed the 100 address “memory” I still saw visits counted multiple times. If I had 100 or more computers and the 100 memory limit was reached every 15 minutes, there would be several hundred – at least 400 hits, probably far more – registered.

What about Page Views?

  • On Saturday, the same page loading every 15 minutes by 3 PC’s was counted 228 times
  • On Sunday, this same page was counted counted as 447 views.
  • A total of 675 Page views with 3 PC’s on the same page!

Here are the log file pictures as proof:

First, the Summary Page

Next, the Details Page

Note that there are 19 visitors recorded but only 3 different IP addresses (one shows up as comcastbusiness.net 9 times with the others showing up multiple times).

Finally the 7 Day listing

As you can see, a site like Blue Virginia that has an active community of users who either refresh or revisit the site numerous times per day will severely inflate the traffic on the site. Lowell Feld has decided to “do his own” monthly rankings based on the flawed Sitemeter counts that are very favorable to his site’s traffic pattern. But it penalizes sites that have as many unique visitors as Blue Virginia, but have not become online forums.

Lowell wants “apples to apples”. Sitemeter is anything but.

It would have made my task far easier to simply use Sitemeter, and if I had not already done the research over a year ago and found Sitemeter to be inaccurate, I would have.

Instead, I looked at the professional ranking engines. Technorati, Alexa, Compete, WebArbiter, and several more. I came to the conclusion that these folks had spent years and millions of dollars creating algorithms to overcome the shortcomings of the various counters. They know more than I do about measuring web traffic. Some of these actually incorporate Internet Service Provider log files and have massive databases to “remember” and sort out duplicate counts.

What these businesses know is that blogs like Blue Virginia are a lot like Craigs List “Rants and Raves” section. They have a very loyal following of a few hundred visitors who stay on all day commenting and discussing posts. But the best measure of a blog is how broad the appeal is. A small group of people hitting refresh over and over is less valued than a site that has more unique visitors.

That is not my opinion. That is the opinion of the people who run Google, Yahoo and the other search engines. Advertisers are looking for lots of unique visitors, not simply a lot of returning visitors over and over.

This was not something I went into without looking at the available technology. I first started using computers in 1972 and began working on them shortly thereafter. I am an IT Professional and consultant. I have been in this business almost 40 years and have written numerous publications on various computer and electronic topics including my experiences as the first Network Manager at University of Richmond (I built the network) – in a book called Campus-Wide Information Systems – the State of Networking on College Campuses. There are links to other publications on that page.

I don’t have a problem with Feld or anyone else challenging my methods on this, but his comments and accusationsare uncalled for and and downright insulting. I will stack up my knowledge and experience in Information Technology against his any day. This is and shall remain a non political project.

And if Lowell Feld had an ounce of integrity he would apologize for his insulting accusations.

For the record, I won’t hold my breath.

However, I will shortly release today’s Blog Ranking using the Version 2.0 of the ranking software. The new algorithm uses 4 ranking sites, the ones mentioned above, and averages the best 3, throwing out the lowest ranking. And this version gives the rankings obtained from each ranking company, which anyone will be free to look up themselves and “check behind me” to be sure I am not “cheating” the results.

As I mentioned when I first started doing the rankings, releasing the “internals” was planned for the next version so the numbers can be checked. Well, that version is completed.

 

About Tom White

Tom is a US Navy Veteran, owns an Insurance Agency and is currently an IT Manager for a Virginia Distributor. He has been published in American Thinker, currently writes for the Richmond Examiner as well as Virginia Right! Blog.

Tom lives in Hanover County, Va and is involved in politics at every level and is a Recovering Republican who has finally had enough of the War on Conservatives in progress with the Leadership of the GOP on a National Level.

3 Responses to “Why Sitemeter is Not a Good Measure of Blog Traffic (and Proof Lowell Feld is Wrong)”

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] First, counters like Sitemeter are flawed and any designs I had on using this site were discarded rather quickly when I began looking at how to accomplish this project. Not everyone agrees with me on this, but they are simply wrong. I documented the findings of an experiment in this post. […]

  2. […] Virginia blog rankings in January. He's fine-tuned the system, and explained what's he's doing in thorough detail. Sitemeter won't be signing him to an endorsement deal. With the new system, this blog moves up to […]


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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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