Web Site Popularity

Just how popular is your web site? Figuring out the answer to this is a complicated task and you can't expect to get a precise answer. Even where you do get an answer it is only applicable for a short period of time as web pages that are popular today may not be as popular tomorrow. Of course your popularity may follow a pattern so if you track your popularity over a longer period of time you may obtain more relevant information than if you only track it for a short period.

So how can we find out how popular our web site is? There are a number of tools out there that can help us to determine this.

One tool that can be used on any web page is a hit or visit counter. It doesn't matter whether your site has its own domain or is on a free service because you can't install a counter on your site directly you can always link to one of the many free or paid services that provide them. These counters will provide a varying amount of information about the visitors to your page depending on which you choose.Bravenet provide a free counter that records quite a lot of information about the visitors to your site.

The biggest problem with hit/visit counters is that they don't count the true number of visitors to your site as some visitors will get counted multiple times while others don't get counted at all. For this reason I suggest that a more practical use of such counters for determining the popularity of your site is to count the hits or visitors for a set period (eg. one month) then reset the counter to count the same for the next period. A comparison of these counts over several periods will give you a good indication of how the popularity of your site is changing whereas the straight count doesn't tell much.

Most sites consist of multiple pages. To determine the popularity of your whole site using hit/visit counters you either need to place a separate one on each page of your site or alternatively place the same counter on all of your pages and collect one set of statistics for the whole site. This latter approach may be more practical with sites having a large number of pages but you wont get any info on whether one page is more popular than another.

If you have your site hosted at its own domain name then there is a good chance that your host has implemented logging that tracks all of the accesses to your site. If this is installed then there is a fair chance that they will also have installed some form of analysis program that can read these log files and provide you with information about how often your web pages are visited. Depending on which analysis program is installed you may get access to more or less information about accesses to the individual pages. If the information supplied by the preinstalled options are insufficient to meet your needs then you may be able to install your own program to analyse the access. There are a number of programs available that can do this, just check with your host to see whether they support you installing your own log analyser.

These techniques give you an indication of how the popularity of your web site changes over time. The next thing to look at is how the popularity of your site compares to other sites on the web. You can't do this with a counter or by analysing your stats. In fact there is nothing available to you on your site that can help you with this at all. Fortunately someone else is actually tracking the popularity of web sites - the search engines. Most search engines today try to use site popularity as part of their criteria for determining which order to display search results in. Some of these very kindly make this information available to webmasters.

Probably the two most important of these ranking systems are those provided by Google and Alexa. Of these the Alexa ranking is easier to understand and easier to access. Alexa collect information about all of the pages that are visited on the web by people using the Alexa Toolbar in their browser. From this they estimate the relative popularity of the different web sites. You can find out the position of a given web site in order of popularity by looking up the Alexa ranking for the site. Rankings run from one for the most popular site on the web (currently Yahoo) through into the millions for sites that only get a few hundred visitors each day. If you use the toolbar then you get the information displayed on the bar when you visit the page. You can also go to the Alexa web site and look up the information there. Alexa also provide a means of displaying this information directly in your web page - like this:

The Google ranking system runs from 10 for the most popular sites down to 0 for the least popular. Instead of counting visitors the Google Page Rank uses the number and quality of links to rank pages. The more links the more popular the site is and the higher the rank of the pages where those links are found the more important the link is. Of course the relevance of the links is also looked at so you can get a higher rank from a few highly ranked relevant sites than you can from a larger number of low ranked relevant sites and irrelevant links are either not counted or may even lower the rank. The Google page ranks can most easily be found for a site by installing the Google toolbar in your browser. One final thing to note about the Google rank is that it uses a logarithmic scale so that if a site ranked 4 is "n" times as popular as a site raned 3 then a site ranked 5 is "n" times as popular as a site ranked 4. (Google don't say what the actual value of "n" is). his means that the vast majority of sites on the web will have very low numbers for their Google site rank and only the top few will have really high numbers.

Note that since Alexa toolbar tracks the web pages that users visit, it is considered by many to be spyware.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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