A web counter or hit counter is a computer software program that indicates the number of visitors, or hits, a particular webpage has received. Once set up, these counters will be incremented by one every time the web page is accessed in a web browser.
The number is usually displayed, with image or text, as an old inline digital image, a plain text or an old mechanical counter. Image rendering of digits may use a variety of fonts and styles; the classic example is the wheels of an odometer. The counter is often accompanied by the date it was set up or last reset, otherwise it becomes impossible to estimate within what time the number of page loads counted occurred. Some web counters were simply web bugs used by webmasters to track hits and included no visible on-page elements.
A hit counter is a piece of code embedded in a web page which tracks visitors. Hit counters vary in complexity from simple versions which merely tell the webmaster that someone has visited, to complex ones which track a user’s progress through a website and supply supplemental information, such as where a visitor comes from. Most web pages have hit counters installed, so that the owners can see how popular the site is, and how users are reaching the site. A hit counter can also be used to see how navigable a site is, and to determine which areas of the site are most popular.
As of now the most popular hit counter program is Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a free Web analytics service that provides statistics and basic analytical tools for search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing purposes. The service is available to anyone with a Google account. Google bought Urchin Software Corporation in April 2005 and used that company’s Urchin on Demand product as the basis for its current service.
The Google Analytics cookie will store a unique identifier – so the website can recognize you if you visit again – as well as information about the pages the browser visits; when the browser is seen on the website; how long the browser was seen on the website; the IP address (which can allow the Google Analytics to infer the browser’s location), and what site the browser was looking at before arriving at the site, the referring URL.
By default, this information is shown to website publishers through the Google Analytics tools and is not shared with anyone else. It is a first-party cookie.
The website owner can, however, also opt to share analytics data with Google. This information helps Google learn more about the advertising market and, in return, the websites that share their data get access to tools that improve the effectiveness of any advertising or paid search terms they buy from Google.
Integrated with AdWords, users can now review online campaigns by tracking landing page quality and conversions (goals). Goals might include sales, lead generation, viewing a specific page, or downloading a particular file.
Google Analytics’ approach is to show high-level, dashboard-type data for the casual user, and more in-depth data further into the report set. Google Analytics analysis can identify poorly performing pages with techniques such as funnel visualization, where visitors came from referrers, how long they stayed and their geographical position. It also provides more advanced features, including custom visitor segmentation.
Google Analytics e-commerce reporting can track sales activity and performance. The e-commerce reports shows a site’s transactions, revenue, and many other commerce-related metrics.