Getting to know you, getting to know all about you
Hardly anybody who runs a website doesn't have some way of seeing how many people are coming to visit their site, when, and roughly from where. And if a visitor comes to the site from a search engine, it's nice to know what they were searching for that led them there.
When I started this blog, going on eight years ago, there were only a couple of options to get that kind of information, and I chose a free service called SiteMeter, which was the coin of the realm at the time. It tracks a lot of what's going on on your site for you, and even gives you a little icon thingie you can post on your page that shows how many "unique" visitors you've had since you started counting:
Since those early days, the number of outfits providing free and pay "analytics" for websites has multiplied quite a bit. About two years ago, I stumbled upon a new service called Clicky, which is based here in Portland. Clicky keeps track of visitors in a more detailed way than most of its competitors, and it gets the data to its clients immediately -- as in, within a second or two of each "hit" to the site. It's also got a positively addictive feature called "Spy," which lets the web site operator (that's me) watch the comings and goings to and from his or her site, from around the globe, in real time.
If you're a new blogger with just one site and not that much traffic, you can get a free Clicky account that will more than get you started. But if you've got multiple sites or if, like this blog, you get more than 3,000 page views a day, you've got to pay for your Clicky.
O.k., boo, I know. But one really attractive aspect of my signup with these guys was that they were willing to dicker! I made my case for a discount, and they gave it to me. And as I recently headed into my third year with them, we made an even sweeter deal from my standpoint: I'd write them up on the blog -- say whatever I wanted, no guarantees -- in exchange for a year of free "Pro" service. That level gets me all the bells and whistles, including "Spy."
I drove down to Clicky headquarters in deep southeast and had a sit-down with the Clicky staff. Turns out it's two nice guys with a great idea, tech savvy, and apparently, a good head for business:
Sean and Noah.
Their first venture was a site called NowTowns, centered around goings-on in Corvallis, Albany, and Eugene. It hasn't been a huge hit, for various reasons, but one good byproduct was the programming they had created to keep track of who was coming to the site, how long they were staying, what they were looking at, and so forth. It dawned on the two of them that they could sell the same service to clients, and give the other players in the field a run for their money. Today they say they've got more than 225,000 websites under constant watch, and a healthy number of those are paying customers. They're not getting rich off Clicky (yet, anyway), but they seem to be making a decent go of it.
Clicky's got a whole bunch of heavy-duty servers in a secure data center in Corvallis. It's fairly easy to run them by remote control on a laptop, but if something goes on the blink hardware-wise -- I've never experienced it, but it does happen -- they've got to call down there to an ally, or get on I-5 themselves and go fix it. They take matters seriously, and boast that customer service is their calling card.
It's a heck of a lot friendlier than dealing with Google, that's for sure. And if you're worried about some cut-throat weasels selling your information or using it for other nefarious purposes, it's hard to see a mean corporate streak in either of the two Clicky guys.
I asked them, So how does the thing work? They patiently explained to my ignorant ears that Clicky clients (like me) put some code on their web pages that tells every visitor's browser to send a signal out to the Clicky server. The Clicky server takes that signal, analyzes it, and makes the data about it available to the website operator (like me) to see.
One of the things Clicky does that's helpful is translate visitor's IP addresses into host names. This makes it easy for the website operator to see whose internet service was being used by the visitor, which often says a lot about who the visitor might be. Here's where our readers were coming from late yesterday afternoon:
Oh yeah -- I see you! I remember when Mayor Creepy was in Belgium, and he showed up on Clicky almost immediately upon his arrival. Then for a while we were getting hits from Morocco:
In any event, if you're shopping for a web traffic tracking service, you might want to give the guys at Clicky a look. Especially if you're a Portlander who's into the whole "buy local" thing, here's your chance.
You can tell them Bojack sent you. They could probably figure that out on their own if they tried, but they don't pry.