Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Layman Looks At Site Visits Data Of Popular Political Blogs

The figures tallied by blog metering/tracking sites such as the very popular Site Meter may have unknowingly faced some mute challenges or doubts from certain quarters at times past with regard to their numbers' accuracy and authenticity. But most of these doubts might have been erroneously premised based on a lack of understanding of the data being counted. Thus, to this day nothing has really been publicly exposed to show that those figures as reflected in most blog sites do not really accurately reflect what they are supposed to show, whether as visits/unique visits, or page views. Thus, for all intents and purposes, these numbers reflect actual visits to the blogs.

Lately, this stubborn issue has expectedly re-emerged because of the boiling controversy over the alleged Kosola which targets Markos of DailyKos on his close relationships with buddy Jerome Armstrong. Some commenters in the different sites which have been blogging about this have advanced some rhetoric aimed at challenging the authenticity of the numbers as shown for DailyKos readers, which site is typically described as having at least 500K readers on a daily basis. Without question based on its numbers, it is the most widely-visited site in the entire blogosphere. And the other blogs individually, whether on the right or left of the political spectrum, have not even come close to the liberal-oriented Daily Kos’ numbers. Thus, on the right side, we have such sites as Michelle Malkin, Powerline, Instapundit, and Little Green Footballs, individually registering only in the low 100Ks or even less.

DailyKos actually works more like a collective endeavor whereby an elite select group, including site founder/owner Markos, blogs for the homepage, at times called the frontpagers, and hundreds or thousands of registered members blog on site under their own diaries; while those on the right mentioned above are essentially one-man/women operations, except for Powerline where three lawyers alternately blog on the site.

All the above-named sites use Site Meter and allow third parties to access their statistics. It is good to note that other sites, whether using also Site Meter or some other metering application keep similar statistics private.

DailyKos, Michelle Malkin, Instapundit, and Little Green Footballs
A List Site Summary

A List Site Summary B

Visit Detail From DailyKos
Location Data Sample

To put in a better light the figures tallied on the above graphics, it may serve us well to find out first what and how Site Meter collects data.

Here is some pertinent information from its site:
What is Site Meter tracking exactly?
Site Meter tracks page views and visits. You may also have heard the term "hits". When someone comes to your site, they generate a "hit" for every piece of content that is sent to their computer. Viewing a single web site page would generate one hit for the page and one hit for every individual graphics file that was on the page. A single page could easily generate a dozen or more hits. When you are browsing a site, every time you follow a link, it is treated as a single "page view". Site Meter defines a "visit" as a series of page views by one person with no more than 30 minutes in between page views.

Why do some of my visitors have visit lengths of 0:00?
That means the visitors are only staying to view a single page and then leaving. The only way that Site Meter knows how long someone is on a site is by the times of each page view. If they only look at a single page and then leave, we don't know how long they looked at the page. If they looked at two pages and left we would know they at least were on the site during the time of the first page view and the second page view. The difference between those two times would be the length of the visit.

What is the difference between a visit and a page view?
When you are browsing a site, every time you follow a link to a new web page, it is treated as a single page view. Site Meter defines a visit as a series of page views by one person with no more than 30 minutes in between page views. If you click on a link to another site, and then come back to your site within 30 minutes, you are still on the same visit and Site Meter won't increment the counter. But Site Meter will increment the number of page views recorded for your current visit.

Some personal observations:

1. It appears clear that page view stats are more significant than visits because they tend to give more information about the visitor and what he did on site, his human actions as opposed to those initiated by machines or applications (browser and server, or robots and spiders). And if the visitor views more than one page, we also get a good estimate of his length of stay in the site.

2. We can also discern why under Visit Detail, the Visit Length usually shows zero time. And it is because Site Meter cannot record a visit’s length if the visitor stays only on one page and leaves.

3. We have also learned that visitors from all over the world are recorded. Thus the more popular the blog, one could surmise, the more foreign visitors are recorded.

4. All summaries show that page views per visit averages only 1 and a fraction. In other words, the typical visit views only one page and then some. Since I assume that one can only view a full page and not a portion of it, a good number of visitors view more than one page of the blog.

5. With Site Meter one significant detail about visit increments is that one visitor is given “no more ohan 30 minutes between page views”. A single visitor who spends multiple hours in one internet session could be recorded more than once, if he visits one site multiple times, and allows more than 30 minutes between visits. This applies to Site Meter patrons, but other tracking services may have longer time limits, or may be more discerning and discriminating such as defining characteristics of unique visitors.

6. Now, compare the above to a couple of sites, one receiving under 300 visits a day and the other only 16 visits a day.

The Ignatian Perspective and Philippine Commentary
No List Site Simmary

Average visit length of The Ignatian Perspective is pegged at 8:32 minutes, with 2.6 page views per visit. Philippine Commentary with 277 daily visitors registered an average visit length of 2:40 minutes and 1.7 page views per visit. Yet as recorded, average visit length for DailyKos is a miniscule three seconds and not much better for the rest highlighted above. It is clearly evident that huge numbers of visitors can bring this particular stat to a very low number, taking into account the wide variances in visiting habits of hordes of readers.