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Counters and Guest Books

Sandra Prior
Aug 8, 2008
Now you've finished your website, you'll want to know who is visiting and what they think of it.

Have you ever thrown a party where nobody came? A pretty deflating experience, especially when you spent an age decorating your house and a small fortune on the finger buffet and tins of fancy lager. The neighbors are out, the music's loud and the lights are low, but who wants to dance round the living room on their own?

A website without feedback is that party. After hours of loving design and careful tweaking of your pages, and valuable time spent online painstakingly submitting your URL to every search engine you can find, you want results. And, more importantly, you need to know what your visitors think of your site, so you can plan any changes or upgrades.

Enter counters and guest books. Counters tally the number of visitors to your site. They range from basic models that simply log the number of times a certain page is hit to more sophisticated ones that provide some serious useful information about who your visitors are and how they found your site.

Guest books enable your visitors to write comments about your site and automatically place them on a page where you and the world can see them. They also let visitors tell you where they're from and how they stumbled across your site - again a nifty research tool to help plan future developments. And regular postings from you are a great way of establishing a rapport with your visitors, too.

When I was a kid and the Internet was all trees and fields, getting things like counters and guest books on a site was a real chore. If you didn't have in-depth knowledge of a programming language such as Perl or CGI, your only option was to hire someone with a beard to do it for you at a ridiculously expensive hourly rate that no one could afford.

Luckily for you, the explosion in the Web's popularity has meant that both helpful individuals and Web hosting companies with more commercial motives are falling over each other to give you free counters and guest books.

Counters

Okay, let's get this straight; counters only give an indication of how your site is doing, trafficwise. For truly accurate numbers, your ISP should be able to provide log files that you can feed into log analysis and statistics programs. However, if that isn't possible, counters are the simplest way to get a feel for the traffic your website is generating.

There's also a difference between counters and trackers. Counters generally tell you the number of unique visits to your site, and little else. Trackers not only tell you this, but also offer additional information about your visitors, including when they visited, how they found your site, what browser they were using, what search engines they used to find you, what country they are from, and much more. Unless you particularly want the limited services a counter provides, go for a tracker service every time.

Most of the tracking services take the form of some code entered directly into the HTML page you want tracked. Usually the code includes a graphic that displays the number of visitors to the world - a visible counter or tracker. If you decide you'd rather not shout about the number of visitors to your site, some offer the option of an invisible one. Here, the stats generated by the code in your pages are usually emailed to you, or you can log on to a website to view them. It's a much more discreet way to count your visitors.

Guest Books

How do you choose a guest book? With so many ones on offer, it's a good idea to go shopping armed with a checklist of requirements.

Can you configure the fields of your guest book? Can you customize its look and feel? Can you delete unwanted entries? Most importantly, how fast are the pages loading? Often free guest book sites host thousands of individual books, which can result in some painfully slow load times. Make sure you browse some sample sites to get a feel for how yours will perform. If you can't view samples, avoid the site.
About the Author
Subscribe to Sandra Prior's Online Newsletter and get up to date Computer Technology News delivered right to your email box for free. See website for details http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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