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Promote It! Tracking Your Users

Tracking Services

Web-based tracking services are the most common practice for measuring your traffic.

You simply copy and paste a small piece of JavaScript code provided by the service into the HTML of every page on your site. The code keeps track of everyone who visits the page and sends the data it records over the web to another website, where those results are tallied and displayed.

Google Analytics is a free web-based tracking service that is practically as powerful as any commercial traffic service. It's quick and easy to set up and comes with an intuitive dashboard.  Just sign up for an account,  paste the code on your pages, and visit the Google  Analytics website any time you want to check on your traffic.

There is one catch: Any service that relies on JavaScript code won't work if the visitor's browser blocks JavaScript.

What is JavaScript?

JavaScript is a simple programming language that adds interactive features to web pages. JavaScript is used for everything from pop-up windows to buttons that change appearance when you roll over them with your mouse. It's rare but not impossible for hackers to use JavaScript code for malicious purposes, so most web browsers offer their users the option to disable JavaScript support. To learn more about Javascript, visit's helpful tutorials.

We've assembled a list of the most popular web-based tracking services. Prices and features vary; we recommend you evaluate each service carefully and decide which one best meets your needs.

Google Analytics

The free Google tool is used by thousands of websites to track their visitors. It's easy to get started and the administration screen is fairly intuitive and powerful, although it is tailored to Google Adwords customers with emphasis on conversion rates and other customer metrics.


Clicky offers an intuitive interface and free plans for websites with less than 3,000 page views per day. For as little as $5 per month, you can upgrade to an account that will give you real-time tracking, something even Google doesn't do.


The free SiteMeter web counter service provides basic information about visits and visitors, browsers used to visit your site and referring URLs. It's updated constantly as people come to your site. In exchange, you must display a relatively unobtrusive Site Meter graphic on every page of the site. Site Meter's oddly colored tools and cluttered site interface can be difficult to use. You can also hide the required SiteMeter graphic from your users if you upgrade to "standard" service, which costs $7 per month.

As a SiteMeter user, you have the option of making your statistics public or private. Many sites let users view their traffic statistics. If your site enjoys healthy traffic, making your statistics public can help persuade advertisers that your site is a good investment.


StatCounter offers a clear interface, simple signup, and no requirement to display a link back to its site, even for its free package. Its robust analysis breaks down your current unique, returning and repeat visitors, as well as tracking statistics on incoming browsers and their resolutions, operating systems and countries of origin; the search engines and keywords they used to find your site; the referring links that brought them to your site, and more.

StatCounter's free service is aimed at websites with 250,000 pageloads per month or less and offers lifetime summary stats and a detailed analysis of your last 500 pageloads. .

Built-in Tools

Some content management systems have implemented traffic-tracking tools as part of their administrative interfaces. Most of these services are limited and will probably whet your appetite for more detailed information.

For example, if you use the independent blog software ExpressionEngine, some built-in site statistics are available, including limited data about the pages that have been visited, the refers to your site, and the total number of visitors.

J-Learning is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. J-LabTM is an incubator for innovative, participatory news experiments and is a center of American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C.
J-Learning was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

American University School of Communication

Knight Foundation

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