Measuring traffic at MySpace, Yahoo, and your site

BusinessWeek published an interesting article titiled, Did MySpace Really Beat Yahoo? The article discusses the difficulty to confirm which site actually has more traffic, MySpace or Yahoo.

The discrepancy has revived complaints about the accuracy of reporting agencies' results, which often differ from companies' own audience measurements (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/23/06, "Web Numbers: What's Real"). It also underscores the rivalry between comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings for recognition as the most trusted source for Web-traffic data. The winner, if one emerges, may set the standard for how site popularity is measured, influencing how marketers dole out billions in online ad dollars each year. Recognizing the high stakes in that tussle, comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings both are refining their tactics.

Initially, you might say, "who cares, the sites I design won't compete with these big dogs". But consider this, there is not a client or site owner that doesn't want to see more traffic with their sites. The client already knows how many users they were getting with the old site. What happens if the client now observes that the site you redesigned gets less traffic? At least, less traffic according to the the statistic package they are using. Either way, the client isn't happy and wants to know what you're going to do to correct the problem?

Did the design changes you made really chase the site's users away? Is there something in the stats package that don't account the traffic correctly due to the new features you added? These type of questions you need to be able to answer convincingly and without hesitation.

As fascinated as I am about traffic rank and other site related statistics, I don't have the solutions you're looking for. The simple fact is that all these traffic ranking services have their own propriety methods for ranking traffic. You're going to have to do your own homework and find how each site actually measures the traffic to your site. Luckily, if the site is transparent enough, you can at least get some clues to how they rank traffic.

Now what would you do if you found out what caused the site's traffic to be ranked lower? What would you change? Logically, you change or remove those things on the site you introduced that brought the traffic numbers down, right? Not so easy. Take a look at how many Web 2.0 features you may have to remove from the site to get those numbers back up. The excerpt below is taken from another BusinessWeek article:

Ajax isn't the only technology that's upending traditional Web measurement. Real Simple Syndication, or RSS, lets people sign up to have news articles, blog posts, or audio interviews from their favorite sites sent directly to their computers. But since they aren't surfing around, none of the sites gets credit for the page view.

Then there are widgets, interactive icons that can be installed on a wide array of sites. Install the Meebo Me widget on a MySpace page, and people can just click on that to IM you when they visit the site. More than 40,000 Meebo Me widgets have been installed. Because the widgets don't direct you back to Meebo's site, they don't show up in the Meebo traffic figures.

Maybe getting the statistics to rise is important enough to you that you don't want to add some of the newer features found in content management systems. However, I personally think a site owner is crazy if the focus is on the statistics say and not enough on the usability, content, and features a particular site offers.

While advertisers want traffic numbers, your users came to your site for one simple reason...to find what they're looking for. In the end if you don't offer what your site's visitors want...none of the impressive stats you have to offer will keep your site alive. You know this already, but have you spent enough time with your client to let him or her know? Perhaps it's time for that nice talk before the site goes live?