About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Like many museums, we receive copies of newsletters and mailing from a goodly number of our fellow historical organizations.  I will admit that I don’t always have time to digest everything that is printed.  But on occasion, an item will get my attention.


A copy that recently crossed my desk contained an intriguing statistic.  In a breakdown of their 2008 attendance figures, this organization included web site visits, which amounted to nearly 2/3 of their total attendance for the annum.  It got me to ponder again the question of whether or not we should include web site hits in our attendance figures. 


We have never counted web hits and have no plan to do so any time soon.  Why? For one, we do not use a pay counter service so out stats are not as thorough as others might have.  (We use the free feature of StatCounter dot com.)  Differentiating from actual “human” contact versus machine or spider contacts could be time-consuming. As a result, I have been somewhat suspicious of institutions that have rather large web site hit figures and use those to bolster attendance numbers.


Is there a better way to handle this issue?  Have any of you found a good way to parse those hits to determine a reliable number?  Should grants applications from foundations and other agencies even be asking institutions for those figures as a requisite for funding?

Mike Worcester

Cokato Historical Society

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Tagged with:

2 Responses to Counting Web Users

  1. Joe Hoover says:

    The first important thing to point out is one of terminology. A “hit” is considered a load of a graphic or any file. Not just the page itself. So a page with 100 thumbnails on it would count as 101 “hits” and a page with no images would count as just one hit.

    A more reliable way to count is with page views/unique page views or visitors/unique visitors. It can be confusing but it is critical to understand the difference in order to get good analytics.

    There are many analytics services around with Google Analytics being the industry leader, …and it is free. Companies that do not use it usually use it for reasons of trade security and not wanting a third party to have access to there statistical data or while Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful tool it may not provide the information that they are looking for.

    As far as parsing hits down to determine a reliable number, simply put, at least for now there is no way. Each analytics service has different ways collecting and measuring data, which can result in wildly different counts.

    If you are trying to use analytics data only as a web site popularity contest tool – that is, to see which are your top pages and how much traffic each is getting – you may be disappointed and you most likely do not have the full story of what is happening on your web site.

    Web analytics tools work best when they are used to measure trends or answer questions such as:
    * Did our web site see a spike in traffic at the opening of the exhibit or ad campaign?
    * Is our navigation confusing people?
    * How many of our visitors are new vs returning?
    * How many mobile users are coming to our site and to what pages and is there enough traffic to justify a mobile style for those pages?

    Unfortunately foundations and other agencies will always be asking for hard number figures as a requisite for funding. If you are luckily you can educate and convince them to look at percentages of how traffic to your site has increased over time rather than the number of “hits”.


  2. Mary Warner says:

    We use two sets of stats – one provided by our web server (Awstats), the other provided by our WordPress blogging software. When we look at our Awstats, I’m most interested in unique visitors, although I will check to see how many pages they’ve looked at on average. (Btw, Awstats separates out bots from the human visitors.)

    With WordPress, we’re given a count on which pages and blog posts have been viewed. Both sets of stats show what sites have referred visitors to our site.

    While I would not lump website visitors in with visitors to our physical museum, counting website visitors is a valid measure of your organization’s reach. When reporting on museum users, we separate exhibit visitors (they sign the guest book), from researchers (info collected on Research Form, includes those who visit, call, mail, or email), from web visitors.

    What we’ve seen over time is that more and more visitors to the museum have already visited our website. If a visitor is unaware of our website, we tell them about it and give them a brochure with our web address.

    We’ve also had people contact us for assistance long-distance based on what they’ve found on our website. Two examples – a museum in Italy interesting in using a photo of Black Jack chewing gum and the Historic Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. calling to interview someone about explorer Joseph Nicollet. These are in addition to the many genealogists who contact us after viewing the website.

    Thing is, web stats are more accurate from the standpoint of counting than depending upon people to sign the guest register. As long as you’re clear about what you are counting (unique visitors vs. page views) and keep your web stats as a separate part of your visitorship, then by all means, use them to make your case.

    As for whether funders should require these statistics, I don’t think we’re at a point yet where they should be required for funding because there are too many organizations that aren’t using the web. This week I ran across information that showed that 1/2 of all small businesses don’t have a website. Don’t know how nonprofits stack up, but it would be a shame for nonprofits to be denied funding because they don’t have the time, expertise, equipment, or digital access in order to support a website.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers