Jerry Lawson responded today to my Saturday posting about misleading weblog traffic statistics with a Comment here and a similar post at eLawyer Blog. Jerry points out that “The difficulties in measuring web site traffic that you cite are nothing new. I explained some of them in my book.” Based on his experience, Jerry concludes:
“I have no trouble believing that a decent blog can easily attract three times as many readers as most conventional web sites. And yes, I do consider this significant“
I readily acknowledge Jerry’s experience and I know the measuring difficulties “are nothing new” (which is why I quoted from an article written in 2000). It’s because the traffic numbers have so many ambiguities that I think using them to suggest the marketing power of weblogs is deceptive. “Three times more readers as most conventional web sites” is simply not a useful claim, when there is no way to tell how many human beings have been going to the comparison static web sites (all you have is the same uncertain traffic numbers) and no way to tell the “quality” of the additional traffic generated by a weblog..
If an ad said “Our medicine starts to work three times faster than our competitor’s product,” the wise consumer would want to know (1) is it three times 1 minute or three times one hour? and (2) is the quicker relief as effective and long-lasting as with the competitor’s product? If the advertiser isn’t willing to tell you the answer to both questions, paying attention to the claim is foolhardy and, although the claim may be “true,” it may be misleading or meaningless.
When this weblog has a 1000 page-hit day, I literally have no idea whether the number represents 20 actual human beings looking in or 200, but I know that it is unlikely to be more than 200. Telling me the number of “unique visitors” does very little to solve this problem, although letting me know how many “visitors” stay more than two seconds might help. The overall traffic numbers alone are, as I stated yesterday, so fraught with uncertainties to be meaningless. The multiplicand may indeed be 3 but just what it is multiplying is a mystery, as is the resulting figure.
Update: Jerry and I have continued our dialogue via the e&hEsq Comment box, which can be reached by following this thread, and his Netlawblog Comments, too. Dave! also chimed in and I hope you will, too.
update (Sept. 10, 2005): For several months now, I’ve been using two (free) services that count “unique visitors.” It appears that actual visitors are about 50% of my “page loads,” and tend to be 6 to 10 percent of “hits” measured by my webserver.