Visitor counts have always been a source of confusion for customers viewing their Web stats. For historical reasons, we have always counted visitor sessions. If you look at our glossary definition in MurlinStats, the follow is provided:

A Visitor is defined as a series of Hits, with no idle time of 30 minutes or more between any two Hits, from the same IP address.

Before we jump into the visitor issue, it’s helpful to have a good understanding of how we gather and count statistics for both visitors and page views.

As many of you know from our webinars (the April 9, 2009 webinar entitled “Web Analytics: Understanding Site Statistics with MurlinStats” can be viewed at support.townnews.com/webinars/recorded_webinars/) and previous articles, MurlinStats has two methods for gathering and tracking statistics.

The original mechanism relies on parsing log files that are generated from the Web servers.The problem with this mechanism is that it can be difficult to filter out robots and spiders from the results. If the Web server serves the page, it is counted. As the number of sites that scrape and index content has grown, this can significantly skew your statistics.

In response to this issue, a year ago we added “Tracker Stats.” Tracker stats use cookies to track page views and visitors. This is a similar method employed by Google Analytics and Omniture. The Tracker Traffic stats are available under a separated menu tree within MurlinStats.

There can be a significant difference in traffic numbers between the two different statistics; however, these numbers are much more accurate if you want to know what areas “people” are accessing on your site.

If you look at the glossary for visitors under the Tracker Traffic you’ll see a slight difference:

A Unique Visitor is considered a user who has visited the site either in a new browsing session or after 30 minutes of inactivity. A first time visitor will be registered as a new ‘unique visitor’, while a returning visitor will be registered as ‘returning’.

This has been a common source of confusion for customers. This number is really visitor sessions, and not a count of unique people who visit your site.

One of the most common feature requests that has been submitted is a way to find out how many unique people visit a Web site.

We’re pleased to announce a new feature in MurlinStats for viewing this. This new feature does have some limitations:

1. This is a site level statistic. There is no way to see how many unique visitors access a portion of your Web site.

2. These numbers are calculated on a monthly basis. For the current month they are month to date numbers.

To see the new “Total Unique Visitors this Month”, you’ll need to do the following:

1. Click on Tracker Traffic -> Summary in the MurlinStats Menu

2. This statistic is only available in the Monthly view. So you must click on a Month name in the calendar.

These numbers are now available for June 2009 and the future.

One caveat with these statistics is that a visitor can be counted multiple times if they clear their cookies, or access with multiple computers or browsers.

We hope this provides a new and valuable statistic for you and your advertisers. For more information on MurlinStats, please contact your regional sales manager or submit a support ticket at support.townnews.com.

(Brad Ward is the senior vice president and chief technology officer at TownNews.com. He may be reached at bward@townnews.com.)