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Crunching the Numbers

April 1, 1996
Last January, some interesting threads started on the Internet Marketing Listserv, which I subscribe to. A lot of heavyweights in the Web development industry take part in the dialogue on this listserv, so it is often an interesting exercise for me to try to figure out how what they are saying might be scaled down to Sight. In these threads, people were essentially discussing how best to judge the worthiness of a site.

Clifford R. Kurtzman, Ph.D. of the Tenagra Corporation, took up a thread, "Rating the Raters" answering a query as to the value of various awards and accolades from rating services such as the Point Survey Top 5%:

"Let me preface my remarks with the fact that you should be proud of all the awards you receive, and appreciate the effort that the raters put in to rate your site -- it is not a trivial endeavor.

From a practical point of view, there are two primary reasons that these awards can be valuable: They bring you press or they bring you worthwhile traffic. It is also true that the value of an award is directly proportional to how much the award is promoted to the press, and inversely proportional to how many awardees there are.

The Point Survey top 5% award does bring some traffic after you are listed in their directory. Keeping in mind Sturgeon's Law (98% of everything is crap), and that there are tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of web sites, it doesn't mean too much to make the top 5%. Most any well designed web site should qualify.

The McKinley idea is a great concept. But so far I haven't noticed any significant traffic coming from the McKinley web site. Also, the site ratings seem so completely arbitrary that it is hard for me to value them...

The InfoSeek Cool Site is very valuable. They don't list many sites as "Cool," and because Infoseek gets so much traffic, this award should also bring you lots of traffic -- at least is does for us...

Some other awards we have experience with:

Being named "Cool Site of the Day" brings tons of traffic -- at least it did till Glenn Davis left InfiNet. I haven't heard if it has the same value since Glenn left, and we haven't had one of our sites named CSotD since then either ..."

A few days later, Glenn Fleishman, the moderator of the list, posted the following message that was also about traffic on a Web site:

"I'm trying to help one our clients to develop their business plan...

The site (which shall remain nameless at the moment) does not use registration. We use Interse's Market Focus software to do timestamp-based visit analysis, and we are seeing 5,000 to 6,000 individual user visits per weekday; only slightly less on weekends. The site's traffic has grown substantially in the last two months, doubling daily visits. (In terms of hits, it'll top 1,000,000 hits this month, but that's not very relevant, I think.)

I'm trying to ballpark where they're placed in the Top ? sites.

From my viewpoint, you have about 20 sites, including Yahoo, InfoSeek, et al., --- Playboy, Penthouse, and Pathfinder (the three P's?) -- and ESPNet Sportzone (StarWave/ESPN venture) that are easily getting 1M+ hits per day, which translates into maybe 50,000 to 100,000 unique user visits.

Lower down the scale, I've heard numbers about the Spot that they get 100,000 hits per day or about 10 to 15,000 individual visits.

So if our client's site is getting 6,000+ visits per day, does that put them in roughly the top 100 most visited sites on the Net? I would think The Spot would be one of the most visited sites, yet they are getting only a factor of two or three times more visits than our client -- not the order of magnitude I expected.

I know that there aren't comprehensive numbers yet, because no one's chosen to release them. I/Pro I'm sure will eventually do so, as they want to become the Nielsen of the Net (in fact, didn't Nielsen invest in them directly?). But I would like to confirm my seat of the pants idea that this client is in the Top 100..."

To be honest, I felt like this "Top 100" emphasis was a little arbitrary and only one way of measuring if a site was being successful. The problem, of course, is that we need some way of comparing ourselves against each other so that we can convince clients and advertisers to do business with us. However, both numbers tracking and ratings services are still in an infancy, where all sorts of unrelated sites, of varying size and subject matter are being stacked up against each other. What do Yahoo and Playboy have to do with each other, except for the fact that they both rack up huge numbers of visitors?

Somewhat in self-defense, as one of those sites that is doing good things, but might not ever break the million-hit mark, I felt it necessary to point out that most sites out there have to have a different way to prove their value. I wrote this response to the listserv:

"Greetings. I've been standing on the sidelines for several months now, and I must say I really appreciate the quality of the dialogue on this list.

I have mixed feelings also about the ratings services. For my small site, Yahoo has been the only invaluable listing. It not only accounts for most of my traffic, but it brings in quality traffic, which is a distinction I would like to make here.

I think it is not that difficult to get a one time "drive-by" on a site. However, I am interested in attracting people who are looking for a publication about photography and will add a bookmark once they have seen my site. I can get a feeling for this by the people who voluntarily sign my guest book- they are excited about the content and want to be put on a mailing list.

From the server logs, I know that the number of visitors bumped up a good bit when my site was named "Beverly Hills Software" site of the week-- but the guest book traffic was down, if anything. These were people who stopping by out of curiosity because my site had received a "cool" label. Don't get me wrong, it would be exciting to see a great spike in numbers by being named to one of the big cool site lists, but I'm not sure what this would mean in the long haul. And to compare notes with everyone else, I have received very minor interest from being in Point's "Top 5%" and equally small numbers after being on PC Computing's 'Top 1001 Internet Sites.'"

April 2, 1996 Followup
Looking through the archives of the online news listserv, I found an interesting thread there about the same topic. In particular, I was fascinated to hear from one of the supposed industry leaders:
HotWired Ventures is feeding 145 mouths at the moment, across all of our operations areas: creative (including the HotWired Web site, The Netizen, Suck, and new project development) engineering, research, advertising, and marketing.

As for hits, don't believe everything you read. We get anywhere from 800,000 to 1 million raw server hits each day. But you're right, hits don't matter - right now, advertisers are most interested in things like page views, unique domains, and other measures of "impression" which we deliver to them. That's a temporary phenomenon, however - what will really matter, especially as we develop a richer mix of media on the Web (using audio, video, animation, Java, etc.) is how _engaged_ the audience is. That's something we're able to measure with an exactitude that other media, including magazines, newspapers, and television, can't hope to match.

Chip Bayers Executive Producer HotWired

I think the trend toward developing a a quality interaction with viewers is inevitable. I feel the numbers I get for Sight are meaningless unless the people who visit want to contribute to it and feel a part of the "community" of Sight.

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