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This page last updated 21 October 2007  

Counting web site readers

There's much discussion about counting visitors to web sites, and it's common to see amateur web sites with 'hit counters' on them, which supposedly count the number of people who have visited the site. In the world of print, it is much easier to determine the number of copies printed, distributed, and sold, so people are accustomed to having accurate readership numbers.

It is nearly impossible to count the number of readers of a web site. The reasons are complex and technical, and we won't try to explain them here but rather refer you to several other web sites that discuss web readership:

  • Our favourite such site is from the Statistics Laboratory at Cambridge University, written by Dr Stephen Turner, who is the author of Analog, the world's most widely-used web site analysis software. His web page 'How the web works', does a good job of explaining what you can and cannot know about the readership of a web site.

  • The government of Canada has a web site that discusses the measurement of web site usage: 'Measuring web site usage: log file analysis'. By Susan Haigh and Janette Megarity of the National Library of Canada, it is written with the thoroughness that one would expect from a national library.

  • Software engineer Jeffrey Goldberg has a widely-known page, somewhat more informal than these others, 'Why web usage statistics are (worse than) meaningless'.

If you read these papers, you'll see that it's not really possible to measure, with any degree of accuracy, web site readership. If we tell you that AO has a definitive number of readers, we have no foolproof way of knowing. So instead we tell you our estimates. We base these estimates on years of experience with Anglicans Online and other web sites, on the server log anayses we keep using the Analog programme, on the e-mail we receive, on what we learn by using search engines, by links from other web sites to AO, and the like.

Based on all these things, we believe that somewhere round 70,000 people look at Anglicans Online once a week and about 200,000 people look at it at least once a month. About 300,000 people know of the existence of Anglicans Online and look at it from time to time. Although we publish every week, no one is under any obligation to read us every time we publish. From a reader's point of view, Anglicans Online is just there, and you can read it whenever you want. Some people look more than once a day; some people look once or twice a year. Others bookmark us and never look again until they need to know something specific. It all depends on what you mean by 'a reader'.

The usual reason that people care about counting readership is to justify the cost of an advertisement. If a newspaper reaches 20 million people, it can charge more money for an advertisement than if it reaches 2000 people. If you're wondering how many people will see your advert here at Anglicans Online, we can't say with absolute precision. Once the Anglican world learns of the existence of our Vacancies Centre, we're confident that o all manner of people who are looking for a church position will indeed look at your advertisement.

And it doesn't really matter if 1000 people who are not looking for a position see your advert. What matters is that the right 50 people, who are looking for a job, see it. We are confident that enough will see your vacancy advertisement to make it a good investment.

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