Careful Little Hands What You Post!

Information. Everybody wants it. A lot of people are more than happy to give it. We print brochures, create ads, mail out flyers and—of course—post as much as we can on the Web so people can have our information. Printed materials are generally reviewed much more closely than items that are posted online. We realize that changing something in print tends to be costly and you can’t change it at all once it is on someone’s hands. On the web, things are sometimes scrutinized to a lesser degree.

Unfortunately, this less rigorous review and approval process means that on occasion, content gets posted that really should not be on the web at all. I am not talking about typos or grammatical mistakes, but the actual content itself.

Churches, ministries, and many non-profit organizations are unique in that in addition to full-time staff, they depend on a large number of volunteers. Volunteers often lead several ministries such as on-campus and off-campus small group Bible studies, support groups, vacation bible school, and the list goes on. As such, volunteers are often the key points of contact for their respective ministries. This makes it very tempting to simply post their personal contact information on the web and direct people to it. In a perfect world—no problem. However, I don’t need to go into a lesson on the depravity of man, to say the world is far from perfect.

When posting any information to your site, realize that someone can easily gain even more information from the little that you gave them. For example, let’s say you list an off-campus women’s bible study that meets at 8:00 p.m. along with a name and phone number. Simply typing in the name or phone into a search engine can quickly display an address, map and driving directions to that person’s location.

There are different tactics that you could try to protect such information, but the best solution is to simply not list personal information on the site at all. Instead, direct them to call the church office, send an email or fill out a form. Anyone legitimately interested should have no problem doing this, and it offers some basic safety for your volunteers, especially those in off-campus ministries.

Hits, Visits and Page Views…Oh My!

Beyond the technical jargon of site stats.

So you’re at one of those after-hours gatherings with some business associates and you end up at the table with your boss and a friend of his who is “in the biz”. The friend has just told the story of how his company just launched a website last week and they have already had over 10,000 hits. Your boss turns to you, and in that competitive, elementary-school, well-my-dad-can-beat-up-your-dad tone asks how many hits your site has had this week.

You’re in luck. You just checked your site stats earlier in the day. You think back, trying to sort out all those numbers in your head. Let’s see…how many people came to your site? Oh yes, you remember, there were 562 visitors as of 2:15 p.m. today. Great. You now have the opportunity to impress your boss with your keen abilities to remember data.

Wait a second. What did that other guy say? Over 10,000? Ouch!

The are an infinite number of reasons why site stat numbers could be way off, but one of the most common is simply the result of confusing terms.

Ten thousand hits! A million hits! Great, but what exactly is a hit? And how is it different from a visit or a pageview?

Hits are probably the single most misleading term when talking about site stats. A hit is simply a request to the server for a file—any file. A single, typical web page will register several hits. One for the page itself, one for each external CSS or Javascript file (most sites have at least one of each), and one for every graphic on the page, including invisible spacer GIF’s which should be extinct.

Imagine that you were tracking statistics for a mall. A hit would be like counting every item (including people) that enters the mall. If I walk into the mall you would count me, my shirt, pants, shoes, socks, watch, wallets, keys, and whatever else is on me. As I walk through the entrance, the mall may get a dozen or more hits easily.

In the early days of the web, some unscrupulous sites would purposely have many tiny images on single pages to increase their “hit counts”. If their site had more hits than a competitor’s they could charge more for advertising. Not to incriminate anyone, many people use “hits” and “page views” interchangeably without meaning to deceive anyone. But, they are different and most site stats recognize this. Hits may be somewhat useful in monitoring server loads and activity, but for determining a site’s popularity and for marketing purposes, hits are useless. Ignore them.

Visits are simply visits (or sessions if you want the technical term) to a website. If someone (or something in the case of various search engine robots) goes to your site and leaves without clicking on anything or they click through and read every page, it counts as one visit. If someone walks into the mall, it is one visit until the person leaves. By the way, you would also count the delivery guys, mall employees, and security, too. They would be like the “robots” that crawl your site. They are not going there to shop, but they still get counted. They would have to leave and come back for it to count as two visits.

On the web, a visit is usually ended when the user closes the browser. Under some circumstances, visits or sessions, will expire after a set period of time—usually for security reasons. Visits are a good way of knowing how many people go to your site.

Pageviews are the total number of pages viewed. This would be like our mall shoppers not just entering the mall, but walking into the individual stores and browsing. Just as one may visit several stores at the mall, one visit may generate multiple page views. In fact, ideally it should. If the number of visits equals the number of page views it could mean people are going to your site and it is not what they were looking for. For example, if I am looking for a classic ’69 Mustang and site comes up about horses I am not likely to click on the links and therefore generate multiple page views since it wasn’t what I was looking for. Page view information becomes even more valuable when it is coupled with individual pages. This will help determine what sections of the site your visitors are going to.

Good site stats provide a lot of data. Great site stats simplify that data into useful information.