Traffic Analysis with Mint
Like most people with personal websites, I’m hugely interested in my stats. This is fairly laughable, given the hugely unimpressive number of hits I get a day, but I’m interested regardless.
Generally speaking, I care about two things: who’s pointing to my posts (referrers), and how many people are hitting the site (visits). Egosurfing Technorati is a nice way of getting some of this information, but it just doesn’t feel very accurate, and it simply can’t be as detailed as some other solutions that actually integrate themselves into your site. Let’s talk about one of those that I’ve found useful: Shaun Inman’s Mint.
When it comes to elegant display of the ebb and flow of your site’s current traffic, I haven’t come across anything better than Mint. In it’s default configuration, I don’t think it’s a robust solution for high-traffic sites (loading the dashboard alone practically tanks Digital Web’s server), but it’s pure magic for a personal site like this one.
Out of the box, Mint gathers and presents several bits of information that I care about. Adding a few key plugins, or “Peppers” (Pepper. Mint. Peppermint. Oh that clever guy…), expands the default functionality to encompass almost everything else I care about. In fact, the community that’s sprung up around Mint is really the reason Mint is worth the $30 to me. The high level of interest and interaction practically ensures that a Pepper will spring up when a new idea floats around for improving analysis (Peppermint Tea gathers these plugins together in a decent way, so they’re always fairly easy to find).
The default Peppers are good at displaying the raw numbers, but to really get a grasp on the traffic information, Kyle Rove has put together a brilliant Pepper called Fresh View that renders the totals and uniques as an SVG-based graph. It’s pretty, and absolutely increases my ability to analyze the information in a useful way. Looking at a little dot that’s twice as high as the previous dot means something to me immediately about my traffic patterns; raw numbers simply don’t have that impact.
More than daily numbers, I find it really interesting to see the trends that pop up when comparing day to day traffic. Brett DeWoody and Ronald Heft put together the cleverly named Trends Pepper that’s surprisingly good at processing the raw traffic data, and presenting useful trending information that you can actually do something with. I have mine configured to compare the previous 7 days of traffic to the 7 days before that, which gives me a pretty accurate picture of which posts people are reading now, compared to which posts they were reading a week ago. I get the same information about referrers and searches, all with one Pepper. It’s really quite well put together, letting you dive into the information to see the history on a day-to-day basis for closer examination. I’m really happy with how it performs.
Pure traffic numbers are great, and I enjoy seeing my traffic move around and the way that trends pop up now and then, but my real curiosity is all ego: who’s talking about me, and what are they saying? Links are the lifeblood of the web, and I’m very interested in who’s sending traffic my way. Mint, of course, tells me.
Out of the box, Mint captures referrer information, and gives me a list of the newest unique incoming links. Even better, it gives me an RSS feed of the newest unique referrers, so I don’t have to reload the Mint dashboard every five minutes to feed my data addiction; I just pop open NetNewsWire and there they are. Brilliant stuff.
Of course, new unique referrers aren’t all I care about. I’m also curious about the long-term links from more popular pages that just keep driving traffic in. Mint does collect counts for repeat referrers, but the Trends Pepper mentioned above fills in the details much more nicely, giving a good overview of who’s sending traffic now vs. before.
And hey, every once in a while, people search for things like “mike west is number 1”, which I like to pretend is really about me.
Mint isn’t the only analysis package out there, and $30 is a bit steep for it’s functionality on just one site, really. So what else might you look at to get some of the power of Mint at a lower price? These are some that I’ve used:
Google Analytics is a nice system that Google’s put out for free. It’s a little obtuse to use, and is really more focused on the needs of high-end users that want to optimize their ad spend than on the needs of personal websites. That said, it’s free, and it really does work pretty well. It’s just not as elegant as Mint.
SlimStat is an analytics engine based on a precursor to Mint: ShortStat. Shaun Inman released ShortStat under the GPL before moving on to write Mint, and Stephen Wettone took off and ran with it, building in a lot of nice functionality, and building up a good-sized community at the same time. It’s not as polished as Mint, and lacks the real plugin architecture that makes Mint so appealing to developers, but it’s a solid, free alternative that’s well worth taking a look at.