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).

Aggregate Numbers

Mint gives me a lot of insight into the current patterns of traffic on my site. Specifically, it provides a day-by-day view of my aggregate hit numbers. I like seeing numbers, and the default installation of Mint does a nice job presenting the total number of page views, and a reasonable job guessing at the total number of unique visitors. It runs via a JavaScript include, and sets a cookie on each visitor’s browser, so I’m much more confident in this tatter number than I am in the numbers generated by a log analyzer like AWStats.

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.

Search Results

The last thing I want to see are the keywords and phrases that are driving people to my site. I want to know how they find me, and what they were looking for, mostly because it gives me ideas for new articles and provides important information about the words that are important when describing certain topics. If I continually write about unobtrusive JavaScript techniques, but never say the word “AJAX”, then I’m missing out on an easy way to optimize my content for search engines. And when I see that the articles I wrote about prepping for technical interview questions are getting some good traffic, it’s an inspiration to write more on the topic. I like the idea of people actually reading what I write; knowing what people are looking for when they find me is a good step in that direction.

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: