We have all seen those little counters on the bottom of older websites and blogs that count the number of “hits” (which is a word that nobody should use anymore) a website gets. Back in the 90’s during the time of GeoCities and other free site platforms these free hit counters were a big deal and became the “cool” thing to do.
What Are Hit Counters?
Website owners could visit a website who offered these and download the hit counter code for free. They could then take the downloaded code and add the hit counter script (usually HTML or PHP) to the footer area of their website. This code would capture the number of visitors (Hits) a page was getting, and display it in a graphical form on the bottom of the webpage.
Other Names for Hit Counters
- page counters
- visit counter
- blog hit counter
- web page visitor counter
- online hit counter
- visitor counter
- stat counter
- website view counter
- text hit counter
- flash hit counter
The Hit Counters Scam
So what’s the problem with these cute website counters that you can put on your website? Why should you never use them? There are two simple reasons; link spam and website trust.
With the rise of Google in the late 90’s and the value of inbound links with exact match anchor text being a valuable commodity, spammers figured out a way to manipulate the link graph at the expense of small businesses and blog owners. The spammers would offer website owners a “hit counter”. It would come in an easy to add HTML code snippet that blogs and business owners could put on their website to count the number of visitors (hits) that the website received. Simple enough right, what could possibly go wrong?
1. In the first tactic the spammers would embed links into the counter’s image, and utilize the “alt text attribute” on that image to signal to Google what keyword relevancy they wanted the link to have. This link often would link to the hit counters website, spam websites, or worse to adult websites in an attempt to manipulate rankings. The problem with this is that in most cases the website owner who was utilizing the hit counter to get the analytics for their site was not aware of the low quality spam link embedded in the image. In many cases this caused Google to interpret the website as spam (Google says you can’t control who links to you, but you can control who you link to, thus don’t link to spam) since it was linking out to spam and in many cases these “hit counters” were getting sites devalued or banned from the search engines.
Image courtesy of SEOmoz Presentation
2. A second tactic that was worse in many cases was when a spammer would “hide” a link that was positioned off the page and was not visible to anyone but the search engines. They would also employ invisible hit counters or hidden hit counters on a site which also had a hidden link in the code. Since the website owner was not aware of this hidden link, this would often cause sites to get flagged for hidden links and in some cases devalued or banned from the search engines for black hat tactics.
Image courtesy of SEOmoz Presentation
First Impressions Mean Everything
It’s not a big secret that visitors to your website are judging the value and trust of your website based upon the design and content. In my opinion, and based on my background in psychology, when a small business blog or website employs graphics such as blinking buttons or hit counters there is an initial judgement placed on the website that it is of low quality and low trust. Both of these are emotional judgements that hurt social shares, inbound marketing efforts, and ultimately sales or page views.
Valuable Alternatives To Hit Counters
What baffles me is why these simple hit counter are still around today, even though there are more sophisticated and still easy-to-use analytic programs. There are many free alternatives to hit counters that are just as easy to add to your website. These pieces of codes come straight from trusted websites like Google or Omniture, and can get you the basic data you are searching for about your website.
If you need help removing your current hit counter from your website, and adding a more trusted and valuable method for tracking visitors to your website please give us a call (773.791.3197) and we would be happy to help you increase the quality of your website.