Hit Counters: Why You Should Never Use Website Hit Counters

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.

Link Spam

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.
hit counter
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.

hit counters scam

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.

  1. Google Analytics
  2. Omniture

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.

21 thoughts on “Hit Counters: Why You Should Never Use Website Hit Counters”

  1. I read you article above and found it interesting, but…. I just created a new website for my new business and just want a simple counter on the homepage. Could you suggest a script to do that? Thanks for your help.

  2. Ralph,

    I would question why you would want a “hit counter”?

    I would suggest adding Google Analytics to your pages. It’s free and offers so much more insight, in a very simple way. It can give you data about everything from how many visitors came to your homepage or any other page on your website, to understanding where your visitors are going on your site.

    It is a really simple tool that we use on our sites as well as all our client websites to at the very least “count hits”.

    Not to mention, most sites that use “hit counters” are usually lower quality websites, old Geocities type sites, or spam sites.

  3. Thanks Bill I’ll give it a try. I did look at it briefly and it looked complicated. I will load it. Thanks, Ralph

  4. I have GA and it used to give very dodgy visit times and bounce rates. Then all of a sudden it went to the other extreme. My visit times went from a minute to 25 minutes! I just don’t trust it. What can I use to do it? I cant afford Adobe.

  5. A really simple thing I use is statcounter.com. It gives a lot of great info and isn’t visible on my site. Anyone heard any bad reviews from that?

  6. I don’t have a hit counter. But to each their own. You make some interesting points. Great article. Take care.

  7. I am building a redesign for a client who has a small business and is adamant that he wants a hit counter. I can easily write the script and ensure the counter is non-spammy. However, I agree with your assessment of the psychological associations people make regarding “quality”. But he, hearing the full explanation and being of sufficient intelligence to understand, counters with the psychological impact of “popularity” and peer pressure – as much as display the number of likes or +1′s (although those are smart and can show faces.). He said in our interview,”I can’t tell you how many Still he makes a good point!

    Look, if it’s trust you want to engender, and your small business isn’t so much a social club as it is fast, professional service then don’t bother with worrying about popularity. But if the nature of the business depends on local popularity, then as a website builder I feel my job is to give the client exactly what he wants. Emphasis on popularity to include his hit counter simply challenges me to 1)write a non-spammy functional script, and 2.)graphically present it in a modern design that doesn’t trigger memories of endless scrolling down a tripod cities page with a tacky magenta bag round and countless animated gifs.

    Why so shy? Sounds like the stat numbers of those who say “no way” to hit counters has worked just fine. Proving my smart client’s point! If you want to build trust into a website, start by trusting your client and your own creative abilities to deliver a quality and effective finished product.

  8. Sorry didn’t complete his quote somehow! He said, “I can’t tell you how many people would visit my site, and their first feedback was how many visits my site gets, how popular my business is!” He’s choosing to have it because of solid historical user feedback, is the point.

  9. Ive been using StatCounter.Com on most of my sites and find it to be ‘trustworthy’ and reliable. Easy to implement, and with an option to be hidden from view. They also give a monthly report.

    Google is also another one I have been using. What I find interesting is when I have both Google and StatCounter on one page I can see the differences in how each report. There were times that the inconsistencies between the two were just unbelievable.

    Good Post and worthy for webmasters to be aware of.

  10. Thanks for the article. I found it via a google search when I was l doing a search to find a free hit counter. Thanks for the insight, I did not ever stop to think that malware could be coded in a simple hitcounter.

  11. Thanks for the truth to this topic. I find hit counters a bit outdated and not as attractive in its own way. A big reason behind that is because it may present traffic to a visitor in a negative way; possibly indicating low count to one’s page to begin with. Secondly, that very hit counter html code may include spam, causing more annoyance such as pop up ads and even viruses. I know several blog hosting sites themselves, even Google’s analytics already include their own “behind the scenes” stat info about your own blog for example and not made visible to the visitor.

  12. To Tori,I have Google Analytics and StatCounter.com installed on every page of my website. I like them both. They are also invisible which is great. I highly recommend them.

  13. Interesting points there… nowadays the hit counters are less trendy.

    But you may still want a script to display the number of views a certain article or image received. For this, there are PHP and Javascript solutions…

  14. I would be careful with Google analytics as well. Their power of tracking your every move on the web is a bit too scary for me. Especially considering the cosy relationship between Google (or any big USA based company for that matter) and the NSA.

  15. I have owned a direct response ad agency since 1972 and measuring response is my life blood. I have free page counters on every single www page and my clients (with lots of page views) are renewing and buying more advertising. Their www pages are working and the ones with very few page views are not working. Most of our clients are getting good results. Some are not. My total focus is getting results for my clients. Measurable results! I have not noticed any negativity related to page counters…but I would still like to test it a hundred times or so and further determine the best page counters. What do you recommend?

  16. Thanks for the info! I’ve never heard of a hit counter before but now im having clearer thoughts :)

  17. All I want is something super simple and free. I looked at the GA link but it doesn’t look straight forward at all. Are there any guides for setting up GA?

    Otherwise a few people here recommend StatCounter.Com. What’s your opinion of them Bill? They don’t look spammy.

    Also, none of the comments here have dates next to them so it’s difficult to know how relevant they are.

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