A hit counter is a piece of code embedded in a web page which tracks visitors. Hit counters vary in complexity from simple versions which merely tell the web master that someone has visited, to complex ones which track a user's progress through a website and supply supplemental information, such as where a visitor comes from. Most web pages have hit counters installed, so that the owners can see how popular the site is, and how users are reaching the site. A hit counter can also be used to see how navigable a site is, and to determine which areas of the site are most popular.
Most hit counters will tell the web master what the IP address of each visitor is. Using the IP address, the web master can see what part of the world a visitor is coming from, and in some cases may be able to identify which service provider the guest is using. In addition, a hit counter usually supplies information about the site or search which led the visitor to the site. All of this information is available in an administrative area in the form of statistics which the web master can view. As a general rule, this information is not displayed on the site, out of concerns for security.
On a site, a hit counter can take a number of formats. Many hit counters are entirely invisible. Visitors do not know that the hit counter is there, although the hit counter tracks them. Other hit counters take a more visible form. Many websites, for example, keep a running total of visitors to the main site, as this is a matter of interest to some people. In other cases, a more complex hit counter might display hits overlain on a map, so that visitors can see where other visitors are from. Some sites also keep a running list of recent referrals, showing how people found the site.
Many people with personal web sites want to obtain a hit counter so that they can see how popular the site is. A number of companies create free hit counters for this very purpose. A search for “free hit counter” in your favorite search engine will yield a list of possibilities. However, use caution. First, determine whether you want a hit counter to be visible or invisible. If visible, find out what kind of displays the company offers you, as you may not find them visually appealing. Some of these companies also embed malicious code or cookies in their hit counter code, so read the terms of service carefully to determine how the data you collect will be used.