October 11, 2006

MEASURING RESULTS: Using a Site Counter

I'll be covering Harebrained's mission and methods in future posts, but for now, we have two urgent action items:

1) Measure our web site's hits with a site counter
2) Set up income streams with products, advertising and donations

This post will deal only with measuring results with a site counter.

MEASURING RESULTS: Using a Site Counter
If you don't know where you've been, or how long it took to get there, or if there's a better shortcut, then you'll travel in circles. It's important to measure almost everything you do in your business to adjust course as needed, and one easy way for internet businesses to do that is by installing a site counter on their web pages.

A site counter is like a person standing in front of your store with a handheld counting machine gathering data from your visitors without them even knowing it. These site "stats" are useful because they'll tell you whether most of your users are on a PC or a Mac, of if they use Explorer or Firefox, how big their computer screen is... even what town they're in. With a little detective work, you can sometimes pinpoint when certain users visit your site.

I wanted a free site counter, but a good one. I shopped around, looked at a bunch, and eventually decided on Statcounter. It has a good, clean design (always an excellent indicator of how easy the site will be to use) and it has the level of detail I need.

This is how Statcounter describes themselves:
A free yet reliable invisible web tracker, highly configurable hit counter and real-time detailed web stats. Insert a simple piece of our code on your web page and you will be able toanalyzee and monitor all the visitors to your website in real-time!

1a. Register for free. Registration requires a valid email, but I've used them for nearly a year and they've never once spammed me... another great reason to recommend them. Choose a username, email, password, and your first and last name. You might want to use an internet-based email like Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail because the statcounter reports they send you (if you opt in) are useful, but come across as gibberish if your computer's email application isn't configured to decipher HTML emails; because Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail all use HTML code to show their emails, they're already built to interpret those kinds of emails.

1b. Choose your time zone.

1c. Choose the Standard Statcounter Project option (currently, the only one available).

2. Set up the project. Type in the name of your web site (i.e. Harebrained Pipe Dreams), its web site address (i.e. http://www.harebrainedpipedreams.com), select a category (Computers, Business, Shopping, etc.), set your Maximum return length to 1 hour (anyone visiting your site twice in 1 hour is considered the same person in your stats), and take a note of your IP Blocking number (two pairs of numbers separated by periods). We will return to this number later. Do NOT select Public Stats check box unless you want everyone to see your stats.

3a. Configure the counter. Here you can choose whether you want the counter to be visible. I can see little why you need to tell everyone else how many people are visiting your site—with one exception: if you have 1,000 hits a day, it's worth it... because no one wants to be seen talking to the boy with the bad body odor. Choose "Invisible Counter". Or, if you want to support Statcounter, you might select the last option. Since we're going to want to conserve on all our site's real estate, let's keep this option in mind for later. Click Next.

3b. Frames or no frames? Frames are a cool web site trick designers sometimes use, but not often. Unless you are using frames on your site (which you are probably not), select "no". I don't select any other options on this page—I'd rather keep my counter standard. Click Next.

4a. Install the code. How are you editing your web site? If you have a webmaster doing it for you, they will use one of a few applications like Dreamweaver or Frontpage, which are the most common. If they're new to HTML coding, they may need instructions to install the code. More experience webmasters will not need these instructions, though, because all you really have to do is copy the HTML and pasted it anywhere in between the <body> and </body> tags. Whoops. Did I slip into gibberish? Don't worry. Just click Next.

4b. Your HTML code has been generated! Yay! Do not leave or close down this page before copying the text in white box, unedited, into a text document. Or, if you're ready to insert the code now, just copy the text and open up your web site in one of those applications I mentioned in 4a.

4c. If you're using a template for your web pages, you'll want to install this code on that template. If it's a dynamic template (i.e. regenerating all pages with an updated template), even better. "Installation" means you paste this HTML on your page, probably at the end of your page's HTML code, and before its </body> tag.

This is what the code will look like (I have replaced my project number with "XXXXXXX" for security reasons):

<!-- Start of StatCounter Code -->
<script type="text/javascript" language="javascript">
var sc_project=XXXXXXX;
var sc_invisible=1;
var sc_partition=17;
var sc_security="64e3e305";

<script type="text/javascript" language="javascript" src="http://www.statcounter.com/counter/counter.js"></script><noscript><a href="http://www.statcounter.com/" target="_blank"><img src="http://c18.statcounter.com/counter.php?sc_project=XXXXXXX&java=0&security=64e3e305&invisible=1" alt="web page hit counter" border="0"></a> </noscript>
<!-- End of StatCounter Code -->

5a. Test your site counter. With your new Statcounter HTML code pasted and saved onto your web site, you need to test it to see if your efforts were worthwhile. Open up the web page whose HTML you edited and close it again—this should log your view with Statcounter.

5b. Click on My Projects on the top left. You should see your project's name listed and some numbers in columns on the right. These are your hits; if you see nothing but zeros, you've fouled up. Keep trying! If you see a number 1 under Today, then Statcounter is working. Click on your project name to see more info about your single hit...

5c. ...this will take you to a summary graph page showing how many hits you got, and how many were returning visitors, etc. Explore a little. Statcounter provides a hell of a lot of info. I just need to see how many people are looking at my site, so as far as I'm concerned, we're done here.

5d. More detailed stats. This is optional, but I find that frequently looking at Recent Pageload Activity (on the left sidebar, 13 down) to be an excellent overview on who is looking at my site. It has a little more detail than the graph summary, like where your viewers found your site. This information could be crucial later on when we want to know where to advertise.

6a. Exclude your IP to prevent skewing results. On the top left, look for a small wrench icon and click on it. This will take you to your Installation and Configuration page. Find the Edit Settings link and click on it. Remember this page from step 3a? Scroll down that page until you see IP Blocking. At the end of that paragraph, you should see "Current IP address:" An IP number is like a unique ID number for your computer's internet connection but an IP number can change each time you turn your desktop's modem off or use a different WIFi connection (called a "dynamic IP"). In case your IP number never changes (called a "static IP"), you should copy the IP number listed there and paste it into the box immediately to its right. This will keep your computer from getting logged in your stats if you're using a static IP (for dynamic IPs, see step 6b). If you're an egomaniac, this step is mandatory to keep your stats from jumping off the chart as you look at your site 20 times a day.

6b. Use a Blocking Cookie. If your IP is dynamic (and you will probably not even know if it is—not even I do), you should create a blocking cookie on your computer. Click on that wrench on the top left and look for Create Blocking Cookie. Click on Stop Logging My Visits. Now, no matter where your computer is, it won't be logged on the stats.

7. Get a weekly or monthly stat report emailed to you. Another optional step, but a good one to measure your results over time, especially since Statcounter wipes all data older than 100 hits with its free counter. Click on the small envelope icon in the top left next to the wrench. On the "Add Email Report" page that pops up, select Weekly or Monthly reports and then click on the checkbox under "Send report to users" where your your username is. Click the button at bottom. Now you'll get reports emailed to you—you need never log in again to Statcounter again if you don't want to!

Congratulations... now your site has a free and fully functional site counter to inform you on who's visiting your site. This could be a pivotal tool as you tweak your advertising campaign later on.

Next up: Creating an Income Stream

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider making a small donation to help us out!

September 15, 2006

Table of Contents

Below is a list of articles that we'll be publishing on this blog. All boldfaced articles are what we're focusing on publishing soon. As each article is published, each item below will be updated with a link and its publish date. Please check this page frequently to see what's been updated.

  1. Orientation

    1. Mission & Purpose

    2. Intended Audience

    3. Methods

    4. Guiding Philosophies

    5. About the Author

  2. Tools To Use

    1. Measuring Results

    2. Publicity

    3. Advertising/Sales

  3. How to's

    1. Choosing a good business name

    2. How to setup a free blog

      1. How to install RSS and why it is awesome

    3. How to setup a web site for $30/year

      1. How to register a domain for under $10/year

      2. How to get an ISP for $20/year

      3. How to setup a free site counter (10/11/06)

      4. How to setup a free Paypal donation button

      5. How to setup a free Cafe Press shop

      6. How to setup a free message board

      7. How to setup a PPC Campaign

      8. How to use free Search Engines

    4. How to self-publish a book

  4. Lessons Learned

  5. Case Studies

  6. Spotlight on users

  7. News commentary

  8. Legalities

    1. Disclaimers

    2. DBA vs. LLC vs. C-corp

    3. Copyright & the Creative Commons Licence

    4. Trademarking

    5. Contributors

  9. Recommendations

    1. Books

    2. Web Sites

September 09, 2006

No time? No money? Start a business!

We all have them, these crazy ideas that will make us fabulously wealthy... if only we had the time. Or maybe nobody believes in our crazy notions. Whatever the reason, these outrageous ideas keep us awake at night, and often make us wonder if we should "waste" our time making them a reality. Eventually, someone convinces us it's not worth it, or worse—we convince ourselves not to pursue these ideas.


Because they're crazy. Foolish. Absurd. Preposturous. Risky.

And yet... our heart tells us that something profitable might come from our ideas if only we spent some time seriously developing them. So time is our biggest obstacle—we must first find the time to develop our ideas, and the few time we do spend must really matter. Money also works against us, but if we spend practically no money developing our ideas, what have we got to lose? What are we really risking but a few hours a week and pocket change? Big deal.

This blog's primary goal is to catalogue my journey in finding the best tools to start a small business with almost no costs and no time. I find the tools, and you use them. Hopefully, we'll have some fun along the way, too.

Finally, let's explore our blog's name:

ADJECTIVE: Foolish; flighty: a harebrained scheme.
USAGE NOTE: The first use of harebrained dates to 1548. The spelling hairbrained also has a long history, going back to the 1500s when hair was a variant spelling of hare. The hair variant was preserved in Scotland into the 18th century, and as a result it is impossible to tell exactly when people began writing hairbrained in the belief that the word means “having a hair-sized brain” rather than “with no more sense than a hare.” While hairbrained continues to be used and confused, it should be avoided in favor of harebrained which has been established as the correct spelling. —Source: Bartlebys

Pipe Dream:
NOUN: A fantastic notion or vain hope.
ETYMOLOGY: From the fantasies induced by smoking a pipe of opium. —Source: Bartlebys

The challenge is simple: Is it possible to spend a few hours a week and almost no money to build a small internet business which might one day be profitable? If you've got a great idea, the only crazy thing—the only risky thing, the way I see it—is not to try at all. Failure is guaranteed if you never try.

They'll say we're crazy. They'll say we're pipe-smoking. They'll say what we're doing is risky. Good—we already knew all that.

That's why we call it a harebrained pipe dream, after all.