Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Sordid Underbelly of Site Meter

Like many bloggers, I adore Site Meter. This is a free service that tells me how many hits I've gotten, where they're from, and how many pages the visitors read. It tells me how long visitors stay on the site. It tracks visits by entry pages, exit pages, and outclicks. Every week, Site Meter sends me e-mail with weekly traffic statistics: visits and page views broken down by day and by hour. The service gives me the ISP and IP address of each visitor and will even tell me the resolution of the visitor's computer monitor, although I'm not quite geeky enough to know what I'd ever do with that last bit of information.

Site Meter has given me renewed and sobering respect for issues around Internet privacy. I know more about some of my visitors than they might wish. If you're a frequent visitor to the site, even if you never post a comment, I have a picture of you in my head. There are people who come here every day, sometimes several times a day, whom I recognize by city and IP address.

If you're in this category: hi there, and thanks for visiting, and please post a comment sometime!

Let me say again that the version of Site Meter I use is a free service. If I upgraded to the paid version, I'd probably know what all of you had for breakfast.

One of Site Meter's most useful features is the ability to track visits by referral. If someone else has linked to my blog and you clicked on that link to get here, Site Meter will give me the referring URL. This is why I submit so regularly to Grand Rounds and Change of Shift; my Site Meter stats tell me that hits from those carnivals produce most of my traffic. Site Meter is also a much faster way to find links to my blog than the Technorati "blogs that link here" service, which sometimes lags days behind.

But here's the kicker: If you got here via an Internet search, Site Meter will tell me what search engine you were using and what you were searching for. If you type a phrase into Google and my blog comes up and you come here, Site Meter will give me the search phrase.

There's someone in Rochester, New York who's visited every day for months after doing a Google search on "palwick rickety." (Rickety Palwick is much more apt, of course, and would also work.) Lately I haven't seen Mr. or Ms. Rochester on my locations list, but a visitor from Los Angeles has been coming here, about as often, after doing the same search. This makes me wonder if someone recently moved from Rochester to L.A.

Meanwhile, I've gotten visits from people searching for information about critical-care nursing, about the Kathy Augustine case, about knitting. Some of the Google search phrases are truly poignant and hint at much larger stories. I've gotten hits on my "Heaven Can Wait" post from people searching on "Do suicides go to heaven?" I once got a hit on my HIPAA post from someone dong a Google search on "How do you know if someone can keep a secret?"

Site Meter is not keeping your secrets. Know this.

And some of those search phrases are pretty skanky.

After I posted my "Gormless Brigade" story, I had a run of hits from people who'd been searching for information on a particular kind of medical examination done with a particular kind of instrument. (Take Elvis. Add a P in front. Remove the S at the end and replace with a C. Got it? See how I'm trying to avoid further Google hits on this phrase? As for the instrument: take speculative, cut the "ative," and add "um.")

Okay, so it was probably predictable that I'd show up in some unsavory searches after that particular post, but what surprises me is how many people are deeply fascinated by this piece of medical equipment. A disproportionate number of them live in Scandinavian countries.

I couldn't make this up if I tried.

I have the very strong hunch that most of the people doing this particular search were men. (And there were even less appealing search phrases, which I'll spare you.) All I have to say, guys, is that nobody who's actually had one of these exams enjoys it, okay? Some of us tolerate them better than others, but it's nobody's favorite ten minutes in a doctor's office. As for that piece of medical equipment, if I never saw another one in my life, I'd be a happy woman.

And then, a few days ago, I discovered a new and truly slimy form of spamming.

If I think someone has linked to my site, naturally I like to go there and see what they said. I'm sure I'm not the only blogger who does this. Sometimes people have just been working their way through Blogger and hitting the "next blog" button, but one quickly develops a sense for referrals in that category. If there's more than one hit from the same site, or if there's a hit from an archived site, it's usually an actual link.

So yesterday I found a hit from an archived site, went there -- and found myself on one of those corn-with-a-p sites featuring really improbable anatomical structures.

Yea, verily, I say unto you: Ick.

Bodies don't squick me, and I don't object on principle to corn-with-a-p sites, as long as they depict adults who want to be there, and as long as they label themselves clearly and provide a "click here to swear that you're of legal age" gateway. I do object to being blindsided by this stuff, and I think slipping it into somebody's Site Meter is unbelievably sleazy.

The ironic thing is that, of course, there's a large demand for this kind of material, which is why there's so much of it out there. There must be easier ways for these people to get traffic than sliming my Site Meter.



  1. I've wondered about getting site meter for my own blog, but I'm unsure if my provider supports it. Given your experience, I can't say I want to know though.

  2. Just to contribute another perspective, I have to say that on my personal skeeve-meter an elvis spectrum is way outdone by "I haven't bathed in a really long time, and, also, I drink a lot." not to mention a GI bleed (whatever that is--sounds nasty!) or gangrene.

  3. Nickie: It really is a useful service, and getting spammed on Site Meter isn't really that much worse than getting spammed in blog comments (although one can delete those).

    Claire: If you're talking about actual lived experience, yeah, I agree. If you're talking about reading experience, well . . . you might want to avoid the ER posts. That one was pretty clearly labeled up front, I think.

    FYI, a GI bleed is bleeding anywhere in the gastro-intestinal system. In an ER, this often presents in a couple of very characteristic ways (which are also unpleasant for everyone concerned, especially the patients). Definitely nasty, but also exactly what ERs are for.

  4. Anonymous3:20 PM

    Dear Susan, What an eerie feeling to be reading your blog and suddenly see my anonymous self turn up in person in your entry! I'm that "Mr. or Ms. Rochester" you said you'd spotted - in real life, that would be "Jean, Ms., Dr., or Professor Pedersen," French historian at the University of Rochester, on the road last week to a meeting of the Western Society for French History in Long Beach, back home now. I've loved your work ever since "Aida in the Park" appeared in Ellen Kushner's Horns of Elfland anthology, found "Flying in Place" as soon as it came out - and was incredibly intrigued when the next place I saw your name, long before the appearance of "The Necessary Beggar," was at the bottom of a letter to the editor of the national Episcopal newspaper. I'm an Episcopalian too. I read your blog daily partly because I love your sermons, partly because it gives me something to read while I'm waiting for whatever your next book turns out to be, and partly because your thoughtful conversations make a nice punctuation point in my day. I've never written back to a blog before, but thanks so much for the invitation.

  5. Welcome, Jean, and thanks so much for the comment! (And allow me to congratulate you on your impeccable literary and homiletic taste!) I'd noticed this morning that those searches had moved back to Rochester; the travel itinerary explains it.

    My next book will be The Fate of Mice, coming out from Tachyon in Februrary. It's a story collection but won't, alas, include "Aida in the Park," because the editors there don't like that story enough. I supposedly have a third novel, Shelter, coming out from Tor in June, but I haven't seen definite proof of that yet. Stay tuned for more details.

    Thanks again for commenting and clearing up the mystery. I do hope you'll comment again!

  6. Susan,

    Well, it's true I don't have a high tolerance for yucky medical conditions or procedures. This is the reason that I refused even to consider medical school in spite of my father's best efforts to persuade me. However, your ER posts, believe me, aren't nearly as disturbing as some of those links you post, so I look forward to reading them as fast as you can post them, GI bleeds and all.

  7. Isn't site meter a mixed blessing? I actually switched to the free version of "extreme tracker" because I like it's format, and I don't get the weekly emails unless I want them. If I want to see who's been by, I can look (and I often do)..

    Yep, some of the search results can make you wonder...and, like you, I have actually avoided posting on a particulr topic because it became the number one search hit on my blog (the phrase about members of my professions choosing to devour their fledglings...)

  8. Claire: I never could have survived med school just because of the sleep deprivation (even if I had the necessary knack for math and science, which I don't).

    John: I wouldn't have thought the fledgling phrase would have been so popular. That's a little disturbing, isn't it? Sheesh!

  9. From what I can tell—Tom gets the sitemeter reports&mdashMarginal Utility is getting a lot of hits from people searching "proposition Anne Hathaway" right now.

    The nice thing about SiteMeter is that it also tells you how long people stay. I suspect most of those not looking into the economic principles expressed in The Devil Wore Prada leave quickly.

    And, of course, subscribing to SiteMeter is not required to use it to check the traffic of a blog.

  10. Hey, Ken! Nice to see you here! Drop by again sometime!

  11. Sarah3:45 PM

    Count me as another of your regular readers. I had a moment of curiousity while browsing Making Light, and clicked on your link, and ended up reading your piece about your literary friendship with the homeless man.

    I thought,"Ah ha! Someone who loves God and good books -- and she can write." So I've been lurking ever since, as a way to assuage my Episcopalian tendancies, despite being in a committed relationship with the Presbyterians.

    It's the first day of real snow in lovely Anchorage, AK. Since you don't subscribe to the super jumbo Site Meter extravaganza, breakfast was a large cup of strong coffee.

    Also, thank you.

  12. Hi, Sarah! Welcome, and thanks for commenting! I hope you'll comment again. I'm really glad you enjoy reading the blog.

    We have similar tastes in breakfast, by the way! (I try to have something other than strong coffee, but that's definitely the necessary first course.)

    And you're welcome.

  13. Anonymous4:20 AM

    Also, Site Meter can be somewhat addictive to blog owners.

    Here's what else it's useful for: I figured out that Patsy, who thinks I'm, well, a nut, came from here.


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