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12 ways to track traffic for your blog

If you want to track how your blog is performing, site analytics services are the way to go. Here are some of the best, from Google's simple option to Histats' slick design.

Earlier this week, I listed some useful Firefox extensions that help you become more productive while you blog. Now it's time to see how well your blog is performing.

I've found and tried 12 online applicatons that track your blog's traffic. Some are better than others, but they're all designed with the same goal in mind: helping you grow your blog.

Web apps

Heat maps let you know where people click. Don Reisinger/CNET

Clickdensity Clickdensity not only tracks the number of page views and unique visitors to your site, it overlays a "heat map" on your page that tells you where visitors are clicking. It's a helpful tool. You can see if the way you place content on your site is helping you increase traffic. And it will give you insight into where to place page elements. Pricing starts at $5 per month. If you want to improve your site's design, try Clickdensity.

Clicky Don't let its childish name fool you; Clicky is outstanding. You'll find charts and graphs, but one of its best features is its visitor detail, which gives you accurate information on individual visitors in real time. It tells you which country they're from and how long they've been on your site. Clicky also has a mobile page designed specifically for the iPhone. It boasts all the same features as Clicky's online version. Plus, it's snappy, so you won't waste time checking traffic. Pricing starts at $29.99 per year.

Google Analytics Google Analytics is a free service that provides you with a graph showing how many people visited your site. The tool also lets you see which pages visitors clicked, how many unique visitors went to your site, and information on where the most people entered and exited. It's not nearly as advanced as other apps in this roundup, but it's certainly the easiest to use. If you want something simple and accurate, Google Analytics is for you. sports the slickest design of any tool in this roundup. You'll find common tracking elements like page views, visitors, and referral information, but that's all displayed in the most user-friendly design I've seen in this space. The graphs are gorgeous. The app's ease of use is unparalleled, thanks to slick menus. And changing the data you want to look at is simple. I was really impressed by Histats (and its free price tag).

Mochibot If you operate a Flash site, or you want to see how many people are clicking on your Flash content, Mochibot is a must-have. The app works with games, Flash video, and Flash applications. Its reports are simple--they provide only view information and graphs--but they're highly useful, if you want to see how many people are viewing your content. So far, the service is free, but paid features will be coming shortly.

Opentracker is a little ugly. Don Reisinger/CNET

Opentracker Opentracker is ugly. There's no doubt about it. And its menu system makes it too hard to maneuver around the online console. But if you want to see where your traffic is coming in and exactly what individual users are doing, this app is for you. It does the basics, such as tracking total visits and unique visitors, but it's that individual tracking that sets this app apart. You can view the person's click stream, see how long he's been on the site, and find out which country he visiting from. It costs $19.95 per month. Unless you care about individual visitors, Opentracker isn't worth it.

Pagealizer Pagealizer goes beyond simple analytics. The service not only tracks page views and visitors, but it helps you increase traffic. Its page design suggestions and landing-page optimization tips are outstanding. Using data like the visitors' length of time on the site, as well as how far they scrolled down the page, the tool finds ways for you to improve your site. It told me that for my blog, I need to change the location of some page elements to increase click-through rates. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Pagealizer's advice. For a starting price of just $9.99 per month, it's worth trying out. I think you'll learn quite a bit.

ShinyStat Like many of the other apps in this roundup, ShinyStat comes in free and premium versions. Its free service provides all the basics, such as page views, graphs, and unique visitors. But its most useful feature is its "forecast" function, which estimates how your site will do today. It constantly changes that forecast as more people filter in.

ShinyStat Pro provides far more information. You can see detailed graphs showing real-time data. Its referrers' chart tells you where your visitors are originating from. And its geolocation chart tells you where most of your audience lives. You can even track how well your advertising campaigns are working. Pricing is based on the number of page views your site generates. ShinyStat is a great resource. I highly recommend it.

StatCounter StatCounter is free, so you won't find much advanced help like you will in paid apps. But what it lacks in advanced features, it makes up for in customization. For any metric, the site lets you choose the time span of data you want to view. You can also decide which information should be included in the graph, how it's displayed (area or bar graph), and much more. You can create a fully customized chart to get minute detail on any traffic figure impacting your site. And since it's free, StatCounter is definitely worth trying out.

VisiStat Although it's costly (pricing starts at $29.95 per month), VisiStat is an outstanding traffic-tracking service. It's built for the person who has little to no tech know-how, so it's easy to use. Its reports capture real-time traffic data, but instead of bogging you down in complicated analytic talk, it displays your unique visitors and page views in a graphical style that's easy to comprehend. The tool also has ad tracking so you can see how your campaigns are performing. It's a neat tool that's worth trying out. But it would be nice if it were a little cheaper.

WebStats provides a nice referrer graph. Don Reisinger/CNET

WebStats WebStats comes in two versions: Basic and Pro. Its Basic version is free. It provides daily page views, unique visitors, and graphs to visually display how your site has performed. But the company's Pro version is far more powerful. You can view traffic flowing in from search engines and see who the best referrers to your site are. You can even follow your advertising campaigns. Even better, it's relatively affordable--the company's Pro version only costs $9.95 per month. Definitely check it out. I liked it a lot.

Yahoo Web Analytics I was generally impressed by Yahoo Web Analytics. I especially liked the app's visitor demographics, which should help you increase advertising effectiveness. Yahoo Web Analytics gives you information on age and gender--two key factors involved in creating an effective marketing campaign. You can even consult its behavioral charts, which fill you in on what your visitors are doing whenever they enter your page. You'll be amazed by all the data Yahoo Web Analytics provides. You should definitely check it out. Plus, it's free!

The top 3

Looking for the best of the best? Here you go:

1. Yahoo Web Analytics

2. Histats

3. ShinyStat