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Many amateur sites have a "You are visitor number X" counters on them. What effect does this button have on visitors to the site? Does it increase their trust in the site?

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The hit counter was one of the first interactive elements that could be added to a web page with an extremely low barrier to entry. It also served as a crude form of analytics -- it was the only way the page owner could see how many hits he was getting! – Patrick McElhaney Aug 24 '11 at 21:26
Memories of 1996. I am always surprised when people still have it. – Glen Lipka Aug 24 '11 at 21:30
@Glen 1996 was the year I graduated high school, met my wife, and joined the HTML Writer's Guild. I'll never forget those days. – Patrick McElhaney Aug 24 '11 at 21:40
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's social proof, of a sort... they want to show how many people are using the site, so you feel compelled to use it as well.

"Well, if 238 other people have visited this site, how could it possibly be wrong?"

However, the key word here is "amateur". Simple visit counters have no place on modern webpages. Instead, most modern sites rely on more refined social proof techniques, such as "popular" content listings, likes & tweets, view counts for individual pieces of content, comment counts, etc.

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Have you ever tested the button on users? – Kevin Burke Aug 24 '11 at 17:52
I have not personally tested a visitor count, nor have I seen any reliable tests. Social proof can be a very effective tool, but this is a very blunt instrument. I can't imagine that it is nearly as effective as some of the more targeted techniques that I mentioned in my reply. – Daniel Newman Aug 24 '11 at 18:15
Many prominent websites also showcase the number of registered users, and even use it in promotional materials when it approaches nice round figures. – Philip Seyfi Aug 24 '11 at 18:28
@Philip Yes, that's another good metric. Number of users is far more legitimate that number of visits. – Daniel Newman Aug 24 '11 at 18:30
Please don't use URL shorteners here. I won't click on them because I cannot verify beforehand that it won't take me somewhere I don't want to be. And it's not like you are running into a xxx character limit like you do on twitter... – Marjan Venema Aug 25 '11 at 7:55

I think there's a good reason these have fallen out of favor due to the "liked"/"shared"/ect style social media plug ins. Raw visit count isn't that meaningful especially in regards to quality. But if you can explain that people liked or shared content that's much more effective at expressing value, especially when you're showing a trusted metric. People trust the Facebook/Twitter like/share counts; those are the developers' APIs.

Who knows that that slowly upticking visit counter is reading? Even if accurate they just don't look as appealing or trustworthy in my experience. I have personally met a few people that expressed complete distrust in such visit counters, assuming they're faked. Not real research but something to consider.

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Nice point you have made there about trust. 'Like' or 'Share' has a higher credibility and is a better reflector of a site's or content's usefulness, than a plain visit count. All visits are counted but only if a visitor has found the page 'worthy', he/she would share or 'like' it. – Kartik G Aug 25 '11 at 4:39

Activity indicators, such as visitor count (or recent news items, or for example 'date last edited') show that the site is alive and that encourages trust. Showing signs of other people on the site is social proof (this includes visitor counts, like buttons, customer reviews, etc.). In many cases the number of visits isn't the best metric to show. (But note that here on this site the questions the number of visitors for each question, but named the number of views.)

Additionally, for some amateur sites, the visitor count button may be of more value to the owner (and his family/friends) than to the visitors of the site. If you propose to the site owners to remove their visitor counts, they don't say that it's important for their visitors, but instead tell that they themselves really like it to keep an eye on the activity on their site. In that case, a few simple pointers to other analytics tools may suffice.

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