Whether they have a blog that generates revenue in and of itself or a regular website for a company, it is important for small business owners to track the web traffic they are generating.

Knowing who visits a site, how long they stay, and what pages they visit (among many other things), can make it easy to identify areas for improvement of a website. By knowing how people use a website, it can be optimized to bring in more traffic, make people stay longer and make them visit more pages.

There are several free tools for measuring the traffic of a site internally. One leader in free web tracking is Statcounter, which can be used to track visitors in real time. By inserting their code into a site, users can see information on everyone that visits. Google Analytics offers similar free tools, though their information does not update in real time. Google Analytics has become significantly more robust over the past year, and can track more things, like conversions in Google Adwords, for example.

There are also many free tools available for comparing different websites and the volume of traffic they are getting. The original comparison tool was Alexa, but it has lost considerable legitimacy over the last two years. Compete was a decent replacement, and is considered a more reliable metric than Alexa nowadays.

Rising fast, however, is another service, called Quantcast. The company has redesigned their comparison chart to make it more useful, and the readability is much improved from the previous iteration. Quantcast also offers real-time data, which Compete does not. A major downside to Quantcast is that it does not index sites that aren’t seeing major traffic. Many sites with over 10,000 monthly unique visitors according to Compete are not indexed in Quantcast, which may hurt it’s chances of breaking into the mainstream.

CNN vs. New York Times on Quantcast
CNN vs. New York Times on Quantcast

Inquistr, however, predicts that Quantcast will rock 2009.