When it comes to statistics, there are countless applicaitons that will let you know what happened last week, yesterday or even last hour, but few will give you a clear picture as to what is happening on your site right now.
That is a void that ChartBeat is hoping to fill.
The premise behind ChartBeat is very simple. Rather than telling you how many visitors and pageviews you had on X day and time, it is going to tell you how many people are on your site right now, what they are doing and where they came from.
But while the idea sounds pretty cool, it ends up falling a little bit flat and it shoots itself in the foot in several places. It’s a premise with potential, but many failings between the point of concept and its execution.
Still, it is a service well worth taking a closer look at and seeing if it is right for you.
How it Works
Fundamentally, ChartBeat works the same as any other analytics application. Once you sign up, you have to insert two snippets of HTML code into your theme, the first goes in the head and the second right before the closing body tag.
Once configured successfully, ChartBeat will begin displaying information about your site including the number of visitors who are on your site, what they are doing (reading, writing or idle), what pages they are on, where they are from, how they arrived at your site and how fast your site loaded for them, among other tidbits of info.
This information stays very fluid and is constantly updating. You can leave it in a tab and check in on it every so often to see how your site is doing. You can also access it via an iPhone app or use it to add SMS or email alerts for when your traffic reaches a certain level, your site is down or your average pageload rises above a certain time.
And really that is about all it does. It constantly updates your information but doesn’t provide any historical metrics beyond the ability to “replay” past events.
For this, ChartBeat charges $9.95 per month for a basic account that allows up to 1,000 concurrent visitors. There is a thirty-day free trial but it requires a credit card to sign up and a cancellation within 30 days to prevent it from being charged.
ChartBeat looks incredible. Its interface is clean, easy-to-read and conveys a lot of information very quickly. Clearly a great deal of thought went into the design and it shows. Even a total analytics newbie will have no trouble understanding ChartBeat.
Also, a lot of the information provided is fairly unique to ChartBeat. The ability to see, in real-time, how fast pages are loading for visitors and what they are doing at that moment is pretty neat. You’ll likely find that most of your visitors are idle and that page loading times fluctuate wildly, but it still works amazingly well and you can filter easy by just about any criteria.
It can also be pretty neat to watch ChartBeat right after you take action on your site, such as publishing a new post or sending out an email newsletter, as you can track the response as it comes in, making it easy to understand exactly how people are reacting to what you put out there.
But as neat as it is in places, it’s difficult for me to say that it is really worth ten dollars per month, Not only is it lacking any kind of historical perspective on its data, but there were several problems I encountered while trying to use the service.
The first sign of trouble with ChartBeat came when trying to set up an account. Since ChartBeat requires a credit card for the free trial, I provided my business one but the site wouldn’t take it. I re-entered it several times before it finally worked. However, when I logged into my account, I noticed that ChartBeat had charged my card for ten different $1 test purchases.
Though I suspected that the purchases would all be voided, as is typical with these “test” purchases, I wanted to ask and make sure. However, when I sent an email to their support account, it bounced back to me. I was eventually able to get ahold of them on Twitter and resolve the issue that way, but the experience unnerved me, even though they were able to fix the email bouncing issue.
But even ignoring the credit card problems and difficulties in getting support, I can’t openly recommend ChartBeat. Without historical analytics, you’ll need another stat package to get a complete picture of your site. However, other packages, most notably Woopra but also recently Clicky, offer robust real-time information AND historical data at a fraction of the cost. In fact, Woopra offers more real-time data and has a fairly robust free account that may be adequate for many bloggers.
However, it is worth noting that Woopra and ChartBeat report much different numbers, with Woopra’s figures being much lower, usually only a fraction of what ChartBeat reports. This is likely due to differing standards on what is an active visitor.
In short, the main thing that ChartBeat has going for it is a very sexy interface and a single-minded target. Though it’s not enough for me to latch onto though it might be for some.
Through it all, my end attitude is that ChartBeat just wasn’t for me. Though my site is active enough to have a good stream always on the site, many won’t be. If you don’t get at least a thousand visitors per day, you probably won’t see enough activity to make ChartBeat all that interesting.
However, if your site is busy enough you can get better, more complete analytics elsewhere. I personally recommend Woopra, though I admittedly have a bias as I am friends with many of the people who work on it.
Couple all of that with the issues I’ve had both with my credit card and with getting support and it seems like ChartBeat just isn’t quite ready for prime time. It’s a neat idea with a ton of potential, but it needs to make some improvements before it is worth the price and I would feel comfortable signing up for a paid account.
Maybe it will be there some day, but it’s not quite there today.