Free web statistics? Don’t count on it.

One of the cooler things about the web is how many free tools there are to build, maintain, enhance and enjoy web sites. A lot of tools are offered out of the goodness of their makers’ hearts.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes the freebie is a way of setting you up for a torrent of advertising — and the makers aren’t always as upfront as they could be about what you’re in for.

For years, thousands of sites (many in the Netherlands, but many elsewhere too) have relied on Nedstat Basic, a free service that gave you a rundown on who’s been coming to your site and what they’ve looked at. The company hoped that users would upgrade to a more comprehensive paid package.

But with the sale of Nedstat Basic to German marketer ad pepper media, the free service has become Webstats4U — and the name isn’t the only change.

Webstats4U is much more of an ad-driven service. Ostensibly that’s to cover development costs, but the new owners have to be looking at earning some kind of return on the three-million-Euro purchase price.

Motives aside, Nedstat users — and more to the point, the people visiting their sites — are suddenly being pestered by popup ads. Their surprise (have a look at a sampling of irritated blog owners) is understandable. Here’s what says about advertising:

In order to finance the new developments and to continue providing you with the world’s best FREE web analytics tool in the market, Webstats4U will accept advertising sponsorships on its reporting site and will from time to time accept other types of advertising sponsorships. These advertising sponsorships will not be implemented directly into your website [emphasis added].

Ah, that little word “directly”. It should ring an alarm claxon, because it’s the kind of language marketers like to use to give themselves a loophole. It implies that “indirectly” adding advertisements to your site is fair game.

And so it is: the detailed terms of service set out an astonishing range of technologies that Webstats4u is willing to deploy in the service of antagonizing your visitors.

With the installation of Webstats4U on the site it is accepted that WMS has the right to place advertisements on the site in any format or through any channel, including but not limited to e-mail, layer ads, pops, banners and other usual formats without any forewarning and it is furthermore accepted that WMS takes no responsibility for the advertising content and that WMS shall not be liable for any losses incurred regarding this advertising.

In other words, in exchange for our “free” stats package, you’re now our ad mule. Open wide!

The subtlety of that change has already led one high-traffic, net-savvy blog owner to mistakenly conclude that a blog search engine was responsible; it was an understandable error, because the weasel words on Webstats4u’s web site do little to alert webmasters of just what they’re in for.

The moral of the story? Read your terms of service carefully, especially if you’re getting something for “free”. Check out what others are experiencing.

And guard the integrity of your web site jealously. If they’re on your site, those popup ads reflect on your personal or organizational branding. And they don’t reflect well.

22 thoughts on “Free web statistics? Don’t count on it.

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  6. Rob Lewis

    Hi Rob,
    thank you, your page has solved a major problem. Like many people I could not understand why I started to get pop up adverts when I visited my own site. I spent hours trying to see if I had been infected and running scans. I never suspected the NEDSTAT counter,as I have had it for years. Now, thanks to your page, I am going through all the 79 counters on my site and taking them off. I refuse to have adverts appear to my visitors.
    Thanks again,
    Rob Lewis-Editor of THE LAUREL & HARDY MAGAZINE.

  7. Rob Post author

    I’m delighted I could help, Rob. If I’ve stopped even one popup window, I consider that a day well-spent. :)

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  11. Brian

    Hi, and thanks!
    I deleted everything on my website, but after uploading all the pages again, the popups were still there… Now I’ll do it again, but without the counter

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  13. Jeff

    Thank you! I, too, received emails from some of my users about pop ups on my site, but couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. I noticed the change in name for Needstat when investigating the origin of these ads, and read as much as a I could on their site, trying to determine if they were the cause. Much like one of the posts above I didn’t suspect needstat because I have been using them for so long. It wasn’t until I started searching and found this page that I got the answer. Guess I didn’t read the details well enough. So it’s time to take the Needstat/Webstats4u code off the site and rely on Statcounter for now…

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  15. micheailin

    Hey! Hey! Thanks for confirming my exporience
    on 2 of my SAOIRSE32 websites today. I was getting these really malicious ‘iLead’ pop-ups that took over. I took the Webstats4u off, and they disappeared. Interestingly enough, so far the Livejournal site I use Webstats on for each post does not seem to allow the ad through although it still gives me the stats. I hated when the Nedstats changed. They went from a good experience to garbage and now pure shite.

  16. MuslimWays

    same as “micheailin” I got the same problem, I kept getting iLead pop-up which was very unsuitable for my website, specially the images they had on it.

    I couldn’t find out what code made the pop-up to appear, but then realised it was cos of webstats4u.

    I am looking forward to remove the stats from them, never again I am using their “free” stats counter.

  17. Rob Post author

    Interesting service, Logdy — and possibly the shortest Terms of Service agreement I’ve ever seen. Do you folks have a business model, or is this something you’re doing just because it’s good for the web?

  18. GreenReaper

    Gah! Of course, I didn’t see them because I use Firefox, but I’m sure my visitors did! I’m switching to Google Analytics – they provide far better stats anyway.

  19. Volunteer church webmaster

    Gambling pop-ups and other negative advertisers on a church website! Disappointing business tactics, indeed!

    Try — They’re a reliable resource! And they provide better information, too!

Whaddaya think?