Thursday, February 03, 2011

Blog Stats

There's a lot of different ways that you can track the readership of your blog. While I'm going to cover them here, I want to first briefly talk about both why stats are helpful and why you shouldn't get caught up over them.

There's a few different types of stats:

  • Passive Stats
    • Gathered by the act of someone viewing your website - they don't have to do anything besides show up.
  • Active Stats
    • Methods where people choose to participate in your blog, such as clicking Follow in Google Friend Connect or reading your RSS feed
    • They also have to go out of their way to unsubscribe.
  • Mixed
    • People leaving comments is kind of a mix of both active and passive because they have to actively get involved to post a comment, but they don't have to do anything to stop commenting. (Besides not showing up)

Note, while I'm including pictures from my blog stats, most specific numbers have been removed.

How important your stats are is up to you and depends on the reason you write. The more personal your blog is, the less it matters who's following you - I'm not saying your readers and their feedback are unimportant, I'm just saying don't freak out if your numbers drop or they're not raising high enough for your liking.

If you're trying to write and help the community, then low numbers are something to be concerned about, but they can be interpreted different ways. Again, don't freak out, because there are a number of things that can impact your stats and there are ways to handle it - but it's at least worth looking into if any of the following items could be a factor to why people are losing interest:
  • What you're talking about simply doesn't interest your followers.
    • Change your topics or seek a different audience... eg: gaming vs painting.
  • The way you write could need tweaking.
    • Strong language, poor grammar, intense tone, stereotyping, etc
  • Perhaps you've been on the same topic for too many weeks
  • How much do you interact with your readers?
    • If you ignore your readers, they'll pick up on it.
  • It could be something as simple as needing pictures or better pics.
  • It might not even be related to something you're doing:
    • Numbers will drop (average back down) if you had a sudden surge from a very popular article
      (Ask any Jedi how "bringing balance to the force" worked out for them)
    • Holidays often see drops as people are busy...
    • while vacation periods can see raises and/or drops in activity.
      • Some people go away on vacation, some stay home, which could balance out.
    • People go on hiatus from topics sometimes, not following a particular theme for months.
Something to really watch for is if your active stats start to drop - if people stop commenting or go out of their way to unFollow you, it's time to look at what you're doing. (again, only if you're writing for others and not yourself)

Something else to be aware of, is that the ratio of readers/views to comments is usually large. That is to say you won't get many comments until your readership grows significantly, and even then, maybe only now and then.

Note, I'm not commenting here on Google Analytics or Microsoft Webmaster Tools as I've had a lot of varying results using them, and they seem wayyyyyyyyyyy off from what all my other stat tools report. Therefor, I don't use them. If in the future I do, I'll talk about them then.

Blogger Stats (built in)

If you visit http://draft.blogger.com and click the "Stats" link (unless Google's already rolled Stats into their normal platform) you can see a lot of information on how well your blog is doing. All sections can be sorted by Now, Day, Week, Month or All Time. Monthly is a good view for your overall stats and trends, while daily is a good view when trying to find out specifically how certain posts are doing and where they're being referenced from. This doesn't include your RSS traffic. (scroll down)

You can see your daily readership stats graphed, but keep in mind the things that can affect your stats. Also a spike at a particular point will make the rest of your stats appear smaller - don't be concerned with all the little dips and spikes, the average should be what you're interested in.

The Posts section will show you which posts are the most popular. This should give you an indication of what your readers enjoy and what gets linked to other people more.

Keep in mind, these are people who've directly linked to a particular post. For example:

My number 1 post is: http://nplusplus.blogspot.com/2010/11/bringing-new-style-to-hobby.html (the direct link to the post if you click on the post's title) but during that time I also had a ton of hits to just my website at http://nplusplus.blogspot.com which doesn't get counted toward any post in particular.

There's an Audience tab which is kind of informative as it's neat to see what operating system and web browser people are using. (No, it doesn't actually connect this to anyone in particular, just overall stats)

There is a section that shows the stats by country, but after using RevolverMaps, it doesn't seem too accurate.
The stat I'm a big fan of is Traffic Sources, which displays who is linking to your blog and from where. It doesn't display all of them, just the top ones.

Referring URLs shows what articles and sites are linking your content either in posts or from their public blog list. (Post often to be at the top of those rolls)

Referring Sites shows just the top sites linking to you, ignoring specific articles.

Check this in Day view to see how new posts are received. This was how I was able to follow conversations on forums about my Bringing a New Style to the Hobby post.

The reason I ended up deciding to display my blogroll publicly, was because I saw I was getting lots of traffic from other people's sites. Seeing blog lists are actually useful made me want to give back to the people I read.

These also break down even more. You might have a link from "http://sonsoftaurus.blogspot.com/2011/01/seriously-you-arent-following-these-yet.html" and also see it listed as "http://sonsoftaurus.blogspot.com/2011/01/seriously-you-arent-following-these-yet.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+SonsOfTaurus+(Sons+of+Taurus)". The reason you're seeing two is because that second one with all that extra junk is an RSS referral - so, someone who follows (in this case) Sons of Taurus' RSS feed, clicked through to read his post in their web browser, THEN clicked on the link to your blog.

RSS and Feedburner

If you decide to redirect your RSS feed to a service like Google Feedburner, then you can also track those who follow RSS feeds. (clicky for a tutorial) The nice thing about this, is that RSS traffic is a number of guaranteed readers (almost) every day, rather than people who have your site bookmarked and view it when they feel like it.

You'll notice that there are two things being graphed. The first is the larger green stat called "Subscribers" which isn't exact and is sometimes averaged.

Next is the "Reach" stat which will be smaller and is directly tied to when you post new articles. Reach is a measure of people interacting with your posts. (clicking pictures, links, etc) This is another way to tell how your articles are received; do they want to see larger detailed photos, are they interested in what you're linking to, etc?

People whose RSS feeds only show the introduction to a post, forcing readers to click through to their blogs will have a higher reach as people interested in the article have to visit their website to read the whole thing. (However I find these a pain - I use RSS to move away from websites, not to add one more step to reading news)

Google Friend Connect

You've seen it on most sites, and nobody actually has to click "Follow" to read someone's blog. It doesn't send messages between users or show when somebody's online. So, why / what is it?

Other people might use this differently, but I look at it this way:

If there's a blog that's particularly caught my eye and stood out somehow from all the others I read, I'll hit "Follow" to add my stamp of approval. Then when someone views my profile, they can see every blog that I've gone out of my way to say "You're alright in my book." (It is possible to Follow invisibly, so they won't show up, but what's the point in that?)

Any blogs you follow also show up in your blog list when you first login to Blogger. (I use Google Reader to follow RSS though)

Revolver Maps

If you want to see where your readers are geographically, this is a site that lets you customize a little plugin that can be added to your site as HTML. It tracks locations of people and saves them under your blog's address. You can have just a static image, a rotating earth or even a sphere users can interact with.

This will display all the viewers of your site on the globe, and you can visit the RevolverMaps site to see it in more detail.

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