This is another post that grew from an interesting conversation at work. We were discussing what site statistics/metrics are REALLY important to a blogger. That is, swimming in a sea of numbers and graphs and data, which are the ones that are the most meaningful to you as a blogger? That got me thinking about the ones that are most important to me, so off I went taking screenshots in Google Analytics, and this post was born. I had a lot of input from my friends on Twitter, where I conducted an impromptu Twitter InstaPoll(TM) to get their ideas, so thanks to them for their input. I’m also going to do a separate post on stats that are just plain fun to look at, but don’t really tell you anything useful. 😉
All of the screen captures used in this post represent real, live statistics for this blog, from Google Analytics and FeedBurner (Ooh! My unmentionables are showing! 😉 ).
Pageview Trends, not just Pageviews
If you asked most bloggers what statistic they care about the most, it would probably be pageviews (or visitors or hits or however it’s quantified). You know – how many people are reading my blog. But what I care about more than the absolute number of pageviews is the trend of pageviews:
The reason I care about the trend of pageviews is because it lets me know what “normal” traffic to my blog looks like, and shows me when there are deviations from that “normal”. You can see from the graph above that there’s a little wave pattern that happens. The time scale for the graph is about a month, and traffic drops off on the weekends, and picks up in the middle of the week. Anomalies in the trend alert me that there’s something I need to do.
For example, a spike in pageviews might happen after one of my posts gets to Digg, Techmeme, or somewhere else that’s sending a lot of visitors. This alerts me that I should jump into that conversation with a little more attention than normal, or, if it’s a LOT of traffic, pay closer attention to site performance, to make sure the site doesn’t go down under the load.
Conversely, if there’s a drop in pageviews, that’s an indication that something’s wrong. Perhaps my webhost is having an outage, or I inadvertently broke something on the site (happens more often than I’d care to admit!). Again, the trend tells me if there’s some kind of action I need to take, and that’s why it’s important.
I don’t really care about “absolute number of pageviews” as an ego booster. Partly because I don’t write this blog to get gobs of traffic, partly because I know that the numbers only have meaning if you understand their context (it’s all relative), and partly because there’s another statistic I’ll talk about later that inflates my ego much more effectively than pageviews. 😉
I like to have a general idea where my traffic is coming from. Search engines? Links from other sites? Direct bookmarks? Google Analytics gives a nice overview of this:
As you can see, the vast majority of my traffic comes from search engines. Why is this important? It reminds me to make my posts search engine friendly. Write clear, descriptive titles, and just generally try to keep the quality of my posts at a level that I would want to read if I found it as a search result.
The fact that the majority of my traffic comes from searches also has bearing on what we’re going to look at next…
This view shows me what the most popular pages on my site are, for the period of time selected (in this case, the last month or so):
It often surprises me to see which of my posts are the most popular. It’s not usually the ones I would have guessed. Why are the popular ones popular? It turns out that the answer lies in the combination of the fact that the majority of my traffic comes from from search engines, and the next metric we’re going to look at.
Keywords show me what people were searching for when they arrive at my site from a search engine. I originally wasn’t going to include this item, because I couldn’t think of what meaning it really conveyed. I was going to include it in my other post, “stats that are fun to look at”. Until I wrote the previous paragraph, and realized that it explains why the “Most Popular” pages on my blog are so popular: Search Engine Traffic + Keywords = Most Popular Pages.
The top search keywords also shows me which of my pages has the most “Google Juice” – that is, how highly ranked in Google search results for a particular search any one of my posts is. For example, go do a Google search for “iphone outlook exchange sync”. As of this writing, my post “The iPhone will NOT sync with Microsoft Outlook/Exchange, might be upgradeable to 3G” is the number one result for that search. Pretty cool, huh? 🙂
The most popular pages on this blog are the ones that are very highly ranked in the search engines (mostly Google), since that’s where the vast majority of my traffic comes from.
Referring sites makes up a pretty small percentage of my traffic, but they’re very meaningful to me. They indicate a link from another site to something I’ve written, which means that I’m part of a conversation somewhere. I like to stay as involved as possible in those conversations, adding info where I can, or at the very least, dropping by to say “thanks for the link!”
The default sort for Referrers shows you which sites contribute the most incoming traffic:
This is interesting, to a point, but it doesn’t change very often. I find it much more interesting to invert the sort order, and read it from the bottom. That way, I can see ALL of the sites that are linking me to me, and make sure I don’t miss out on jumping in to any of those conversations.
I do a kind of mental filter on these – some of them are repeats that continually bring in a trickle of traffic, and some of them are search engine results (stuff from Technorati, Techmeme, etc.) that don’t require a personal response. But I always go through the referrers list and look for opportunities to go post a comment on the referring blog.
I mentioned before that there’s one statistic that swells my ego more than any other. It’s not even so much that it makes me feel good about myself, but I think the number of subscribers to my feed is probably the most meaningful of all the statistics and metrics that my blog generates.
Every single subscriber represents something that’s more precious than a pageview, highly ranked Google result, or incoming link. It represents someone’s voluntary attention. Someone has said “I like this site enough that I’m going to pay a portion of my precious, limited attention to it, by subscribing to the feed in my reader.”
To me, that’s the ultimate compliment you can pay to a blogger. That’s why I write here. I try to be interesting and useful enough to other people that they deem what I’m writing worthy of reading on a regular basis. I feel like each person that subscribes to my feed forges a link of relationship with me, and THAT is what makes the geeky parts of my brain feel all tingly and nice. It’s also related to why I think I like social networks like Twitter and Facebook so much – for me, it’s all about making connections and building relationships with other people.
So, if you ever want to flatter me, just subscribe to my feed! 😉
Keep an eye out for the “companion” to this post, on “stats that are just plain fun to look at”. I’ll link to it from here when it’s ready.
What stats do you care about? Disagree with any of mine? If so, post a comment below, or write up something on your own blog, and link here, so I can see it in my referrer log and respond. 🙂