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Site Statistics I Care About as a Blogger

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. πŸ˜‰

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! πŸ˜‰ ).

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:

Pageviews.jpg

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. πŸ˜‰

Traffic Sources

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:

TrafficSources.jpg

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…

Top Content

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):

TopContent.jpg

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

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.

Keywords.jpg

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.

Referrers

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:

Referrers.jpg

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.

RefferersInverseSort.jpg

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.

Subscribers

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.

Subscribers.jpg

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! πŸ˜‰

Conclusion

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. :-)

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11 thoughts on “Site Statistics I Care About as a Blogger

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  4. Hi there! Nice article :-) Although I’ve had a blog for a while (like 2 years or so), I’ve never really been serious about it. And in fact where it was hosted didn’t provide any stats anyway. I have just moved to WordPress and I think the stats are great! And I’d agree, the most flattering stat would have to be those folk who has added you to their readers!

  5. Good analysis, and I didn’t seen anything to argue with you about :) I use Mint for stats on a couple of my blogs and I love the way that many of the stats are quickly (one click) filterable by recent dates… so if I have a spike in traffic it’s very easy to isolate the source, as well as to look at what’s been popular lately.

    And yes, like you, I find the subscriber number is a good count of overall performance. Since launching VanPortlander I’ve been pleased to watch that number slowly and steadily creep up by a few each week. I must be doing something right.

  6. @Stevelle – I left new vs. returning out because, since most of my traffic comes from search engines, it’s always a very high percentage (like 90+) of new visitors, and it doesn’t change very often, even over long periods of time. Not very interesting to me, but in general, I definitely think it’s a metric to look at, to get an idea of how much return traffic you’re getting.

    @ahockley Mint is definitely awesome. I bought it, and used it on TinyScreenfuls for a long time. I got rid of it last year, when I was trying to troubleshoot web/database performance issues on my old webhost (1and1), and switched to Google Analytics. Then, GA just kept improving and improving to the point where I really like it now, and I don’t have a real reason to go back to Mint. But it’s definitely a tool a stats geek should be familiar with! :-)

  7. Scott Edwards says:

    Great article. As one who is seriously considering taking a leap to becoming a serious blogger, this excellent info. I have more questions if you don’t mind. I blog idea is for industrial engineers (an area I think is missing in the blogosphere) and if possible, I’d really like to monetize it. In your experience, what range of traffic do you need to generate income? With your traffic levels, are you generating income? I get the sense that you don’t really care about that but then again, you wouldn’t have adsense. I guess it never hurts! By the way, I’m one of your cherished subsribers (Bloglines) and a fellow Intelite. Feel free to e-mail me if you choose to respond to my quesions but don’t want to show more “unmentionables”. πŸ˜‰

  8. More interesting than the ‘trend’ you discuss (which is just average pageviews, or pageviews over time), is the differntial of that. i.e. the slope. As a trend, is it going up over time, add I adding readers.

    The absolute number serves as more than an egoboost; as an author/blogger, there’s some utility in knowing the size of the audience you are writing for. You may choose different topics or a different way to write about them if you are writing for 5, 50 or 500.

    Also, One I struggle with is a better measure of the relationship between pageviews and feed subscribers. How many people clicked through and why? How many of the subscribers that I have are also visitors, or is there no overlap between those two sets? etc, etc. Some people use partial/snippet feeds to force people to click through so they get a better measure, but this is a crappy approach.

    Maybe google analytics does a better job? This may be an artifact of my using feedburner and sitemeter separately. I dunno.

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