How Do I Know the Stats on Your Blog are Wrong? by @sugarbeatbc
Why Your Blog Stats Matter
You work hard on your website or blog. You are trying to grow your audience. How do you know if what you are doing is working?
It’s not unusual for me to hear the comment: “No one is commenting on my blog so there must not be much traffic.” My typical response to this is “Not all audiences are chatty.”
In this day and age, we should be focusing more on things that Google wants to see, like social proof, but I’ll admit it’s nice to get comments!
Back to the original question of “How can you measure the activity on your blog?” The quick answer is to use stats, which is the point when many of you roll your eyes and point out that stats are math….
But…Stats are BORING!
Some people feel talking about stats is kind of a boring subject. I know when I was in school, math wasn’t my favorite subject…that is, until I started learning about stats. You see, I had a prof in university who taught stats in a completely unique way. At first glance, this man seemed quiet and unassuming. And then he opened his mouth and took control of the class.
He taught me introductory stats in a packed 350-person lecture theatre at 8 o’clock on a Monday morning. He would march up and down the aisles, teaching without any reference notes. He knew what was on his screen; he didn’t have to look at it. And Lord help you if you ever fell asleep in his class. He would sit down beside you and talk about you until you woke up. He taught every introductory stats class to statistically prove that black was white. He hooked us all.
So here we are… at a few years later… and I still geek out over stats. One of my most favorite things is to explain how to use the stats information gathered on your blog.
The first thing to realize when looking at stats, is that not all collection methods are equal. One would think if a program is counting visitors to your blog, it would be a rather straightforward process. I’m sure you can just picture a little guy standing there with a clicker in his hand. Sadly, it isn’t so easy.
These days we have all sorts of hits on our blogs from search engines to various different types of computer programs searching for content to scrape, and even from Google indexing our site. In amongst these are real people visiting our blogs. And since we don’t have a little guy with a clicker standing at the door, we have to depend on a computer program making its best guess who’s real and who’s not. Clearly some do a better job than others.
In the field of programs that collects stats, there are really good ones, really bad ones, and the ones that are somewhere in the middle. By definition, the ones that are really bad will count all nonhuman visitors to your blog. If the really good ones are only counting human visitors to your blog, the ones that are in the middle will do an okay job counting some proportion of human and nonhuman hits.
As is well documented in the literature here and here, the stats program that comes with Blogger is notorious for counting nonhuman hits. One would think that a product that comes with a blogging platform created by Google would do a more meaningful job of creating usable stats, but in its ‘out-of-the-box’ state, it doesn’t.
In fact, people have been talking about this issue for years!
Can adjustments be made to make Blogger stats a bit more accurate? Yes. But Blogger users, generally speaking, don’t realize that they need to fuss with the settings of their stats program in order to get it to be representative of real humans visiting their blog.
The point of this article is not to point fingers but to educate.
Is there one perfect stats program that you can use for your blog? Not really. As much as it might upset people, the idea behind stats is to look at trends – to look at increases and decreases – not to look at absolutes.
When I explain stats to other people, I tend to use words like “trends” but also “emphasis on,” and yes, “increases and decreases.” The one thing that I don’t much care about is the actual number of so-called hits on my blog. I’m not the person that’s checking my stats several times a day to see if the numbers have gone up by one or two or 10 or 20.
I tend to use stats more holistically – I want to see if I’m improving over time. I want to see if a new promotion that I have in place is having an effect. I want to learn more about my audience – like what country do they live in, and what kind of device do they look at my site on. I want to see what my audience is interested in.
So how do I do that? What do I use? What do I look at?
Almost all of my blogs are WordPress blogs. I have a couple of Blogger blogs also. Probably the first question that you have if you have a Blogger blog, is “what do I use to view stats on Blogger blogs?” I tend to ignore the stats provided by Google. It’s relatively simple to install tracking code for Google analytics – which by the way is different than what on Google’s blogger blogs.
Is Google Analytics perfect? No. And in many respects, people find Google Analytics overwhelming. It can be however, it gives you a ton of information.
On my WordPress blogs, I like using a combination of Google analytics and WordPress’s Jetpack stats. Again, are Jetpack stats perfect? Nope. All you need to do is a Google search and you’ll find out the problem areas with Jetpack stats.
Remember, we’re not look going to be looking at absolutes, we’re going to be looking at trends and averages.
Let’s talk about what stats we should look at and why:
1) Geographical location
2) Time on site
3) Bounce rates
6) Top posts and pages
1) Geographical location is easily found via the Google analytics stats. In my experience, many people make the assumption that their audience lives in the same area of the world as they do. That isn’t necessarily true. In order to speak to your audience, you need to know where they’re from. For example, my book blog’s primary audience is from India. If I was to offer a giveaway on my blog and limited it to entries from the United States, I would be excluding the majority of my audience. Not a great way to make friends.
Another example would be Facebook ads. Generally speaking, when we set up Facebook ads, we target a certain country. We can target other aspects of the audience, but one of the first things that we do is target a country. If we know where our audience is from, it’s easier to target those folks with an ad or perhaps target a different country to develop your readership in an area where you don’t have much traffic.
2) Time on site is an indication of how long readers spend on your site. I’ll remind you that this number should be taken with a grain of salt. Regardless of what stats program you use, inevitably there will be some information gathered from bots which are generally really fast computer programs. I like getting people to look at this number in their analytics to give them an idea of how much of their content is being a read by visitors. Although many sources will tell you longer blog posts rank better than shorter blog posts, if you have something important to say you might want to consider putting it in the first section of your blog post to insure it is read.
3) Bounce rate is the percentage of readers or visitors to a website who leave the site after viewing only one page. Let’s put this into context: if the point at which visitors start reading is your blog page and your blog page displays ten posts, that’s pretty good! In fact, it’s not a bad thing that they’re only reading one page. They are in fact reading quite a bit. However, if the majority of your visitors are only looking at your “About page” and then leaving, you might want to work on your content.
4) Technology is an important consideration. This refers to what type of device your audience is reading your posts on. The answer might surprise you. Although I’m fond of the immediacy of being able to look up things on my cell phone, I rarely do any large amount of reading on it. Different demographics will do different things. Go have a look at the results for your site. If you find that the majority of your audience is reading your blog posts on a mobile device, I’ll remind you that Google now favors mobile responsive websites. They are stacking the deck in terms of mobile users.
5) Referrers are the places that traffic to your site comes from. When you look at this on your stats, you may notice that you’re getting traffic from Facebook or Twitter, maybe Instagram, and maybe you’re getting traffic from a site that you guest posted on. I generally suggest that people look at these stats to get an indication of the effectiveness of various actions. Again, not specific numbers, but trends. Just because you get a lot of retweets on Twitter doesn’t mean that that traffic comes to your blog to read your posts. Likewise on Facebook. You may get a lot of likes and shares, but does any of that translate to visits to your blog?
6) Top Posts and Pages is the section that lets you know what the popular starting points are for your visitors. In other words, did a visitor follow a link from Facebook to a specific post on your blog, or did they just type in the URL of your site and start their visit on the home page or landing page?
I have one post on my business blog from almost two years ago that gets 30 to 40 hits each and every day. That post explains how to put Amazon affiliate links on a WordPress blog, and it has a video to walk through the process. Although I have updated that post and that video, the old one still gets more traffic. In fact, when I look at my stats, my how-to posts get the most amount of traffic. What’s true on your blog? Consider giving your audience more of the same.
7) Clicks – although I track clicks on my books using Amazon affiliate links, the clicks section will tell you what is being clicked on your blog. We set up blog posts that will offer readers links to other sources of information as hyperlinks. It’s good for SEO, good for your readers. Are they being clicked on, though? Is your audience finding them and finding them helpful?
The Bottom Line on Stats
I hope my list of seven stats to look at will give you an idea of what you should be keeping track of on your site. But one more thing I’ll point out – generally speaking, don’t look at your stats on a daily basis – and when you do, look at a longer period of time than just one day – a week or a month, perhaps.
Since your blog is on the Internet, it is accessible to anyone in the world. Just because a post goes live on let’s say Sunday morning, that doesn’t mean it will be read by everyone who is going to see it on Sunday morning. In fact, a well-optimized blog post will be searched for and found long after it was originally posted.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to find me on Facebook, Twitter, or my business blog where I post technical hints for authors. In fact if you sign up for my mailing list, I’m handing out two free books!
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