As we proceed through this year of blogging tips and exercises, we’ll talk more about statistics and web analytics to help you check in with yourself that you are on the right track. Today’s blog exercise is to familiarize yourself with tracking your site’s stats, learning the key numbers and data to watch.
I introduced tracking Statistics and Web Analytics in these blog exercises last month, pointing you to “Web Statistics and Analytics Glossary” to help you learn the terminology. We’ve also had blog exercises on stats and traffic analysis to help you know when you publish your posts, help you define and identify your audience, and how to identify and maximize the gateway to your site through your most popular posts.
Today, let’s look around at all the parts and pieces and give you an overview of what information is collected.
I’m going to use the example of the popular WordPress.com Stats WordPress Plugin as it collects basic statics that are often most relevant to a blogger. You may use whichever stats or analytics program you wish. Remember, this is a look at the numbers not the analytics. We’ll get to that later on.
WordPress.com members have this stats WordPress Plugin as part of their package deal. To access your site’s stats, go to the WordPress Administration Panels > Dashboard > Site Stats to inspect them or click the Sparklines in the Admin Bar.
Talking a Tour of Your Statistics Program
If you are unfamiliar with how it works, poke around. What do you find?
Reserve your judgment of the numbers for later. Your numbers may be in the teens or in the thousands. It’s just information.
It’s easy to look at your visitor count and think, “Wow! 269 visitors today!”
If yesterday you had 3,000 visitors, that number might worry you. If you had 3 visitors yesterday, this number would probably thrill you. Skip the emotion and look at the patterns.
A site has traffic patterns, ebbs and flows over time. Looking at a single moment in time can be deceptive. Look for the patterns.
As you look at the chart for your traffic over weeks or months, look for the high and low points, the wave pattern in the data. The low tide moments are days of the week when traffic is less than the high tides. Are those days the same days of the week throughout the year? If they are, you’ve discovered the best times to publish posts to maximize exposure to your audience.
If the highs and lows are seasonal, this is more information to learn about your audience. Even if your site does not cover seasonal information, it may suffer from seasonal interest throughout the year.
Over many years of studying my own traffic patterns I’ve found that I tended to release the most compelling themed content in the summer, yet that is the slowest traffic times for my site. The timing was all about me, when I had time to work on my site, during my personal slow times. I’d release great article series and topics and there would be few around to pay attention. My audience was out doing other things, returning in September and October and lasting through June, then dropping off again. August is death on my site. Numbers drop by 25-50%, sometimes more as those wanting to learn about WordPress and blogging find entertainment elsewhere.
I’ve learned to save my hottest content for October, January, and March, meeting the high peaks in my organic traffic levels for new visitors, then working throughout the year to keep them coming back for more.
Look at where your audience is from. In the blog exercise on stats and demographics, you were to examine the implications of an international audience. Look again for patterns over time.
For the past year, the majority of my visitors come from the United States, followed far in the distance by the UK, India, Canada (hey, Canuks!), Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Philippines, France, Italy, and Spain. For the most part, these nationalities are expected, but what is surprising is the number of folks from Pakistan, Romania, Poland, Malaysia, Turkey, Singapore, South Africa, Bangladesh, Serbia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Nepal, Estonia, Qatar, Tanzania, and Kuwait. I’ve had more visitors from Uganda than China, which is a little fascinating as I have so many friends in China (hey, visit my site more often, would you?).
Learning that I have such a wide mix of non-native English speakers influences how I write, keeping the English reading level down rather than impressing you with all the big words I know.
Your most popular web pages tells you more than just what topics are most popular. The list tells you about your audience. If the techy articles are getting the most attention, are your readers technologically inclined? If how to and technique articles are getting the most traffic, are you attracting students, people eager to learn from you? If entertaining stories are racking up the traffic numbers, your visitor is there for the show.
Most popular posts are about the topics as much as the audience. Use the information to help you paint a better picture of who these people are and what they need most when they visit your site.
The same thing applies to search terms. What words are people using to find your site, arriving through search engines. It tells you about what brings people to your door, it also tells you something about their interests and needs.
WordPress.com Stats also includes a listing now of your most popular categories and tags, giving you a sweet total for which categories and tags are serving up the content your visitors visit. Add this to the mix to help you define your reader.
Referrers and Clicks are fascinating. Referrers are the stats of where your traffic is coming from to your site. Clicks are their term for which links are being clicked on that takes the reader off your site (not necessarily leaving the site).
Every day I bless Smashing Magazine and others for continuing to send me traffic. Their audience is my audience. Look at your referrers. Who is sending you traffic? What does their site information and readership tell you about yours?
What links do your readers click off your site? Where are you sending them for more information or resources? What does that information tell you about their interests?
If you find that your popular posts, search terms, categories, tags, referrers, and clicks don’t add up to clear patterns, what’s wrong with your site? That’s a clue, too.
Dig all around your stats. Again, don’t get emotional. I landed on one bit of data while writing this article and was interrupted with a phone call. When I came back, all I could see was a landslide of traffic to my site. What used to bring in thousands of visitors daily had dropped to less than a thousand over the years. My heart sank. “Where have my readers gone? Clearly I’m not serving them well any more. They don’t love me any more!”
Then I realized that this was for a single article that has had its time and is not as important today as it was five years ago. Of course the traffic is going to drop. I let my emotions get in the way of common sense.
Look for patterns. Look for information. Look for consistency. Look for your readers in the numbers. Over time, you will start to see a portrait of who they are and where their interests lay when it comes to your site.
Your blog exercise today is to learn how your stats program works and to find something in your stats worth sharing with your readers.
WordPress.com has a “humanize” report option that converts all the statistics into something you might be able to understand better. For instance, early this morning, my site traffic at that point was 702 pageviews. WordPress.com reported that was about the same number of households in Oberlin, Louisiana. The link finds the location on the map and Google often provides links to historical and reference material about the town, giving you a sense of how many that number may represent.
Looking at the summaries of referrers, I see that I’m past due paying tribute to Smashing Magazine, Sparring Mind, Darren Rowse of Problogger, and the thousands of other bloggers and publishers sending traffic my way every day.
How about a post that says thank you to those sending traffic your way? Celebrate publicly that other folks like your site and information enough to write about it. Brag a little. It’s good for the soul.
Your stats are your own. They mean different things to you and your goals. Find something of interest in your stats to share with your readers today.
If you would like, write and publish a “State of the Union” post sharing some of your stats. Look at the growth (or loss) over the past year, if you have that data available. Talk about what is bringing your visitors to the site and why this information is of value to your readers.
Have one or more extremely popular posts? Consider writing more on that topic to give your readers more of what they want.
If you have a high number of outgoing clicks (links) to a specific site, check the linked article and consider blogging more about them or that subject matter since it seems to be answering a need for your readers. Consider being the source not the referral.
It’s your stats. Find a way to blog about what is happening with the numbers on your site. Like bragging, a little behind-the-scenes revelations are often insightful to readers as well as the writers.