Bloggers, being writers at heart, are often not “numbers people” by nature.  While I do have a passing acquaintance with basic math skills like balancing my checkbook, and actually worked as a bookkeeper a few times in my somewhat eclectic career path, Excel spreadsheets do not fill me with impish glee by any stretch of the imagination.  

In short, Danica McKellar I am not.  (Although my driving habits on the commute home might indicate an irrational belief that I’m Danica Patrick.)

And yet, in the last couple of years, I’ve learned to embrace numbers and various mathematical calculations in the form of web analytics.  

Why should a blogger care about analytics?  

  • Setting measurable goals.  If you’re serious about blogging, then you need to set goals for attracting and engaging an audience. To determine success or failure to reach those goals, you need analytics data.  
  • Attracting advertisers.  We talked about this a while back in the post on offering demographic data.  While demographic data can make a blog more attractive to advertisers, having an accurate measurement of your traffic is the baseline for consideration for most sponsors.
  • Selling stuff.  If your blog conducts any kind of sales function at all, from eBooks to Amazon affiliate links, a basic understanding of web analytics can help you earn more from your efforts.

Clearly, it’s worth your time to learn how to obtain and interpret web analytic data.  So let’s get started.  

Know what you’re measuring.

Once upon a time, web traffic was measured in “hits.”  Hits measure the number of calls to the web server for a file.  But hits are a terrible way to measure web traffic.  You can see a more detailed explanation of why here.  Ask yourself what it is you really want to know.  It’s probably something along the lines of:

  • How many people have visited my site this month?
  • How many of them stayed long enough to read anything?
  • What do they do when they get here?  
  • How are they finding my site?
  • What are my most popular posts?
Visitors measures the number of unique user agents for a set window of time–probably the closest answer you’ll get to the first question.  Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who left a site within seconds of arriving.  A visit is a collection of the actions of a single user during a predetermined unit of time, often a half hour (it’s also sometimes referred to a session.) Pageviews measures each time a web document, or webpage, is successfully loaded.  Referrers will tell you where the traffic is coming from: direct traffic (people who typed the URL into the address line of their browser), search engines, and links from other sites.  Most web analytics programs, including Google Analytics, will tell you which page was viewed most in a given period (in other words, your most popular posts). 

Know how to get the numbers.  

Many web hosts offer some kind of analytics, such as AWstats, which provides most if not all of this basic information.  Google Analytics is also available for free, and is fairly easy to install, assuming you have the ability to copy and paste javascript code into the footer of your blog’s template.   

Know where to look for help.  

There are a number of great blogs devoted to web analytics that can help you pull better insights from the data.  Here are a few:

Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik

Web Analytics Demystified

Google Analytics Blog

Mine That Data

UPDATE:

Dan Zarrella, apparently an early riser, caught this post and has written a really nice breakdown of using analytics for viral marketing.  While his piece is aimed at more advanced users than this one, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Did you enjoy this blog post? If so, then why not:Leave Comment Below | Subscribe To This Blog | Sign Up For Our Newsletter |

About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

Other posts by

Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.JackLeblond.com Jack Leblond

    I took the opposite route to the same location – I started out as a numbers guy and ended up as a blogger.

    I have yet to decide which set of stats to believe for my site (http://www.JackLeblond.com) though. My web host offers one called “SmartStats” that seems good. I also have Google Analytics running, and a few weeks ago added WPStats to my word press powered blog. I have one BIG problem – all three report different numbers.

    My point…take your numbers with a grain of salt.

    • KatFrench

      Jack – Oh absolutely. If you have two different stats packages installed, you'll see two different sets of numbers in terms of absolute numbers. However, if you see two totally different TRENDS on the same metric, that indicates a problem.

      I've been meaning to play around with both WP-stats and Woopra. That may well be the subject of a future post, if there's sufficient interest.

      That said, even for a non-numbers person, there is a certain ego gratification in watching those numbers climb, even if you know there's a certain amount of skew in the data. ;)

  • http://www.JackLeblond.com Jack Leblond

    I took the opposite route to the same location – I started out as a numbers guy and ended up as a blogger.

    I have yet to decide which set of stats to believe for my site (http://www.JackLeblond.com) though. My web host offers one called “SmartStats” that seems good. I also have Google Analytics running, and a few weeks ago added WPStats to my word press powered blog. I have one BIG problem – all three report different numbers.

    My point…take your numbers with a grain of salt.

  • KatFrench

    Jack – Oh absolutely. If you have two different stats packages installed, you'll see two different sets of numbers in terms of absolute numbers. However, if you see two totally different TRENDS on the same metric, that indicates a problem.

    I've been meaning to play around with both WP-stats and Woopra. That may well be the subject of a future post, if there's sufficient interest.

    That said, even for a non-numbers person, there is a certain ego gratification in watching those numbers climb, even if you know there's a certain amount of skew in the data. ;)

  • Pingback: Analytics for Social & Viral Marketing | Dan Zarrella

  • http://tastynectar.com/blog Brett Tilford

    Tracking statistics is definitely a must for any serious blogger. Google analytics is great, I've also really enjoyed Mint. You can check it out at haveamint.com

    • KatFrench

      Thanks, Brett. I've heard great things about Mint, but since it's a paid service and this was a “101” kind of post, I wanted to stick with “simple” and “free.” On that note, I've recently acquired a beta invite to Woopra, and will most likely do a write up of it here later.

  • http://tastynectar.com/blog Brett Tilford

    Tracking statistics is definitely a must for any serious blogger. Google analytics is great, I've also really enjoyed Mint. You can check it out at haveamint.com

  • http://broadcasting-brain.com Mark Dykeman

    Good primer, Kat – I like that you've included other references for further reading.

    • KatFrench

      Thanks, Mark. I always like to add “for further reading” stuff on a post that's primarily educational. :)

  • http://broadcasting-brain.com Mark Dykeman

    Good primer, Kat – I like that you've included other references for further reading.

  • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

    hey Jason …

    nice post. what interests me is going from 'gathering' the stats using a tool like Google analytics to implementing “something” based on what your stats are telling you?

    as a blogger have you noticed any trends or common themes that come up when a blog 1st starts out? what do the stats say? what is generally needed to address what the stats are showing?

    i'd LOVE to get some practical advice on this type of stuff?


    http://twitter.com/franswaa

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Hey Frank. I'll pass on the compliments to Kat.

      To answer your question, though, I think one trend I've noticed with the handful of blogs I've either run or advised is that the traffic is inconsistent early on. You'll see a lot of spikes as you promote your content on Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg and etc., or get some inbound links from other bloggers, but you'll not see really any consistency to the traffic.

      After several months, provided you are continually pumping good content and being consistent about it, you'll start to see a steadiness and evening out to your traffic. If you look at the Google Analytics traffic line on SME, for instance, it looks like a crazy stock track for the first six months … random spike, some leveling, then a small spike, etc. The total volume steadily grew, but there was no rhyme or reason to the traffic influxes.

      Now that my blog has been around a while and has built some consistent traffic, my chart looks like a series of speed bumps – dips on the weekends and consistent levels on weekdays, when we normally post.

      While that doesn't give you any great insights, other than to expect inconsistency early on, I would focus on experimenting with inbound traffic. Where do you get good traffic from? If it's Twitter, then optimize your Twitter use to introduce folks to your blog. If StumbleUpon works well, focus energy there.

      To build a good level of consistent traffic, you have to whether the experimentation of inconsistent levels to show the target audience you're there.

      • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

        Thanks Jason … i appreciate the thoughtful response.

        Please do sent on my appreciation to Kat (didn't notice it was written by Kat at 1st).

        I guess it 's all about finding the target audience … or better yet … getting the target audience to know you exist :)

        Have you figured out where you get most traffic? and then how to optimize & 'market' for it?

        • KatFrench

          Thanks for the kudos, frank!

          And to answer your question, yes, for clients, we've done what amounts to split testing on their social media marketing efforts to determine which social sites refer the best quality traffic, and which types of posts perform better there.

          For example, in one case, we found StumbleUpon refers visitors with very low bounce rates, but female-targeted social news site Kirtsy refers a higher volume of visitors who are more likely to subscribe.

          The article from Dan Zarrella that I linked to goes further down this vein. Obviously, I can't give out too much information here about client specifics.

  • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

    hey Jason …

    nice post. what interests me is going from 'gathering' the stats using a tool like Google analytics to implementing “something” based on what your stats are telling you?

    as a blogger have you noticed any trends or common themes that come up when a blog 1st starts out? what do the stats say? what is generally needed to address what the stats are showing?

    i'd LOVE to get some practical advice on this type of stuff?


    http://twitter.com/franswaa

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Hey Frank. I'll pass on the compliments to Kat.

    To answer your question, though, I think one trend I've noticed with the handful of blogs I've either run or advised is that the traffic is inconsistent early on. You'll see a lot of spikes as you promote your content on Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg and etc., or get some inbound links from other bloggers, but you'll not see really any consistency to the traffic.

    After several months, provided you are continually pumping good content and being consistent about it, you'll start to see a steadiness and evening out to your traffic. If you look at the Google Analytics traffic line on SME, for instance, it looks like a crazy stock track for the first six months … random spike, some leveling, then a small spike, etc. The total volume steadily grew, but there was no rhyme or reason to the traffic influxes.

    Now that my blog has been around a while and has built some consistent traffic, my chart looks like a series of speed bumps – dips on the weekends and consistent levels on weekdays, when we normally post.

    While that doesn't give you any great insights, other than to expect inconsistency early on, I would focus on experimenting with inbound traffic. Where do you get good traffic from? If it's Twitter, then optimize your Twitter use to introduce folks to your blog. If StumbleUpon works well, focus energy there.

    To build a good level of consistent traffic, you have to whether the experimentation of inconsistent levels to show the target audience you're there.

  • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

    Thanks Jason … i appreciate the thoughtful response.

    Please do sent on my appreciation to Kat (didn't notice it was written by Kat at 1st).

    I guess it 's all about finding the target audience … or better yet … getting the target audience to know you exist :)

    Have you figured out where you get most traffic? and then how to optimize & 'market' for it?

  • http://www.ribeezie.com Ricardo Bueno

    For anyone using Twitter as a broadcasting tool (if even marginally), here's a pretty neat analytical tool: http://www.budurl.com

    Here's how it works:
    1. (once you create your account) You insert your url into the space provided and budurl shortens it for you (it creates one of those tinyurl addresses)
    2. Once you have your new shortened address, that's the address you insert in your twitter message

    Then budurl tells tracks how many people are clicking through to read your post. It refreshes just about every 10 secs so it does a pretty neat job of tracking who's reading when & where.

    (Sheesh, I should write a post on it…) Anyway, just thought I'd share. Hope it's on topic and helpful…

    • KatFrench

      Nice tool, Ricardo. And you're right–you should write a post about it. :)

  • http://www.ribeezie.com Ricardo Bueno

    For anyone using Twitter as a broadcasting tool (if even marginally), here's a pretty neat analytical tool: http://www.budurl.com

    Here's how it works:
    1. (once you create your account) You insert your url into the space provided and budurl shortens it for you (it creates one of those tinyurl addresses)
    2. Once you have your new shortened address, that's the address you insert in your twitter message

    Then budurl tells tracks how many people are clicking through to read your post. It refreshes just about every 10 secs so it does a pretty neat job of tracking who's reading when & where.

    (Sheesh, I should write a post on it…) Anyway, just thought I'd share. Hope it's on topic and helpful…

  • KatFrench

    Thanks, Brett. I've heard great things about Mint, but since it's a paid service and this was a “101” kind of post, I wanted to stick with “simple” and “free.” On that note, I've recently acquired a beta invite to Woopra, and will most likely do a write up of it here later.

  • KatFrench

    Thanks, Mark. I always like to add “for further reading” stuff on a post that's primarily educational. :)

  • KatFrench

    Thanks for the kudos, frank!

    And to answer your question, yes, for clients, we've done what amounts to split testing on their social media marketing efforts to determine which social sites refer the best quality traffic, and which types of posts perform better there.

    For example, in one case, we found StumbleUpon refers visitors with very low bounce rates, but female-targeted social news site Kirtsy refers a higher volume of visitors who are more likely to subscribe.

    The article from Dan Zarrella that I linked to goes further down this vein. Obviously, I can't give out too much information here about client specifics.

  • KatFrench

    Nice tool, Ricardo. And you're right–you should write a post about it. :)

  • http://www.roundpeg.biz Lorraine Ball

    I often tell clients that making an investment without a clearly defined plan on how to support the marketing with your operation, or measure its effectiveness overall is like hiring an employee, and simply pointing him/her to a desk.

    It is crazy to hire an employee, agree to pay a salary, give him/her a desk and computer, and then walk away. Unless you hired a really exceptional individual, you would be disappointed in the results.

    To get the most from the investment you are making in a new staff member, it is very helpful to have a well defined job description and clearly outlined. Then your staff member knows on what to focus, and you have a way of measuring if you are achieving the result you want.
    The same holds true when you make an investment in marketing!

    You have clearly outlined a simple set of goals anyone can use to measure the performance of their on-line marketing.

  • http://www.roundpeg.biz Roundpeg

    I often tell clients that making an investment without a clearly defined plan on how to support the marketing with your operation, or measure its effectiveness overall is like hiring an employee, and simply pointing him/her to a desk.

    It is crazy to hire an employee, agree to pay a salary, give him/her a desk and computer, and then walk away. Unless you hired a really exceptional individual, you would be disappointed in the results.

    To get the most from the investment you are making in a new staff member, it is very helpful to have a well defined job description and clearly outlined. Then your staff member knows on what to focus, and you have a way of measuring if you are achieving the result you want.
    The same holds true when you make an investment in marketing!

    You have clearly outlined a simple set of goals anyone can use to measure the performance of their on-line marketing.

  • http://www.roundpeg.biz Roundpeg

    I often tell clients that making an investment without a clearly defined plan on how to support the marketing with your operation, or measure its effectiveness overall is like hiring an employee, and simply pointing him/her to a desk.

    It is crazy to hire an employee, agree to pay a salary, give him/her a desk and computer, and then walk away. Unless you hired a really exceptional individual, you would be disappointed in the results.

    To get the most from the investment you are making in a new staff member, it is very helpful to have a well defined job description and clearly outlined. Then your staff member knows on what to focus, and you have a way of measuring if you are achieving the result you want.
    The same holds true when you make an investment in marketing!

    You have clearly outlined a simple set of goals anyone can use to measure the performance of their on-line marketing.

  • Pingback: Spotlight Ideas » Top 100 Blog Posts on Blogging (in Categories)

  • Pingback: Read the Full Article