Web Analytics Basics For Bloggers

by Kat French |

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


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.

About the Author

Kat French

Kat French is the Client Services and Content Manager at SME Digital. An exceptional writer, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in content strategy, copywriting, community management and social media marketing. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, CafePress and more.