This past week, we’ve been working on basic steps to increase traffic to your blog, starting by improving your content, and by networking. For our third and final piece on the topic, today we’ll discuss measuring that traffic. This concept is so basic that it really should have come first in the series–since you can’t know whether or not you’ve increased anything unless you know where you began.
A “baseline” is simply a reference point, and can apply to almost anything. It’s what we’ll use to compare against to determine whether or not anything has been changed.
In this case, we’re trying to affect the traffic to our blog (by increasing it). In order to determine whether or not we’ve been successful in that goal, we need to know how many people are coming to our blogs now. Now, there are several ways to accomplish this sort of thing, many of which are even scientific, but none of them are 100% conclusive. Some simple methods of doing that include:
Tracking Comments: Logically, more traffic should lead to increase comments on your blog. So, tracking the amount of comments you receive over time and comparing them to past figures would be one way to determine traffic flow. Unfortunately, this isn’t very scientific as there are too many other variables: it could mean that you’re writing more compelling information that’s inspiring the same number of bloggers to respond more. It could also mean that you’re just getting more spam. So, while this information can be helpful, it isn’t exactly what we need.
Tracking Vistitors: This can be done through a simple method of tracking page hits. You’re all familiar with those web counters that track how many people come to a site. What better way to track increased traffic than to compare the amount of visitors at one point in time to another? It seems foolproof, right? They’re pretty good, and fairly easy to implement, but there are problems with these counters in that they can be duped. They can mistakenly count your own visits, repeat users (or page refreshes), or even search companies like Google, or the mighty Bing! So, this is a decent metric, but not ideal. It also doesn’t necessarily let you know if your page is liked or not–it just tells you that people (or machines) are stopping by.
Tracking Bounce Rate: This is really the best way of tracking traffic, as it gives you not only insight as to whether people are coming to your site, but which pages, and more importantly, whether they like the page enough to keep reading, or if they’ve seen enough and move on.
So, now that we know what we want to track (and why a baseline is important), let’s take a look at some methods of tracking, and look at the pro’s and cons.
Solutions for Measuring Traffic
Google Friends Connect: In the 40k blogging community, this seems like it’s become the defacto standard for tracking followers or a blog’s popularity. This is surely do to the fact that most 40k bloggers use blogger.com and, since it too is a Google product, it’s natively tied in. It’s also relatively easy for people using WordPress to enable (for more information on doing so, check Google Friend Connect’s website).
In addition to determining how many people have friended your site (and thereby allowing you a means of tracking visitors), Google Friend Connect also ties into their RSS reader (see below for more information), and provides some additional personalization for each user, allowing you to see other sites they like.
The problem with Google Friend Connect is that it doesn’t indicate who is really looking at your site. It takes little effort to sign up as a friend to a website, and then you don’t ever have to go back to it again. Additionally, users aren’t automatically removed from the list after a period of inactivity. This is a good reason as to why bloggers that have been around a while have massive throngs of followers (well, that and the fact that they turn out great work, but that’s besides the point)!
RSS Followers: RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and is a means that allows readers to get automatic updates from your blog. It’s a great way to keep up to date with your favorite blogs, and get immediate notification as to when they post new content. While it’s fairly widely used, many people are confused by the technology, and don’t know much about it.
Since this article is focused on blog owners, I won’t go much into the end-user uses of RSS; however, if you’re interested in how RSS works from a blog reader (and not a blog owner’s) perspective, check out Nplus’ blog post on RSS and you.
The good news about RSS is that if you’re interested in starting an RSS feed on your blog, the hard part is already done for you! All blogging sites use RSS (or similar protocols like ATOM) to make your posts instantly visable to others. In fact, this is the same technology that powers your blogroll–it just does it in such a way that you don’t have to do anything technical.
The bad news is that most basic blogging sites don’t have a means of tracking the number of subscribers to your site. For this, you’ll need to implement a solution like Google’s Feedburner. This tool will allow you to track the number of visitors who are subscribing to your RSS feed via email (or RSS reader). In addition to allowing you to track your users, it also provides a VERY easy way of moving your site, should it become necessary in the future, without having to have your users update all of their bookmarks (something I have first-hand knowledge of). More information on Feedburner (and feeds in general) can be found on Google’s website, here.
Google Analytics: This is really the grand-daddy of traffic monitoring when it comes to bloggers. This free tool not only tracks things like how many people come to your site, but what country they live in, how many pages they looked at, and how long they stayed. On top of tracking all of this information, they provide some analysis for you right off the bat.
From your dashboard, you can see which are your most popular pages, which types of people are more likely to visit your site repeatedly, and what kind of topics are most appealing to your readers. You can also use it to find out how people are getting to your site. For instance, Bell of Lost Souls gives me about 200 readers per week, and From the Warp gives me another 100. When my blog was newer, my numbers were lower, and links from these sites contributed a much higher percentage of traffic to Warhammer39999.com.
If you’re not already using Analytics, I’d strongly urge you to implement it, as it’s free, easy to use, and an amazing tool for bloggers. Not only will it give you a good baseline, but it’ll automatically track your entire history–without effort on your part. You just have to set it up, and then it’s just a matter of checking back periodically and seeing how you’re doing.
StatCounter: Competitors to Analytics exist in various shapes and forms. Most often they provide results similar to what you’d get from Google’s tool. Some will vary in the depth of analysis provided, or the duration of history available to you. Statcounter.com is one such tool. I use it on my site for a couple of reasons:
- It automatically sends me my traffic stats to my email. This way I don’t have to check Google periodically to get an idea of where I stand. I just check my emails on Sunday!
- It provides confirmation that the numbers from Analytics are accurate.
It’s a good idea to use multiple systems to track your traffic, as no tool is 100% accurate. By utilizing several pieces measurement software, I’m more comfortable that the results being provided are as accurate as possible. For more information on Statcounter, see my post on the subject.
Disqus Analytics: This is a relatively new solution and only available to users of Disqus (the commenting system). At the time of writing this post, Disqus Analytics is in the testing phase, but it should soon be available to the public. From what I can tell, it looks similar to the Google tracking option, but I suspect it will also be valuable as it’s really community based software itself. Let’s face it though, you should already be using Disqus for it’s other features; analytics is just the cherry on top. If you’re interested in learning more about Disqus, check out my post here. For more information on their Analytics option, click here.
Increasing traffic is a great thing for your blog, but for it to make sense, you need to be able to track that traffic. Hopefully these tools will enable you to do just that.
As this series comes to a close, I also wanted to mention a couple of additional points on the subject:
- Thanks for sticking around through this whole topic. It’s been rather lengthy, and not related to 40k at all. My goal for this is to hopefully improve the understanding of how blogs work for fellow gamers that are new to the topic. If you’d like to learn more about tweaks to warhammer39999.com, check out these posts.
- Please use your blog to improve the community as a whole. The readers to your site are likely the same ones that come to mine, or the ones that go to major sites like BoLS. Supporting fellow bloggers, be them large or small, improves the community as a whole. So, if you can provide some kudos to them, I’m sure karma will return the favor sometime.
- Your opinion matters most. Catering to the masses might cause you to increase the traffic to your site, but at what cost? Ultimately, remember why you got into blogging in the first place.
If you have anything to add, please do so through the comments. Also, before we wrap this up, I wanted to point out another blog called “Creative Twilight” who is clearly much more savvy than myself at this sort of thing. He wrote up a post on how to improve your traffic as well. Click on the link above to read that. It’s highly recommended.
As always, mahalo for stopping by…
Tape Measure image from aussiegall via flickr.