The Beginner’s Guide to Blog Analytics

by Mack Collier

Analytics is an area that a lot of bloggers don’t pay as much attention to as they should.  And while I’m definitely not an expert when it comes to super-advanced analytics-tracking, I did want to give y’all a general overview of getting analytics tracking set up on your blog and some of the main metrics you should be looking at.

First, you’ll need to add a statistics tracker to your blog.  You can get a premium service if you want, but there’s plenty of free options that should be just fine for the average blogger.  On this blog, I use SiteMeter and Google Analytics to track my blog’s statistics.  Both of these services require you adding a snippet of HTML code to your blog’s template in order to ‘register’ the information about your blog’s visitors.  Now at one time, this could be a pain in the ass, especially if you weren’t comfortable editing your blog’s template coding.  Luckily, it’s gotten a lot easier now to do this.

For SiteMeter, you’ll need to first sign up for a free account, and then SiteMeter will give you the code you need to add to your blog’s template.  If you are comfortable doing the coding yourself, all you’ll need to do is take the HTML code SiteMeter gives you, and put it right before your template’s closing </BODY> tag.  If you have no earthly idea what I just said, don’t worry, you can click this link for a tutorial.  Or to make it even easier, you can do what I did, I took the code and created a new text-based widget on my sidebar, and added it there.  Simple as can be.

The second way I track my blog’s analytics is with Google Analytics.  As with SiteMeter, this requires adding a snippet of code to your blog’s template.  You’ll again need to sign up for an account with Google Analytics, and then take the code they provide and add it to your blog’s template.  I used a plugin to do this for this blog, Yoast’s  Google Analytics for WordPress Plugin.  That link will show you some of the additional functionality you can get from using the plugin.  But again, if you are comfortable tweaking your blog’s template, you can probably add the GA code manually without much problem.

There are other services you can use, but these are the two I use here.  Now in general, I use SiteMeter to track real-time visitor information, and I use Google Analytics to look at trends over time.  Even with the new version of Google Analytics and it’s Real-Time dashboard, I still get more detailed information from SiteMeter, especially on individual visitors.

Now I wanted to give y’all an overview of first some of the ‘basic’ metrics you should be looking at, and then I wanted to walk you through some of the metrics that I spend more time looking at.

Traffic.  Everyone loves to look at their traffic.  But besides being an ego-gush, there’s some very valid reasons to pay close attention to your traffic.  First, you want to see how it’s trending over time.  For example, if your traffic was down 33% in January of this year versus January of 2011, it helps to try to figure out why that decrease happened.

Also, looking at your traffic can give you great clues about when you should be publishing new posts.  For example, here’s what the traffic looks like here over the last 30 days according to SiteMeter:

Note the red Xs.  Those are coming on Saturdays.  Also notice, those traffic levels are the low points for each week.  So that alone tells me that if I want my new posts to get maximum exposure, I probably shouldn’t publish them on Saturday!  But as with anything else on your blog, you still should TEST this!  In my case, I have published posts on Saturday, and the traffic level for those posts was below what similar posts have gotten that were published here during the week.  But still, you need to test to verify your assumptions.

And like many of you, I use Twitter as a tool to help promote my blog posts.  I also know from watching my traffic closely that during the week, the hourly traffic is very low here each day till around 8am, when it starts to increase through the middle of the day till around 3pm, when it starts to fall again.  So when I publish a new blog post, I try to run it at 8am.  For example, I am writing this post on Saturday and Sunday, but will publish it at 8am on Monday morning.  Then, I will schedule a few tweets to promote it during the day, starting at 9am.  I schedule the first tweet for an hour later because typically I will have a couple of comments come in from blog subscribers that see the post as soon as it goes live at 8am.

Then, I will tweet a link out to it at 9am, then again at noon, and finally at 3pm or so.  Now I know from tracking the traffic in the past that I will get a bump in traffic from Twitter for each time I share a link to this new post.  I also know from watching my traffic patterns in the past that the tweet at noon will likely send more traffic here than the tweets at 9am or 3pm.  I assume this is because more people are taking lunch and checking Twitter from their desk at work.

BTW, here’s a detailed post on how I used this strategy to increase my traffic here by 300% and email subscribers by 900% in ONE week.

So in general, you should know what your traffic levels are on a monthly, weekly, daily and hourly basis.  That way if there’s a change good or bad, you should be able to spot it immediately, and then you can investigate to figure out what triggered the change.

Search Traffic.  Now along with traffic, I also pay very close attention to Search Traffic.  The reason why is simple: If someone uses search to find my blog, they probably do not know who I am, and they probably are trying to solve a business problem.  I’ll talk about this a bit more below, but by looking at keywords, I can see what people are looking for when they arrive here.  For example, I know that a lot of people arrive here by looking for information on the pricing for social media marketing services.  That’s because since 2010, I’ve been doing an annual recap of How Much Companies Should Expect to Pay for Social Media.  Last year when I realized how much search traffic was being sent to those posts, I went back and added in a link to my Social Media Marketing Rate Sheet.  Since doing that, I’ve gotten several work inquiries that have specifically mentioned a service and price listed on my Rate Sheet, which was buried on here before I added them to those posts.  Just last week, a major organization emailed me wanting to inquire about one of my services and referenced seeing it listed on my Rate Sheet.

Now should you care about Search Traffic?  Well I think the answer is ‘Yes’, but also note that I care more because this blog is a tool I use to grow my business.  But even if your blog is a personal one, search can help you get found by people that share your interests, which means you can make some new friends, if you aren’t interested in attracting new clients.  If you want to increase your search traffic, there’s two ways that I have found that have worked for me: Post more often, and optimize your posts for search engines.  Here’s a beginner’s guide on how to optimize your posts for search engines.

Referral Traffic.  This tells me what sources are sending traffic to my blog.  For example, it could be Twitter or Facebook, or a link that someone has put on their blog.  It can also help you identify sudden increases in traffic.  For example, if you see that within the last 5 minutes you’ve got as much traffic as you usually get in 5 hours, you can click the referral sources of that traffic, and that will usually tell you where that surge of traffic is coming from.  Often, it will be a new link that someone has posted on their blog, or maybe a popular Twitter user just tweeted out a link to one of your posts.

This also really helps you determine where you should be spending your time promoting your blog, on other sites.  For example, if you see that Facebook is sending your blog 1% of its traffic, but Plus is sending it 8%, then that’s probably a good indicator that your posts are more popular when they are shared on Plus.  A good way to test this is to share your new post on different sites at the same time, and tracking the referral traffic.  For example, if you write a new post tomorrow, share a link to it on Plus, Facebook, and Twitter at 11am on each site, and then track how much traffic each link sends back to your blog.  This is a ‘quick n dirty’ way to test how engaged your network is on each of these sites.

Pageviews for top posts.  This is a great way to tell which posts are most popular on your blog.  Here’s a list of the Top 10 most popular pages on this blog via Pageviews, over the last month:

Note that the top four pages on this blog all deal with the price of social media services.  That tells me that people are hungry for that type of information.

Search Keywords people use to find your blog.  This is really important because it not only gives you better insight into what posts are most popular, but also the search keywords are more about what topics people are interested in.  Also, remember that a lot of people ask search engines questions.  Look at this list of the most popular search keywords here over the last month:

Note that the #6 search term is ‘How to Write Your First Blog Post’.  I actually wrote a blog post with that exact post title.  I’ve talked about this before, but when you write your post titles, think about how people would find your post if they Googled it.  We often Google a question we are looking for the answer to.

Now note that the #1 search term for the last month is ‘social media crisis management’.  Also, looking at the picture above the one above, we see that the post I wrote on social media crisis management is the 7th most popular here in the last month.  That suggests to me that ‘social media crisis management’ is a topic that I may want to consider blogging about again soon.

Now paying close attention to your stats can also give you clues about the type and even FORM of content your visitors enjoy.

For example, here’s a screenshot of the 10 most viewed posts here in the last month from my Direct Traffic, which are usually visitors that came here directly from putting in the URL:

Note the two red circles:  The avg time spend on those two posts is 2:13, whereas the other posts are as low as 5 seconds?  Why is the avg time spend on those particular two posts so much higher?  I think part of the reason why is because both of those posts either have a video or audio file in them.  But I can’t be sure because the post inbetween them on Social Media Crisis Management also has a video embedded, and yet people are spending over a minute LESS time on it.

But this is a good example of why it pays to pay close attention to your blog’s statistics, so that you can better understand how visitors are finding, and interacting with your content.  Investing some time now to better understand blog analytics will not only save you time down the road, it will also make you a better blogger!  If you have any additional questions about your blog’s analytics, please leave a comment and I’ll try to help you!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin D. Lyons February 20, 2012 at 9:13 am

Great foundational analytics post! It’s not just for blogs. MANY small businesses that have websites should read this post too. It would be cool to see a followup post on shaping search traffic using meta tags and page titles. Great stuff!

Reply

rsmithing February 20, 2012 at 10:05 am

Thanks for this superb overview. If it weren’t for analytics, I would have missed out one of the best sources to my blog, Stumbleupon. I don’t use the service very much myself, but wow, has it resulted in traffic! Would never have thought about it, but the numbers don’t lie.

If it hasn’t happened lately, I’d love to see a #blogchat topic devoted to analytics – what people do with them, tips, preferred methods, insights, etc.

Reply

Mack Collier February 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I agree, StumbleUpon doesn’t refer traffic to my blog on a regular basis, but when it does, it comes in waves that even Twitter can’t match!

And we do cover analytics from time to time on #Blogchat, we’ll probably do so again in the next month or so!

Reply

Carrie Wilkerson, The Barefoot Executive February 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm

You are a rockstar. Thank you :)

As a simple question and my friend writes me a tutorial o his blog. LOVE IT and <3 what you do for the blogging idiots, like me ;)

Reply

Mack Collier February 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Darlin’ you are a pretty good blogger in your own right, don’t give me that! And I appreciate you asking the question because I thought I had already written this post, so you prompted me to do so!

Reply

Johnn Four February 21, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Mack, I’ve found Stumble Upon traffic does not stick, subscribe or buy. It comes and then goes, probably onto the next stumble.

Do you think there’s something I might be doing wrong? Or is that just the nature of SU?

Reply

Mack Collier February 21, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I think that’s pretty much the nature of SU. But then again I am not active there, if I were, that traffic might be a bit stickier.

Reply

Glenn April 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm

I use Google Analytics on my blog too. It’s great for letting you know which of your topics are the most resonant with your readers. It’s not so good at discovering new, related topics for future blogs. That is why I am working on a new personal assistant for bloggers called Opportunity Eye. You surface a widget on your blog that streams related opportunities. Your readers have a choice of following, discussing, or visiting each opportunity. This activity is captured for future analysis by the blogger.

GA is for what happened. OE is for what’s next.

Reply

Jonas July 24, 2012 at 1:21 am

Nice post Mack! I wish there was one tool that collected this information and visualized it in one view. Thanks for the insight!

Reply

George August 9, 2012 at 9:23 am

It’s also important to know where you rank against similar blogs. As most want to facilitate interaction within their posts, understanding how design and content fit into the equation beyond visitor metrics is key.

Reply

Karen Swim August 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Mack, this is such a great instructive post applicable to both websites and blogs. Thank you for thoughtfully crafting this detailed primer. Even if you’re not new to analytics, helpful to review practices. One read of this is not enough, definitely one for the “keep” file!

Reply

Shiv Saroya December 13, 2013 at 4:17 am

Great post. It’s amazing how much truly goes into making a successful start up business. So many people think it just entails having a good product, but that’s not true.

Reply

linda December 28, 2013 at 9:06 am

You killed it! This topic has been done a lot but you made it sound so simple. Thanks to you l understand it now. Before it was just a bit to technical for my liking.

Reply

Mack Collier December 28, 2013 at 9:07 am

Thank you Linda, I’m glad this post helped you!

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 5 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: