Author Blogging 101: Blog Analytics

by Joel Friedlander on December 19, 2011 · 9 comments

Post image for Author Blogging 101: Blog Analytics

Writers blog for lots of reasons. You might blog to:

  • attract new readers
  • create a community in your genre
  • interact with other writers about your works in progress
  • have an outlet for your personal musings
  • create a testing platform for experimental writing
  • interact with readers to get feedback on your publishing plans

or a lot of other reasons.

Do Readers Matter?

In some of these cases, the traffic you get, how many people are reading your blog, and where they are coming from doesn’t matter all that much.

There are blogs that largely exist for a small community of people, and that’s how they fulfill their purpose.

Others want to grow their blogs as a way to make money from the work they put into their books.

Nonfiction authors can often profit from steady traffic if they have a way to turn their visitors into book buyers and then clients or customers for related products.

The important point here is this:

For many blogging goals, you need to learn how to analyze the traffic that’s coming to your blog.

So one of the first things you want to do when you set up your blog is to find out how to get statistics on your visitors, which are the most popular pages and posts, that sort of thing.

Analytics Programs for Bloggers

When I got started blogging at the end of 2009, most bloggers I ran into had settled on Google Analytics as their tool of choice to get the information to understand what was going on with their blog traffic.

There are a lot of other analytical tools available. Lots of these are usually made available in your User Control Panel with your hosting company.

For instance, in my Control Panel, I have access to Webalizer and Awstats, both statistical programs for websites.

But there’s a problem. These programs report wildly different results for the same measurements.

For instance, the most basic information you need to know for any website is how many visitors came to the site in the last month. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?

But here are the figures reported by each of these tools for the total number of visits to the blog during November, 2011:

  • Webalizer = 172,648 visits
  • Awstats = 97,420 visits
  • Google Analytics = 43,155 visits

It’s a mystery how these utilities could all say they are measuring the same thing: visits. Which would you believe? Do you trust Webalizer, the free software from your host, that says you have 172,000+ visitors?

I decided to stick with Google. After all, I reasoned, who has a better idea of web traffic than Google? Even though you might like to believe, as Awstats claim, that I had 97,420 visitors, somehow I just don’t trust it.

Google Analytics Goes Deep

You can get Google’s analytical power for free. All it takes is putting a bit of code into your website. Here’s a link to the step-by-step instructions from Google: Google Analytics Setup Checklist

Thesis code input boxYou need access to your blog code. I use the Thesis theme for WordPress, and it has this handy input box for just this sort of thing:

Once you get Analytics installed, the amount of information that will be available to you is overwhelming. You can easily lose hours just drilling into the various parts of the Google Analytics reports.

But let’s just do the overview for now.

Here’s what Google will show you quickly, without you having to spend a lot of time learning the ins and outs of this program.

If you just learn to click through the report and glance at the overview screen, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s happening with your blog. Here are some of the most immediately useful reports and a screen shot from my Analytics report showing just the top few results. Many of these reports have thousands of results, if you want to just keep drilling down.

  • Keywords—What keywords lead searchers to your blog?
    Google Analytics-keywords

    Google Analytics-keywords

  • Traffic sources—How did they arrive here?
    Google Analytics-sources

    Google Analytics-traffic sources

  • Popular pages—Which pages got the most traffic?
    Google Analytics-pages

    Google Analytics-popular posts

  • Visitor location—What countries did the access the blog from?
    Google Analytics-countries

    Google Analytics-countries

  • Visitor’s browsers—Which browser were they using?
    Google Analytics-browsers

    Google Analytics-browsers

There are many other stats available too, like which pages were the ones people left from, and many more.

Why Analytics Matter

As I said at the beginning, if you already have the people reading your blog that you want, you can forget about analytics and just keep going.

But if your business model or your desire to have more readers is important, and you’re marketing your blog and trying to figure out the most efficient way to do it, analytics are your best friend.

Google Analytics-timeline

Google Analytics: Traffic timeline

Running a promotion? Analytics will tell you the effects and where they came from.

Experience a traffic spike? Analytics will show you who linked to you and what effect that had.

Considering advertising or trading banners with other bloggers? Give it 30 days and then see how it worked out in real figures.

Want to know what articles are drawing the most readers? Check Analytics to find out.

Need to know which articles are most popular with search engine users? Analytics knows all about that.

What to Do Now

If you don’t have Google Analytics installed on your author blog, do it today. If it’s too technical for you, or you don’t have a theme that allows you quick access, ask the person who set up your blog to do it, or see if you can get help from your hosting company.

The return will be well worthwhile. I don’t check analytics every day, but I don’t miss that many days either. I consider it information that’s vital to my online buisness, and it has influenced my decisions many times.

Before we end, here are a few examples:

  • I wrote an early post on copyright, a subject every self-publisher should be familiar with. It was just a short post about what should be on your copyright page, but I learned from Analytics it was one of the most popular posts on my blog. Although I was surprised, I sat down and wrote a whole series of posts on copyright, and they have all been popular and useful to searchers.
  • For a long time, the most popular post on my blog has been 5 Favorite Fonts for Interior Book Design, another “foundation” post from the early days. This has continued to surprise me, but I eventually followed it with 3 or 4 more posts on picking fonts, to good effect.
  • When I had about 400 readers per day, one day I noticed I had a huge traffic spike, over 400 new visitors in one day. That was pretty exciting, and I used Analytics to track down why: it was a link from a popular design blog. I went right over and left a comment thanking the blogger and mentioning a couple of other related posts people might be interested in.

These are typical, not unusual stories. They are partly the nature of a business where every single click can be measured. Having information like this available makes you a better and more responsive blogger. Get on the Analytics bandwagon today and reap the rewards.

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    { 6 comments… read them below or add one }

    Karen Williams December 22, 2011 at 6:32 am

    I believe that a lot of the discrepancy between your different analytics tools has to do with the concept of ‘discrete’ visitors. Google does a far better hob of tracking your visitors by their IP address, which is how they can give you stats on repeat vs new visitors. So you may very well have 172,000 total ‘knocks on your door’ which is what Webalizer tracks. But my guess is that many of them are repeat visitors, which would lower your google stats.

    Reply

    Dawn Groves December 21, 2011 at 5:58 am

    Hi Joel, thanks for another well organized intro and reminder. So many writers are afraid of analytics but they hate spinning their wheels even more. Analytics provide direction & feedback. Good stuff, even for folks who check them infrequently.
    I tweeted your post.
    Best Wishes,
    Dawn
    http://www.yourproductivitysucks.com

    Reply

    Matt Harrison December 19, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    I haven’t looked at awstats in years, but I’m assuming google is discounting all the spidering of your site from search engines and crawlers.

    So yes, you might have higher numbers reported elsewhere, but they are robots in China hitting your webpage. Good luck trying to sell them something :)

    Reply

    Eric James December 19, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Google Analytics is like the car that comes with a full array of accessories you mostly never use…or maybe you never learn to use…or maybe never intend to use but you like having it. Analytics also comes with its own inherent flaw. Analytics will never account your web site’s statistics in entirety. Analytics’ algorithms are programed to account quality rather than quantity.

    For an author, the stats resulting from Analytics can be both deceiving and disappointing. If you intend to employ Analytics to sell advertising, how good will your profits be? When your statistics are repeatedly underreported, isn’t it likely your clicks per page or other economic measurements will be shortchanged, also?

    I, too, employ Webalizer. When compared to my Analytics results, I find Webalizer reports 30-60% more statistics than does Google’s Analytics. I, too, was flummoxed by the discrepancy. I, too, employed a third statistics generator to check the difference. Month after month, the third generator consistently produced results closer to, though not the same as, my Webalizer stats. The third set of stats always were higher than Analytics reported.

    What accounts for the difference? If you’re an author, here’s an example you can understand. You have a book title. To Google, that’s you web site’s principle landing page. Google’s off and accounting. You’re in. You, as an author, also write book chapters. That’s where you and Google begin to part.

    Google likes landing pages. If you have a Table of Contents page, Google will count that as a landing page, because there are links to other pages on it. Google then looks at the size of your book. If your book is short and sweet, Google will account every page. However, If you’re a Joyce, Proust, or Tolstoy, and produce prodigious volume, Google elects to account only what it deems suitable for Google to get a general picture of what your web site contains. No matter how many pages you produce, your Analytics stats will only report Google’s own Cliff Notes version of your work.

    It gets worse if you’re into cross media publication – especially if you use flash. Google isn’t exactly Steve Jobs when it comes to flash, employing retribution to deny flash altogether as if it doesn’t exist. However, Google doesn’t make it easy to account your flash page stats as it does ordinary pages. But the likelihood is, you never will survive the Goggle tutorial for accounting flash pages or sites anyway.

    Let’s face it. Google’s Analytics is intended for the benefit of Google principally. We who use Google’s Analytics are given a separate box of toys to keep us happy and to keep us busy using Analytics. If you really want the full spectrum or your actual statistics, however, go ahead and play with Analytics and enjoys all its toys. But if you want more complete results, be sure to employ more than one statistics analyzer.

    Reply

    Ryan Hanley December 19, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Joel,

    I have had Google Analytics installed since the beginning of my blog back in 2009 and I’m very sad to say I’ve never leveraged it’s potential. I look at it and I feel good when the numbers go up but I’ve never taken the time to analyze the data.

    Every blog I read that I would consider successful stresses how important tracking traffic is to the success of your blog. Or better put acting upon the trends you see from Analytics is important to a successful blog.

    Thanks for reiterating the Anaytics importance!

    Ryan H.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander December 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Hey Ryan, I always think I could be getting more out of the Analytics, there’s so much about it I haven’t explored yet. But every time I spend 15 or 20 minutes among the reports, I usually come away having learned something.

    Reply

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