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
You 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?
- Traffic sources—How did they arrive here?
- Popular pages—Which pages got the most traffic?
- Visitor location—What countries did the access the blog from?
- Visitor’s browsers—Which browser were they using?
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.
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.