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Who Cares How Many Subscribers You’ve Got?

Image-Thumb13The following guest post on measuring a blog’s success has been submitted by Mark Seall.

A guide to systematically troubleshooting your blog’s performance by focusing on the measures that make a difference.

Apparently it’s really easy to get zillions of subscribers to your blog – Just follow a few simple steps, work hard and write good stuff. I know this, because I read it every week on various pro-blogging sites which are keen to dispense the wisdom of their own success whilst making you feel inferior for having less than 20,000 RSS subscribers.

Unfortunately for many of us, the promise of multiple thousands of subscribers is unrealistic no matter how hard we try – sometimes because we work in less popular niches, sometimes because we just don’t have the available time, and sometimes because we just don’t have that magic mix of talent and luck.

Ultimately this leads to frequent disappointment among bloggers. Many of the bloggers I speak with are at a loss as to how to increase traffic, enviously regarding the multi-thousand subscriber club. Blogging is not a hobby or a profession for those without perseverance.

The reason that we obsess over our statistics

The only reason so many of us obsess over our statistics is because page views and subscriber numbers are the most obvious ways to measure our success. But are they really?

A business that only measures itself by its profits is unlikely to be successful in the long term. Profits are obviously important, but profit is only one measurement of success, and crucially, it is an outcome not a determiner. Outcomes are the things that ultimately we are judged by, but they don’t tell you anything about the underlying factors which will make future success possible, and which are making current success difficult.

For example, a firm which is making roaring profits today is a poor investment if their products are so bad that few of their customers return tomorrow. A blog might have 10,000 hits today from social media, but that’s hardly a success if visitors don’t find any reason to return the next day.

So how can we measure ourselves

To truly understand and address what’s driving your success it is necessary to understand the web of relationships between the different determiners which lead to the outcomes that you are looking for. The diagram below shows the network of measurable items which make up these relationships, showing how each is interconnected.

Image-Thumb13-1

Some of these measures can be determined by statistics and some require a little more subjective judgement. What’s important to grasp initially are the actual outcomes in which you are interested. Measures marked in red represent these outcomes. If you blog for money, then obviously ad-revenue is the most important outcome for you. But if you blog only for pleasure then perhaps your level of reader engagement (which can be determined largely by comments) is more important to you? If your blog is part of a longer term plan, then perhaps generating kudos within the blogging community is your best measure of success?

Next, consider (or don’t consider) the things which you can’t influence directly – such as page views. There is nothing you can do to directly influence these, so to a large extent you shouldn’t waste time worrying about them. However, don’t ignore them completely. These determiners can provide you with useful information as to why your blog is not performing as expected. For example, if you have few new visitors each month (often the case after the first few months) then perhaps you are getting poor search engine placement, or you are lacking in inbound links? If a quick check on Google shows that you are lacking in links, then perhaps it is time to re-focus on community interaction again? It is important to troubleshoot poor results in a systematic way to avoid firing random shots in the dark.

Finally, put all of your energy into the green items – the things that you can influence. Time and energy are always at a premium among bloggers, and it is usually unrealistic to expect that anybody can focus on everything. However, properly understanding all of the current performance measurements of your blog, and how they interact, will allow you to choose where to focus for the best results. It’s worth noting that things which have multiple connections have a greater influence on downstream results – hence the constant emphasis on quality content.

Final thoughts

In reality, most bloggers (myself included) will continue to obsess over page views and find it difficult to walk past the computer without stopping to check on stats. However, putting a bit more focus on the wider measures of success can often delay the onset of the ‘blogging blues’ and give you the motivation to create that great content that we all love reading.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Anne says:

    Thanks so much for writing about this topic. I’ve been feeling down in the dumps because my blog, which I launched in December, isn’t pulling in the numbers I’d hoped for.

    As Churchill said, “never, never, never give up”!

  2. I really appreciate this article. Over at my site, I’m not swimming n subscribers but the people who comment on my site really engage with me and my writing. I feel like I have some quality visitors who can really benefits on the topics I speak about. My goal is to increase the amount of returning visitors by the thousands :) I feel like my niche is very in between sometimes.. I suppose its because of my approach. Anyway- this is great – I’ll be bookmarking this and reading it again. Thank you

  3. walisse says:

    Thank you for this article.
    Why are we so obsessed with the numbers? The most important thing is to do what we like and the rest will eventually follow.

  4. Tom Beaton says:

    I think most of us have become stat-aholics in the blogosphere. We NEED to constantly know how we are doing. It is part of the competitiveness.

  5. Tim Hurst says:

    Nicely done, Mark. I like the spatial mapping – quite helpful.

    I think you’re spot on about the futility in obsessing over statistics. But on the other hand, it can really be sort of thankless and anonymous sometimes, and so a little validation is all we’re looking for. Just a little pat on the back!

  6. Chasing subscribers before developing content is putting the cart before the horse.

    A well written guest article – thank you.

  7. money blog says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post. My concern is however, with the weight you provide SEO with. Shouldnt bloggers focus on optimizing their blogs more for search engines?

  8. Beckster says:

    Thanks for the article – I have just begun blogging as a creative/cathartic outlet and am amazed at what a very large world the blog community is. It’s interesting that I think I’m doing this for myself, but some part of me seems to want others to read it to – what is that all about? Three weeks ago I never thought I would be blogging! As I cruise around, I’m surprised at how many blogs have advertising – never occured to me.

  9. Blog Bloke says:

    Then why don’t you lead by example and remove your feedburner stats that sit prominently in your top right-hand sidebar?

  10. Darren Rowse says:

    Couple of thoughts. For starters this was written by Mark Seall not me. I do happen to agree with much of it but didn’t want to take credit for the article as a few seem to have assumed it was by me.

    BB – just as I rush out the door let me post a link, I’ve written about some of the reasons that I post my feedburner numbers here.

    For me it’s less about how I measure my success – but from what I can tell it can help a little with building momnentum on your blog, even build a sense of belonging and is quite good at generating new subscribers (as the animation in the button draws the eye).

  11. Blog Bloke says:

    Darren, perhaps then it would be less confusing if you put the guest writer’s name at the top of the post where your name appears. That’s where I always look.

    That’s why I do in my blog for my guest writers and it’s not that difficult to implement.

  12. Alston says:

    Mark,
    Thanks for the level headed thoughts, when writing content, the “proof is in the pudding!” Your heart has to be in what you’re writing about and if you build it, they will come!

    http://americanenglishphrases.blogspot.com/

  13. Don says:

    Did I miss something I think Darren told us in the beginning of the article that it was written by someone else!

  14. Blog Bloke says:

    LOL! Apparently I missed it Don. I read a lot posts every day and I generally skip the intro as I did in this case. Regardless, it can be confusing when 2 writers are listed as the author.

  15. Darren Rowse says:

    BB – yep, acknowledging guest posts is something that I do struggle with with this design. I always try to mention them in a fairly obvious byline as the first line of the post as I assume that’s the first thing people read – however I guess some do skip it. The other problem is of course that my name appears as the ‘author’ also which can confuse some. The only problem is that with one off guest authors to create an account is a bit of a long winded process at the moment as at b5media our blogs have an extra layer of security/logging in. Food for thought though as I look forward at the next design of ProBlogger – shuddering at the thought of another redesign :-)

  16. prefabrike says:

    thank you..Food for thought though as I look forward at the next design of ProBlogger – shuddering at the thought of another redesign.. thank you..

  17. lonifasiko says:

    I second that all bloggers (including me) are somehow ill;,we’re everyday checking how to increase traffic to our blog, trying to get more RSS subscribers, seeing blog stats…..

    For me, in spite of not having many RSS subscribers, the most important thing is to post quality content, in a very readable way, with some humour. On top of that, users must feel that you are happy and proud about what you write.

    It’s just a little bit self-confidence: I know I’m doing things well, I’m working hard, therefore, time will somehow put things in its place and I’ll get more RSS readers in the future. At least, that’s what I hope…

    Regards.

  18. Mr.NiceGuy says:

    Great post Mark. You are correct not all blogger are blogging for money. There are also rich people who only blog to have fun and to meet new business partners in the bloggers community. It matters much if you are satisfied with your outcome no matter how small it is.

  19. Josh says:

    What I do to determine whether my blog is worth it is to just look at my web stats, and if the trend keeps going up, then I’m happy.

    I started using google analytics last July, and I think pageviews dropped from one month to the next only twice, and that was usually because I had a month where for whatever reason I didn’t post as much.

    I don’t even keep track of how many RSS subscribers I have. I figure that as long as more people visit my site, then I must be doing something right, or at well good enough.

  20. minde says:

    Nice post. Very good lessons but in my blog are 2 feeders only. One by feedburner and one by google. I believe that stats will increase one day.

    http://www.notebooker.us

  21. Net Covered says:

    Good post. It is good to blog for fun in the first place and the you will earn money, too. Just don’t get overexcited about making huge amounts of moeny too soon and concentrate on content and your blog quality ;)

  22. brainpicker says:

    Mark, great article. I absolutely believe we should “care” about subscribers, not just for monetization purposes but because the second you start neglecting your audience, your content loses its purpose.

    A quick question though — something I’ve been trying to figure out for a long time. Is there a way to check how many RSS subscribers your blog actually has? I apologize if this is a total no-brainer, I’m learning as I go along. I can’t seem to figure out a way other than sifting through server log files, so I was thinking about creating a php script that notifies me whenever someone clicks the “Subscribe” button. Is there a simpler way? Like a WordPress plugin or something? Thanks much.