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Do You Spend Enough Time Looking at Your Stats?

This guest post is by Deb of Science@home.

Do you spend enough time looking at your stats?

What a statement to start with, given that the mantra seems to be to check once a week and don’t waste too much time on your stats. And I agree with what seems to be the reasoning—if you are spending all that time looking at your stats, what else could you be doing that’s more productive? There also seems to be an underlying feeling that for us little guys the stats might be just too darn depressing, so staying away might be good for your mental health and motivation.

Readers are people

Readers are people (image is author's own)

But I’m going to fight back for the little guys and stats junkies and say that if you use them right, stats are an extremely useful tool for building your community. Because for most of us, most of our community doesn’t talk to us. The number of comments, Facebook likes and Twitter replies is miniscule compared with the daily number of hits on our blogs, and when no one’s answering your questions you need another way to learn what makes them tick.

Your stats are the key to finding out what is important to all those people who have found you and like you but aren’t saying anything. I know it’s traditional to try to talk to those people and get them talking to you, but to get those comments in the first place you need to learn about the silent majority. The more you find out about them, the more likely you are to hit on what’s important to them.

Here are four ways your stats can help you learn about your community.

Nationality

It’s obvious, but can be important. Do you need to be aware of the seasons, holidays, and traditions of your readers? Even though I’m Australian, many of my readers come from the US and a large number are from Europe. This makes me consider how to balance my stories of running around in the bush and make sure I offer indoor activities too when my readers are snowed in. Plus it determines when I post and tweet—my posts go live in the early morning to catch US readers in their evening.

Origin

The big players are search engines and social media, but sometimes you get a spike in traffic from a specific forum or web community. If it’s public that’s great—you can get in and talk to the people thinking of visiting your site. But even if it’s private, it tells you something about your visitors—if you’re getting hits from a site on baby names, can you do some posts aimed at babies to capitalize on their interest?

What’s happening in their world?

One day I had a spike on a post called “13 Things to Do When it’s Raining.” Sometimes you can capitalize and sometimes you can’t. But the image of mothers all over the US East Coast being stuck inside and searching for something to do with their kids struck a chord. It made them into real people with real lives and problems that I could relate to, rather than “readers” or “hits.” And that’s at least as valuable as knowing which social media network they prefer, because it makes me write for them, rather than numbers.

I had another spike just after the earthquake in Japan on a piece I’d written earlier about plate tectonics and earthquakes. That was emotionally confronting—at once I felt horrible it was happening, and guilty for doing well out of it, but at the same time I was glad I could help explain it to people searching for an answer. It reminds me to take responsibility for what I write, because you never know when it might stop being interesting and fun, and become important.

What do they want?

One of my most popular posts of all time is about starfish babies. A bit of digging showed me that most of the information out there about starfish either doesn’t mention babies, or is fairly static. Looking at this and my other long-term popular posts taught me a lot about my audience and what they want to know. They are parents, teachers, people who are looking for understandable explanations of the quirky details kids demand. And they’ve secretly always wanted to know but none of the “official” information sources would give the information to them! The strange searches that bring people to your site are not just cause for amusement (although that can be fun too)—they tell you who your readers are and what they want from you.

Once you start getting readers who aren’t personally related to you, just looking at numbers is a waste of time. But don’t avoid your stats completely, because if you learn to listen they are your community talking to you.

If you’ve ever wondered why Daddies are bigger than Mummies or other weird and wonderful questions, Deb has the answer at Science@home. Plus lots of things to do with babies, toddlers and kids whether it’s raining or not.

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Comments

  1. Josh Jones says:

    I try to view my stats on a daily basis, but especially after a article is published. It’s interesting to see where these people are coming from and see that my “marketing” pays off.

    • Deb says:

      If you’re trying an experiment then it’s vital – whether that be a new type of post or a new way of marketing it.

  2. It’s always hard for people that aren’t normally around statistics a lot to realize that they are more than just numbers. Every digit tells a story. You bring up a great point about finding an anomaly in the numbers with your post about things to do when it’s raining. Gaining a fan base is all about finding your niche and looking into your stats can help improve that search.

    @JoshPGreenberg

    • Deb says:

      Yes I have a science background so it’s natural for me to dig into the stats and find their story, that’s exactly what I’m trying to share here. I still remember that moment when I checked the stats and saw the hits, it really turned them into people.

  3. Steve Scott says:

    Deb,

    This is an interesting debate topic. I am a stats junkie and have to gird myself NOT to look at them too often. (though when I do I love to dig deep)

    I would still say that the once a week limit is not a bad one. Look at things too closly and it is easy to see trends that really are not there. Real statistics take a larger sampling to really mean something.

    I absolutely agree with using stats to find out about your audience, though. It is easy to look at stats as simply numbers… but those numbers are people and that should not be forgotten!

    -Steve

    • Deb says:

      You’re right, for a traffic trend it really needs to be at least a week or even a month. And if you’re trying a new format or schedule it could be even longer if people need to get used to it. It’s about knowing what you’re looking for and digging deeper, rather than just looking at a couple of numbers and whether they’re up or down.

    • You make a good point here Steve – it takes a large enough sample to get any meaningful stats. Otherwise you are just seeing things that aren’t there. Good qualifier.

  4. Sean says:

    Looking at your stats in a productive manner can be a very good tool for your business, but sometimes I get caught up in them and look at them TOO MUCH! Haha. That’s one thing I need to work on, not checking my stats for the sake of “just checking” but to actually use them to my advantage.

    • Deb says:

      I’m definitely a stats junkie! That’s why I started digging into them, because if I was going to look at them I needed to make sure it wasn’t just wasting time.

  5. James says:

    Hey Deb, I agree looking at your stats and analyzing them can be benefitial, but most people I know are wasting time analyzing stats that don’t have enough to show. as you build your blog and community, it definitely is a great way to see what people like and don’t like. However, if you have 5 visitors a day coming to your site, spending 3 hours a day analyzing stats is a waste of time that could be used elsewhere. (and yes, I have talked to clients doing just that!)

    • Deb says:

      I agree. I’m certainly not arguing that you should check all the time, just that when you check don’t only look at the numbers. How often to check depends on so many things, your normal traffic, any events or special things that you’re doing, if you’re trying to track an experiment, if you’re trying to answer a specific question. And as Steve said above, to really get meaningful results you need larger numbers.

  6. Amit Thakur says:

    Mostly I see a broad picture from my stats. Not much time. Most of the time they help in analyzing what my audience expecting from me.
    Good take on stat-watching..

  7. Hi Deb,

    You make a good point. While I’m not a stats junkie – probably because I don’t get enough traffic to look it on a daily basis – I do find that looking at the on a weekly basis is helpful.

    Since I guest post a fair bit, I find it helps me track how many referrals I’m getting and which ones are converting the best. So I agree it’s definitely worth checking your stats from time to time.

    • Deb says:

      Yes I didn’t even touch on guest posting! It would definitely be interesting to see what comes of it and long term versus short term.

  8. Chris Moon says:

    Such a good article! I’ve experienced something similar to what you’re discussing –

    One of the most popular posts on my site has to do with something that was a bit of a whim.

    I am a quilter, and I focus on quilting (with most of my hits from readers down under, thank you!!!), but the post that seems to get the most action is one that I did on fabric painting using school glue as a resist.

    I almost didn’t post it because it’s a bit off the beaten path, more of something fun that I do on the side from my normal quilting.

    It makes me wonder what my blog reader is really looking for – another quilt blog, or one that is more art-y (for lack of better description.)

    I follow the stats for exactly the reasons that you list above – I’m interested in the who what where of anyone reading my blog. Wish I had more to look at, but I have great hopes!

    Thank you for a thoughtful post – all the best – Chris

  9. MT Nickerson says:

    Great post. Sometimes I feel as if I spend too much time with my (low) stats and despite the time, I don’t actually glean anything important- probably because I’m more interested in raw numbers and not enough with what is the meaning behind those numbers. As you point out, there is a great deal to be learned by paying attention.

  10. EF Cussins says:

    You got it right. Us little guys need reinforcement to keep us writing. Most people who read any of my blogs don’t leave comments. They only way I can tell if I am getting my message across is through the numbers I see.

  11. Sonia says:

    I check my stats about once a week because I am too busy with a full time job and 2 Blogs to manage to focus on it solely. I agree with the importance of analyzing who is coming to your site and why, but to mull over it daily is a bit much for me. I can see sites in retail analyzing the crap out of their stats, but not much else. Stats tell a story and how you interpret it is up to you, I just don’t make it a full time job doing it. Good post and thanks for the reminder!

  12. zeshan aslam says:

    i just watch my stat to see that which post is interesting for the users so that i can write mre about it and one ,ore thing s that your blog is very nice and very helpfull

  13. MidwestTech says:

    I think it’s a journey. When you’re small, you should spend your time trying to figure out what the right goals are – you’re using stats to do a lot of detective work. As you get bigger, you start using stats to do more optimization. How much you stare at stats and the usefulness of that “staring” is directly proportional to your understanding of what stage you’re in!

  14. Hi Deb,
    I have always looked at my stats (too often) since I started my blog. But recently I have been going more in depth as far as landing pages, countries, content and so on.

    The majority of my readers are in the U.S. but the UK and Australia come in second and third place. When I write I consider the World and not just the U.S.

  15. Stylifiq says:

    This is a great informative post.

    I stopped checking my stats too often when I realized I was getting upset when I saw how low the numbers were. I concentrated in building content that would keep my readers coming back. After a while i checked my stats and the numbers had gone up. I was a bit encouraged.

  16. Hi Deb,
    Nice article! I too am a stats junkie. But lately I’ve tried to limit myself only to look at stats once a day. You are spot on when it comes to unusual spikes you can get from unsuspecting sources. But timing my articles for all my readers has been a problem for me.

  17. Hi Deb,

    Interesting debate here.

    Checking stats helps, to a point. Many bloggers slide down the slippery slope of checking stats daily, or every few days, or even hourly. Big no-no, especially 5 minutes after posting something. We each have lives, many of us having busy lives, and might not read posts for a day or 2 after being published. Most appreciable statistics are recorded over weeks or even months. Resist the urge to check your stats to see if what you’re doing “is working”.

    If you provide value and make connections with your readers, what you’re doing is working on some level. The next step is to check stats infrequently to gauge your growth. Too many need outside validation to prove their worth. It’s a chief causes of failure in the world, let alone the blogging community. Yes, check stats, but don’t become too attached to them. Stick to the tried and true, add value wherever you are, and network with many folks, especially the bigs in your industry.

    I’m not much of a stats guy; too busy writing comments on blogs like this, and of course, the backlink juice I receive from my comments more than helps my traffic numbers. Become more concerned with what you’re giving and less concerned with what you’re getting(traffic), and stats take care of themselves.

    Check ‘em, but dissolve the incessant attachment to numbers, because we deal with people, not statistics.

    Thanks for sharing your insight!

    RB

  18. Hello. My name is Aisha and I’m a stat junkie…. For some reason I just felt like I had to introduce myself like that. Lol! But seriously, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who is constantly checking stats to see how my site is coming along. Thanks for posting this, Deb. Now I don’t feel so alone.

  19. Mike Avon says:

    From my adsense stats, the revenue per click are much bigger from US visitors than all other countries. How can I do to attract more visitors from US, especially in IT, ERP topics?

  20. James Greg says:

    I try to have a brief look at my stats once in the morning as it give me the idea what to do next. I agree that looking too much at it would make you astray. But it is a fact that it can’t be ignored too. Also keeping in mind the time when your users visit your page is really important so that whenever they visit they would find something new and informative awaiting their arrival.

  21. Ralph says:

    In the beginning of my blogging career I used to take a long daily look at my stats. Now I look to see what my visitors are doing while they are on the site; what pages they view and bounce rate. The origins of my traffic has been pretty consistent in the last few years

  22. Guy Hogan says:

    I never thought about stats in just this way. I guess I better start paying more attention to them. As you say, stats are my community talking to me.

  23. Guy Hogan says:

    I never thought about stats in just this way. I guess I better start paying more attention to them. As you say, stats are my community talking to me.

  24. Eddie Gear says:

    As a web analyst, I look at various aspects of my stats. I do spend quite a bit of my time to improve conversion and performance of my blog.

  25. IT Rush says:

    There’s no doubt about it, keeping an eye of not just your stats but also other data will surely add some idea for you to explore with.. Thanks for the post.

  26. Daniel says:

    To be honest, at one stage there I was spending way to much time observing my stats through a variety of different Analytic tools.

    It became some sort of Compulsive behavioral type of thing. The down side to this was that I was spending far to much time Analyzing and not enough time doing things.

    I think going over stats to get a Clearer picture of our sites performance, then making adjustments accordingly, is okay though.

    Just not getting to bogged down time wise with our Analytic s tools.