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.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.
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.
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.