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10 Vital Stats for Blog Health—and How to Track Them

This article is by Dan Norris of Web Control Room.

As an active blogger, I’m always looking at various stats to help me understand how well I’m doing. I’m not particularly fond of the idea of blogging for years without knowing whether things are going in the right direction. I’d rather know as I go whether my posts are having an impact and whether things are travelling in the right direction.

Luckily, one of the best things about being a blogger is that pretty much every stat you want to look at is available online and not stuck in outdated offline software programs. And better still, most of the tools are free!

The challenge is that, with all of the information out there, it’s difficult to know what stats to keep your eye on. In this article we’ll look at the top ten ways bloggers can measure their efforts.

1. Revenue and profit

While writing is fun, I’ll assume you are trying to earn some money at the same time. One of the best ways to have easy access to your financial data is to use an online accounting program like Xero, Saasu, or Wave Accounting—I use Xero, and it rocks.

These programs make it very easy to capture all of your financial data in the one place.

In addition to that you can look at the various ways you monetize your blog by reviewing the information available from these sources (PayPal, Adsense, Clickbank, etc.). The best part of having a central system for the accounts is that you can aggregate all of the revenue streams in the once place, to give you a whole picture.

2. RSS subscribers

Hopefully you’re using Feedburner to manage your RSS feeds—if so, you’ll have a clear idea of how many people are subscribing to your blog via RSS.

I like to keep an eye on these stats particularly after I release a post, publish a guest post on another blog, or have a guest poster on my blog. Often, their sharing of the post and the content reaching a new audience will cause a bump in subscribers. Showing the number of RSS subscribers on your blog can also be great social proof of your blogging chops.

3. What are others talking about?

One of the most important strategies for bloggers is engaging with other people (bloggers and others) online. This is a measure of performance, because if you are doing the right things then people will be talking about you. There are four ways I do this.

  1. Comments: An excellent way to see if you are having an impact is to look at the comments on your site. Are they genuine? How many comments are posts getting? This gives you a good idea of what is hitting the mark and what isn’t.
  2. Trackbacks: If these are turned on in WordPress, any time someone links to one of your blog posts (i.e. not to your homepage) you will see the link in your comments list—and then go back to their sites and engage with them.
  3. Google Alerts: With Alerts, Google will email you every time someone mentions your brand, product, website, and so on. I like to get them via RSS instead of email, so I check them in Google reader each morning.
  4. Twilert: This service does the same thing as Google Alerts but for Twitter. You get a daily email that lists every time someone mentions your site or brand or your Twitter handle you’ll get an email.

All of these are great ways to engage with your audience, but also to measure the impact you’re having, and which posts are having more impact than others.

4. Traffic

It’s a good idea to monitor both your monthly rolling traffic (last 30 days) against the previous month, as well as traffic peaks around the release dates of your posts. The former figure will give you a good idea of overall recent trends, and the latter will give you immediate feedback on specific posts.

For this I, like most others, use Google Analytics. If you do notice changes that you didn’t expect, it’s time to delve further into the tool to see what has caused those changes—it may be something related to search rankings or referring sites (which we’ll look at separately in a moment).

5. Google ranking for keywords

Most of the time, bloggers get a significant amount of traffic from Google. You can either sit back and hope for the best or you can actively try to rank for different keywords.

Unfortunately, visiting Google and searching for your keywords doesn’t work! Google knows which websites you have visited and puts them higher up the list just for you, so this won’t give you an accurate rank for your keywords. This is a mistake made by almost everyone with a website at one time or another (including me).

Particularly if you are trying to rank for certain keywords, it’s a great idea to use a tool to monitor where you are ranking on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Using the new incognito window in Chrome will also provide a more accurate ranking, but rank-tracking tools will show you rack-tracking from different countries, for instance, and many keywords at once.

6. Other referring sites

In Google Analytics, you can also check out your top referring sites. This can give you great information about a number of things. For example, if you are active in social media or a particular forum you can see if these efforts are resulting in extra traffic to the site.

Similarly, guest posts on other sites would be expected to bring some traffic, so you can monitor whether these sites make it into your top referring sites list.

Pretty much every marketing push you make online should show up in your top sites list, so it’s a good place to look particularly for things you aren’t specifically tracking as campaigns in Analytics.

7. Keywords

There are two types of keywords to look at in Analytics. You can look at your top keywords—these would generally be big-ticket keywords that you are trying actively to rank for. If they are ranking in Google and your keyword research was sound, then it will be validated with traffic.

It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on how many keywords are bringing you traffic. This is a simple measure of how effectively you are targeting the long tail. The more you write, particularly if you deliberately target long tail keywords in your posts, the more keywords will bring you traffic. Looking at the number of keywords is a quick way to get some sort of idea of how well it’s working.

8. Email newsletter info

Getting an email opt-in is still one of the main ways bloggers engage with their audience. Tools like Mail Chimp and AWeber will give you some great information on things like how effective your site is being in converting visitors to opt-ins, how big your audience is and how engaged they are with your newsletters (unsubscribe rates, opens, clicks etc).

It’s also a good idea to measure opt-ins as goals in Analytics so you can look at more information about the origins of those opting into your list.

9. Server uptime

Having your server go down is kind of like having a power outage at a traditional business. You can’t do business without your website, and all of the effort you have put in to generating traffic is wasted every time there is an outage. For this reason, make sure you are notified whenever there is an outage and you monitor it each month to ensure uptime is reasonable.

Unfortunately hosting companies often don’t provide this service, however Pingdom.com does, and it’s free. Once you sign up, the site will notify you of any outages, and provide reports on monthly uptime percentages and so on.

10. Social media measures

For bloggers more so than any business, social media is critical. A lot of relationships with readers and other bloggers, guest blogging opportunities, JVs etc come through relationships facilitated by social media. A few things I like to keep an eye on are:

  • Klout.com, which gives you an overall idea of how you are influencing others via Twitter, Facebook, and so on. You can also use Klout to give you an overall summary of figures from the major social networks (Likes, shares, +1′s etc).
  • If you are active on Twitter, you can keep an eye on your number of followers, your ratio of followers to people that you follow and the number of interactions.
  • For Facebook pages, Facebook insights are there to provide useful information on likes, reach, who’s talking about the page and more.

So how are you progressing—and how do you know? I’d be interested in knowing what you like to keep an eye on to track how you’re going. Let me know in the comments.

Dan Norris is the founder of Web Control Room a free tool that enables bloggers to understand their data and make better decisions. By talking to the sources you love (MailChimp, Xero, Analytics, PayPal etc) it provides a scannable 1 page chart showing what is going well and what isn’t so you can understand your performance in seconds.

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Comments

  1. Deepak says:

    Yes indeed these 10 points are the base of development for any website or a blog. Any blog to measure where its lacking back must check these 10 points to track where he or she is going back.
    But I Have one question which point can track where i am lacking back in bounce rate improvement.

    • Dan Norris says:

      Hey Deepak, there are a lot of metrics you can look at within Google Analytics, that probably deserves it’s own post. A few examples could be:

      1. Bounce rate (useful but also a bit hit and miss, a high bounce rate could just indicate you gave the reader exactly what they wanted)
      2. Time on site (again useful but depending on your content this might get really thrown out, i.e. my podcast site http://webdomination.co has a huge time on site because people listen to the audio but it doesn’t necessarily mean by posts are better. Looking at individual posts and how well they retained people can be useful but again it could also just be the length of the post or the amount of multi media in the post etc. Seth Godin probably has a pretty low time spent on his posts but it doesn’t mean they aren’t good.
      3. Popular posts – i.e. looking at the amount of visits to a particular post can be handy too.
      4. Conversions – which content is attracting content that is more likely to turn into customers etc.

      Plenty more – I hope that helps.

  2. My blog is relatively new so I’m not quite at this level in tracking yet but I keep track of my RSS subscribers, Twitter followers, monthly and daily visits in total, my referral traffic, my search engine traffic and my alexa rank.

    • Dan Norris says:

      Hey Lance good stuff, it’s definitely worth setting up an opt in using something like Mailchimp. Looking at your site it looks like you are using Feedburner to do this, I’m not sure if you can track conversions doing it this way. If you use MailChimp you can track the conversions so you know which sources are sending you the highest converting traffic (apologise if I’m wrong and you can actually do this with Feedburner).

  3. Great Post Dan , From your list i am currently concentrating on RSS subscribers , Google ranking for keywords , Email newsletter info , Server Uptime :) will surely try the others too :)

  4. Cudjoe says:

    These are truly great pieces of advice. I’m now concentrating on creating great contents for my readers.

  5. Dan Norris says:

    Hey Shabham good stuff , thanks for the comment.

  6. Greg Blencoe says:

    Dan,

    Thanks for the post.

    While it’s definitely not something that is easy to measure (like number of subscribers which is very clear), I believe one of the most important things for bloggers is the number of strong relationships that are built. How many people really care about the blogger? How many people really care about the blog? How many people really care about the next post the blogger writes? Has the blogger built relationships that have led to communicating via e-mail and perhaps even phone conversations?

    One thing that is a bit baffling is seeing blogs with large numbers of subscribers that get very few comments. While there are definitely lots of people that read blogs without commenting on them, I think this can be a sign that most of the subscribers do not read the material on the blog a lot. Of course, another reason could be that the blogger doesn’t respond to comments and a lot of visitors have given up on leaving comments.

    Anyway, these are my thoughts. Thanks again for the post and have a great day.

  7. Dan Norris says:

    Hey Greg agree 1000% but disagree that it’s hard to measure. With advanced segments in Analytics you can pretty much measure anything. In my business I’m actively spending time each week to ‘reach out’ and those that I reach out to will be added to my ‘Reach out’ custom segment in Analytics. This way after a few months if people start mentioning me or asking me to guest post or coming on my podcast or whatever I’ll be able to attribute that traffic to my reach out efforts.

    I think this is a good way to go, and totally agree blogging without the support of other bloggers is a very very hard way to go about it!

  8. Hi Dan,

    Measuring subscriber counts determines your blog’s health quickly. I tripled my RSS in the past 6 months and noted an uptick in comments and opt-ins to my squeeze page. Count those metrics. Adjust when necessary. Smart tips here.

    Many factors are intangible. As mentioned above, the relationships you build bring countless benefits down the road. The strong connections I’ve built over years led me to an automated twitter tribe; now I get 35 retweets in a split second, after I publish a post. We can’t quantify relationships but they DO lead to awesome things now, and in the future. Keep connecting, keep creating, rock it out.

    Thanks Dan!

    Ryan

    • Dan Norris says:

      That’s cool re the Twitter tribe thing. I was in a blog commenting tribe for a while which I found useful in getting my last blog off the ground, I imagine a Twitter tribe would be good for that too. Yes it’s true some things are intangible but I try to track as much as you can and the results are often surprising.

      Thanks for the comment.

  9. This is definitely helpful to have all in one spot!

    I’m only working on month 2 of my blog so it’s growing somewhat slowly. I am definitely keeping track of all these though, especially Aweber subscribers.

    Thanks a bunch,
    -Gabe

    • Dan Norris says:

      Nice one Gabe good luck with your blog. Starting from scratch is great, I’m just starting a new site with a blog and I love that there’s no traffic and I can segment pretty much every visitor into a group so I know where they came from and I can quickly change strategy if they aren’t leading to signups, or long site visits etc.

      Most of the stuff in this post is pretty easy to set up I’d encourage you to put in a few hours to do it now and you will have much better info to make decisions as you go.

      Good luck with your blog, you’ve certainly got no shortage of email opt in forms!

      Thanks for the comment.

      Dan

  10. femi says:

    Great performance metrics . It is a wonderful thing to know what is working so you can do more of those and what is not working so you can correct the errors . The areas i need to focus on are newsletter info , rss feeds and keywords

    Thanks for the post

    Femi

  11. prabhat says:

    nice list dan
    traffic and subscribers are two most important factors to determine the health of a blog. and the comments from the readers is another point. but traffic is i think the basic and most important factor. without traffic there is nothing even if your content is good.

    • Dan Norris says:

      Hi Prabhat

      Yes traffic is very important but not all traffic is equal. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to do another post on here shortly to go through some tricks for properly monitoring the types of traffic and how effective they are. But you’re right, there’s nothing without traffic so you have to start there.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Dan

  12. Rick says:

    Aside from RSS, email subscribers are also worth taking cared of. Some of the audience doesn’t even know what RSS is but with email, almost everyone (if not everyone) knows it.

    • Dan Norris says:

      Absolutely in my last blog I had hardly any RSS subscribers (120 after 2 years of blogging) but I had a 6 figure business fuelled by the blog and thousands on my email list. In some fields RSS readership is quite active but in others it’s almost unknown. One thing to consider though is as a blogger often one of the biggest ways to give yourself a boost is to engage with other bloggers and most bloggers use RSS so it’s useful to monitor it for that purpose as well.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Dan

  13. Saad says:

    All These Points Are indeed a must do and I try to track them as much as possible but i think one shouldent look at stats everyday rather weekly is better just to focus more on content rather then stats :)

    • Dan Norris says:

      Hey Saad, yeah you don’t want to lose your mind obsessing over stats. In my startup I’m working on building an app that will enable people to check stats every day in a matter of minutes. I think that is much better than doing nothing or skimming the surface on occasion. One of the problems with only checking things occasionally is you lose your reference. It’s ok to go in and see you’ve got 5,000 visitors but without context, that information doesn’t mean too much.

      Focusing on content is important but without looking at the stats it’s hard to know which content is having an impact with the audience and you run the risk of not using your time efficiently (in my opinion anyway).

  14. Danijela says:

    Hi Dan,
    thank you so much. This article is just amazing, especially this idea to use Google Alerts this way. I have to give it a try.

    • Dan Norris says:

      Hi Danijela, great thanks! I like getting alerts via RSS, unfortunately you can’t do it with Twilert yet but hopefully they introduce that as a feature. It means you don’t have to be to re-active, you can just go through them at your own time.

      Thanks for the comment.

  15. Sean Hull says:

    I like to sum all this into an INDEX for my business.

    Here’s what I do. I track these:
    o offline convert
    o newsletter subs gain
    o newsletter opens
    o newsletter clicks
    o twitter follower gain
    o twitter mentions
    o total website pageviews
    o disqus comments
    o feedburner

    My website is for selling professional services. So “offline converts” are when people call or email me. I weigh that number and newsletter gains x10 cause I think they’re extra important to business revenue.

    The result is what I call my iHeavy Social Index. One number that keeps growing every month!

    • Dan Norris says:

      Very nice Sean! I’ve thought about building some sort of one number into my app that captures a range of information – but there are a lot of challenges in doing that across a lot of very different users. Plus it means it’s something else for people to learn (like Klout score, or Mozrank, pageRank etc) unless you’re Google I think it’s kind of hard to invent something like this.

      Can you track offline converts down to the traffic source? My last business was an offline business (web design agency) but I never had call tracking. It would have been great to be able to track people’s calls all the way back to where they came from initially.

      Thanks for your comment.

  16. Shawn Lyles says:

    Great post, that I am going to bookmark this page. This is a great list to look over whenever I am creating a website and trying to get it ranked in Google. This goes over some of the major things that need to get implemented and done for a website to see results, with getting traffic to your website.

  17. Dan, this is one of the best posts I’ve seen for blog measurement. I’ve been having trouble figuring out what I need to do to evaluate my blog, and this post puts all the tools together succinctly. I will most definitely be using these tips. Thanks for sharing.
    I’ve read blog posts that say to pick just a few measurements to analyze your blog. Would you agree? If you had to pick only one measurement, what would be your top choice?

    • Dan Norris says:

      Awesome! Glad to help. Yeah I do agree it’s hard to get your head around all of these stats, this is what I am addressing in my startup. The time it takes to look at all of this stuff and understand each piece of software and how it reports and the inability to view it all on the one page to me is a big barrier to understanding where you are at (we’ll find out soon if other people agree!).

      Hmm if I had to pick one, perhaps just to understand if my posts were having an impact I’d probably pick social media. Unless you are ‘influencing’ the system in some way with tweet tribes or paid likes etc or you have a lot of friends that just retweet everything you put out, the social indicators are a hard reality check on how useful your content is. Your content might be great but still getting it shared on social media is very hard, particularly by influential people – it has to be truly exceptional. You might still get a lot of comments, you might get a lot of traffic from SEO, you might even be making money but your content may not necessarily be exceptional if people aren’t actively sharing it.

      Thanks for your comment.

  18. Fantastic information! I do disagree with you somewhat on Klout though. Even though I participate, I’m not so sure their metrics are really that accurate. Thanks for reminding me of google alerts. I need to turn that app on!

    • Dan Norris says:

      Hey Martha, thanks for commenting. Yeah a lot of people don’t like Klout – particularly the overall score (is that what you mean by not being accurate?). But the individual metrics I think are useful. Unless you wanted to log into G+, Twitter and Facebook and navigate around to find this info it’s useful to get it all in the one place on Klout.

      I actually think the overall score is fairly accurate and I still find it useful but I understand that others don’t. I think if it was a private measure people probably wouldn’t dislike it so much!

      Thanks again

  19. Cathy Miller says:

    What a great, concise list in one place, Dan. I hadn’t really thought about server downtime. Probably a good idea to check BEFORE I notice a problem. ;-)

    • Dan Norris says:

      Hi Cathy yeah unfortunately most hosts don’t actively look after this for you which is why services like Pingdom are great.

      Thanks for the comment.

  20. Carol Lynn says:

    Google alerts are a great idea. I usually check trackbacks but I bet it’s even better and easier to check alerts. Going to do that!!

    I also like to look at time on page. Sometimes people (me included!) find a promising post, scan it and tweet it out for our followers. So the social share counts are great because you can reach more people, but I also like to see that people are reading. So 8 seconds on a page is not my ideal stat :)

    • Dan Norris says:

      Hi Carol yeah there are certainly some more in depth Analytics stats to look at that can provide you some awesome information. Definitely looking at the time onsite for individual posts is a great idea. Overall time on site is worth looking at too. I like to use this when I’m split testing copy as well, check out how long people spent reading the page – it gives you an idea of what might be a compelling message.

  21. I love numbers and stats. And check all of mine far too often. What a great idea to have them all in one place. That way I can still do my OCD checking – just a heap quicker!!

  22. Vikas Dang says:

    Hey Dan! Thanks for some useful info.

    What are the most common myths out there when it comes to blogging?

    Will look forward to your insights on that.

    Appreciate it…Vikas

    • Dan Norris says:

      Might be another post in that! One it’s hard to get a guest post in a good blog. It’s not hard, if you have good examples of content on other sites (even just your own).