What Site Metrics Can Tell You About Your Blog - and How They'll Make It Better
Blogging is more than just writing posts. It's also learning how your site works on a fundamental level -- its reach and popularity -- as well as how it performs. This is true whether your self-host your blog or use free software such as Blogger or Wordpress. Statistics help unlock how visitors use and engage with your blog. Armed with this traffic knowledge, you can then figure out how to make your blog an even better experience for your readers.
Here are the site metric programs that I use on a daily basis to measure, track and hone my blog into the most robust website it can be.
Image: Blue Foundation Media via Flickr
How Popular is My Blog?
Interested in how your blog is performing compared to other websites globally? For that, you'll want to turn to Alexa. Alexa measures the popularity of your website compared to all other sites on the internet, assigning it both a Global Rank and Traffic Rank within a given country. With a free account, you can discover more detailed metrics about visits and visitors to your site, including demographics.
Visitor Behavior, Popular Content and Keywords: Power Stats
If you're ready to start rolling up your sleeves to really dig deep into visitor behavior, services like Jetpack for WordPress and Google Analytics will really take you down the site metric rabbit hole.
If you have a WordPress.com blog, Jetpack is already built into the functionality of your dashboard. Self-hosted WordPress users can download Jetpack as a plugin. Their site metrics can tell you everything from how many visits your blog has received to top posts and content, to your top referring sites sending traffic to your blog.
Google Analytics is basically the same as Jetpack, but isn't proprietary to WordPress and offers much more in-depth statistical analysis, from real-time reporting (who's visiting your website right now) to visitor flow (how visitors move from one page to the next on your blog) to even key data points to maximize monetization. While you can copy and paste your unique tracking code into the theme of your website, basic stats are provided for all Blogger blogs and there's a standalone Google Analytics plugin for WordPress users.
The Need for Speed
Do you know the fastest thing that will turn away readers from your blog? A blog that takes too long to load. You have some idea of how fast your blog loads on your own home devices, but that might not be the same experience that other visitors may have on their devices. And since website loading times are often measured in milliseconds, loading your page and trying to time it yourself isn't exactly realistic. That's where tools like Google PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom and YSlow come in.
Google PageSpeed Insights (part of the Google Developers toolkit) is simple to use. Simply head to the PageSpeed Insights website and plug in your blog's URL. The site quickly analyzes your blog's response time and provides you with a quick numerical assessment of its performance out of 100 possible points; higher scores indicate a fast, optimized blog. PageSpeed Insights even gives you a snapshot of how mobile versions of your blog perform, along with detailed recommendations for how to improve things that may be slowing down your site.
Pingdom basically does the same thing as PageSpeed Insights, but presents your performance data into a more visual presentation. You can get your performance date the same way, too: head to the Pingdom website, enter in your blog URL and go. YSlow is a developer tool from Yahoo! that also measures page speed and offers performance recommendations. What makes YSlow different is that it can integrate into your web browser so you can do a one-click spot check of your site performance at any time. YSlow also provides you with a letter grade rating your blog's speed and performance.
When a Blog Post Goes Viral
I discovered my favorite new site metric tool in the wake of a blog post I wrote for Disney Baby that was popular during National Infertility Awareness Week. Disney Baby aggregates social media metrics like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ via their social sharing buttons on each post. After 1,000 Facebook likes, you stop seeing specific numbers until it increases to the next thousand.
Meet Like Explorer, your new viral blog post's best friend. Head to Like Explorer and plug in the exact URL of the post you wish to track. Like Explorer instantly spits out how many Facebook likes, tweets, Google +1s, StumbleUpons, Pins and LinkedIn shares your post has received. It's a really great way to track the short-term popularity of a post that's gone viral. Like Explorer also helps you keep that virality going by giving you options to share your Like Explorer results on a variety of social media platforms.
"Good" vs. "Bad" Traffic and How to Protect Your Blog
I recently had the good fortune of having my self-hosted website being bombarded by spambots and malware threats from several foreign countries. Do you detect a touch of sarcasm there? You'd be right: all the extra traffic made my blog slow to a crawl and inaccessible for several days. I began using CloudFlare, a content delivery network (CDN) to help me not only with my site speed, but to identify and protect myself from all this bad traffic. Offering paid Pro and Enterprise plans, their Free plan is all I need.
In a nutshell, CloudFlare acts as a toll booth, sending your website traffic through their servers. Suspicious traffic such as spam, malware, or over-enthusiastic web crawlers - "bad" traffic - are sent on their way as they put unnecessary burdens on your web hosts and slow down your site. "Good" traffic - your loyal readers and newcomers to your site - is waived ahead.
Besides the incredible speed I now get with CloudFlare, I also appreciate that I can see exactly from where threats from bad traffic originate, and I can block them entirely from CloudFlare’s site itself. Unfortunately, a lot of this bad traffic to my site comes from China and Ukraine, so I block all IP addresses from both countries from accessing my website. While I hate to cut off an entire country from visiting my site, I'm realistic: I don't write my blog for a Chinese or Ukrainian audience.
CloudFlare also gives you completely unfiltered website traffic data whereas Google Analytics and Jetpack filter don't. CloudFlare explains thusly:
Whether you're a complete noob or a total nerd for site metrics, it's worth taking the time to learn a little bit about how your site performs, from who's visiting your site to how fast it loads to how viral your content has become. From all these numbers and statistical reports you can really start to identify what exactly it is about your blog that keeps your readers reading and coming back for more - and then following up with editorial decisions to enhance their experience.
You don't have to blog just for the metrics, because let's face it: the only person really looking at all those numbers is you. But understanding and utilizing site metrics makes you a more empowered blogger by understanding exactly what makes your unique content sizzle for your readers and helps you hone your blogging passion.
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