When running a blog, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge success. Of course, the enjoyment a writer gets out a blog is one indication, and the financial gain is another. These two things are easy to determine and require no special software or prior knowledge. In the world of the internet though, sometimes these two aren’t enough. Advertisers want to know specific traffic details – hits, referrals, and page rank quickly become commonplace in measuring success. These details are not always readily available. Even if the information is available, it can often be quite confusing figuring out what the stats mean.
Some Common Stats Software
There are some sets of software that are more commonly found then others. First, blog software may have statistic information built directly in. Often times, these statistics are sparse or inaccurate. Still, a basic idea of how well a blog is doing could be obtained from this. More specialized packages do exist and are sometimes needed. What package is right depends largely on the needs of a blog.
One of the most popular statistics packages, AWstats http://awstats.sourceforge.net, is free and easy use and to interpret the stats. It comes pre-installed on a large percentage of hosting packages. It can also be installed fairly easily on a machine, but physical or shell access is needed, and some prior experience or knowledge with system administration is probably necessary. It’s best to contact a host to inquire about the availability of AWstats (or another similar stats package) before attempting to install.
Another option is Google Analytics www.google.com/analytics/indexu.html. Google Analytics is a stats service offered by Google for free. It differs from AWstats in the fact that it doesn’t require any installation or system administration experience. One simply signs up for the service and adds a snippet of code provided by Google. This code, when executed, sends data back to Google for analysis. Once some stats have been collected, all that needs to be done is to login to the Google account and look at the stats and charts. Like Google, many other web sites offer free stats information for blogs or web sites.
Finally, there are commercial packages available for purchase if the free ones aren’t adequate. One such package is Mint www.haveamint.com. Like Google Analytics, it does not require system administration experience. It does require familiarity with installing web scripts (creating an SQL database, uploading files etc.). A license is only valid for one site, so special attention must be given to ensure that the software package meets the requirements of the blogger. Usually a free solution works for most, but professional bloggers may want to look into a commercial product like Mint to meet their needs.
Analyzing the Stats
Even the most basic of stats programs typically keep track of critical traffic information. One of the most important is ‘unique hits’. Every time a user visits a blog, a unique hit is recorded. However, only one unique hit can be recorded per user. These are usually reset monthly. For example, Bob visits a blog in April and twice in May. One unique hit is recorded for both April and May. The unique hit is usually kept track of through IP addresses, making the statistic prone to error. If a user visits from two different physical locations, such as a coffee shop and their home, two unique hits may be recorded. If in that same coffee shop, 50 individuals visit a blog, only 1 unique hit may be recorded. While not 100% accurate, unique hits are a critical measure of success.
From month to month, unique hits should be increasing, or at least remain relatively stable. Some fluctuation is to be expected, but a steady decline in unique hits would indicate less and less people are visiting a blog per month. When this happens, it’s usually time to re-evaluate content, or perhaps spend some money in advertising to boost readership.
A second critical statistic is referrers. Most software will keep track of where a user clicked on a link and arrived at a blog. This allows a blog owner to figure out where their traffic is coming from, and to take appropriate action. If a majority of traffic is coming from one place, advertising on other sites may be needed to ensure a blog is not dependent on just one site. A blog owner could also concentrate on the top referrers to make the blog’s link more prominent on that site to further increase traffic.
Another form of referrer (and usually the biggest) are search engines. When a user types a keyword into a search engine that matches a blog, that blog is listed as a result. Unfortunately, if a blog is quite small and not well known, it may be listed on the 21st page, providing little benefit. Optimizing blogs for search engines is quite a contentious issue, and there are countless books and web sites available for Search Engine Optimization, or SEO and the formulas used to determine a page’s rank are quite complex. One way to gauge how popular a blog is though is Google’s Pagerank. There are many tools out there available to check a site’s pagerank. This number ranges from 1-10, with higher being better. This gives a basic idea of how Google values the importance of a link. The easiest way to increase this value is to have more sites linking to a blog. The higher importance search engines put on a blog, the more people will be referred to a blog via the search engine. Most stats software will also list the top keywords that users are entering to find the blog. A blog owner can get a general idea of what users are searching for when they come to the site.
Finally, some stats software will actually keep track of how long visitors remain at a blog. Here, the greater amount of time, the better. A small amount of time would indicate readers simply open the web site and move on instead of spending any degree of time reading the content. A visitor is of little value if they don’t read any of the content and simply move on.
While evaluating the success of a blog is quite difficult, utilizing some of these statistical tools, and making sense of the stats that the statistical software provides can go a long way in ensuring a blog’s success, both in the short term, and in long term growth.
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