Traffic and usage statistics are important for a few reasons. They help you learn how popular your blog is, compared to others in your niche. Detailed statistics show you where on your site users are visiting and what they’re doing while they visit. It allows you to compare how many users stick around versus how many bounce. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of tools of varying utility available, and it’s hard to know what you should be using. What do the pros use and what should you be doing?
The first and best tip you can get is to check your usage and traffic statistics only sparingly. Some specific data is best checked each day, but in general, your traffic numbers aren’t going to change much from hour to hour and day to day. It’s easy to publish a piece of content and start refreshing the traffic statistics to see how it fares. This wastes your time, which could be better spent doing something productive. It also might not even work; many tools don’t update every few minutes, so you’re left looking at the same information, even if the real information has changed. So take this to heart; you don’t need to check your traffic every few hours, it’s not that important.
Use Powerful Tools
There are, again, dozens of tools to choose from when you’re measuring traffic and usage statistics. Many of them will draw from the same sources, with varying degrees of accuracy. The tools recommended below are just that; recommendations. Feel free to experiment with other tools and find one that provides the information you want in a way you can use. Take caution, however; don’t be afraid of a tool because it seems complex and difficult to use. Most of these tools are documented extensively online. If they have a lot of information to present, it may be difficult to interpret. These tools tend to be exceptionally powerful and useful once you know how to use them, however. If you shy away because of their complexity, you’ll miss out on their power.
- • Tool: Any platform-specific measuring abilities. Platforms such as Blogger and WordPress have their own built-in traffic measuring abilities. These are great for showing the most basic statistics; traffic per post over time. You’ll likely be able to differentiate between pageviews – the number of times each page has been loaded – and unique visitors, or the number of actual people reading your content. You’ll also be able to see a referral page, which is the page the user was on before they visited your site. If they clicked a link to view your content, this shows you where that link was posted. The only drawback to these measuring tools is how basic they are; there’s no information here that isn’t measured by the more robust tools, in addition to other metrics.
- • Tool: Alexa. Alexa.com is a site designed for measuring popularity. This tool is worth mentioning for one reason; it’s mostly useless. People talk about Alexa rank as though it has some meaning, but it really doesn’t. It’s essentially a popularity listing of sites around the world, and if your site is in the top 100,000, it may even record some traffic data. If your blog isn’t on that level, however, you won’t get much from the tool.
- • Tool: Google Analytics. You knew it had to be here somewhere. Google Analytics is the largest, most valuable tool available for most everyone. Add it to your existing Gmail account – or AdSense, Google Reader, or any other Google property – and you’re ready to go. You create a profile for your site and Google generates a snippet of code for you to add to that site. This gives Google access to your traffic to record statistics. Within a day, your traffic will be monitored, cataloged and ready for viewing. Google Analytics is intimidating, in that it has a huge number of measurements and metrics, from traffic and usage to browser and screen resolution. You can even geographically locate most of your users, or at least the location they claim to be from. The drawback is simple; it’s a hugely complex piece of analytics power, and it can be difficult to know where to begin using the information it provides.
- • Tool: Sitemeter/Statcounter. These tools are free to use and operate the same way as Google Analytics. You register an account, you put a snippet of tracking code on your site and you pull in usage statistics. It’s simple and effective, if you don’t need a solution quite as robust as Google’s. The one drawback is exactly that simplicity. The sites also don’t store historical usage data beyond a certain time, where Google Analytics stores historical data more or less permanently.
- • Tool: Technorati. This site tracks some popularity statistics for your site and gives you a good link profile, so you can identify how you’re doing in terms of authority links and ranking.
How to Use your Tools
Putting your tools to use is trickier than just installing them. Particularly with Google Analytics, you’re presented with a huge amount of raw data and a wide array of options for generating reports. How do you correlate the data? What’s important and what’s not?
The first step is to identify some data you never need to care about, beyond as simply interesting facts. You very rarely need to know the operating system of your users. OS, screen resolution and other such metrics will help you with site design, and they can indicate whether a significant portion of your traffic is mobile, but as ongoing measurements it’s not all that worthwhile.
Some data is much more important. IP address, for example, lets you identify a geographic range for your users. If you’re working on geotargeting your content, this metric helps you know if you’re succeeding.
An audience overview can be very helpful. You can learn how many visitors you have, now many pages they see when they visit and how long they spend on your site. A good audience traffic profile can show you how your user engagement is working. Better engagement leads to longer visits and more pages visited.
A link profile is also valuable. You can view all incoming links, so you know what pages are referring users to your content. Some links may be spam; you can contact webmasters to have those links removed, or use the Google Disavow Links tool to have any potential negative link equity removed. This also helps identify how many people find your site through links vs. how many find it through search engines.
Another potentially important bit of data is the landing and exit pages for individual users. With these pages recorded, you can see what pages your users typically find first when they visit your site. You can also see what pages they visit when they leave. This tells you that the exit pages are either filled with the content users like, so that they leave once they found what they wanted, or that those pages are pushing users away. There are a number of ways to interpret the path users take through your site. If they visit a number of pages, are they exploring your site and reading quality content, or are they digging for content they can’t find?
When you use a powerful tool such as Google Analytics, you have more options for recording data and more options for presenting that data in an actionable way. The trick is learning how to use the platform in a way that suits your needs.