One of the most common questions we’re asked by new bloggers (after, how do I make my fortune blogging) is how do I know who’s visiting my blog.
I’ve put together some tips based on services that I have used to measure stats, which I hope will be helpful to new parent bloggers!
Before you implement any of these ideas though, stop and think about why you want to know this information. Most parent bloggers blog for fun, so it probably isn’t VITAL that you know anything about your visitors – and if you’re the sort of person who stresses about whether you’re better or worse this week compared to last, then looking at blog stats is a short-cut to madness.
That said, looking at blog stats once or twice a month can be very helpful if you want to grow your blog’s audience. Knowing who visits, when they visit and how they find you is useful stuff – it means you can start to do more of the things that attract relevant traffic to your site, and less of the other stuff.
Level 1: Basic Stats Reporting
First, you might considering using your blog’s own stats. If you blog using Typepad, WordPress or Blogger then you’ll have some very rough and ready stats visible on your blogging account – though you’ll need to add a plug-in for this on a WordPress blog.
These tools will usually show you page views – literally how many times the pages of your blog have been ‘served’ or looked at, over a given period. It may also show you ‘users’ or ‘unique visits’. The difference between these two figures is pretty simple: If Bob looks at your post, that’s considered to be one “page view”. If he then clicks to see another post on the site, that’s another “page view”. But since both those page views came from Bob, he’s still considered to be one “unique user”.
Blog stats may also show you a ‘referral page’. This is the website Bob was on before he landed on your blog. The referring page might be a Google query, or it might be another blog that has a link to yours. If the referral page is blank, it means Bob typed in your blog address and came directly to your site.
Level 2: ‘Traffic Measuring’ websites
Once you’ve looked at your own stats, the next logical step is to wonder about someone else’s traffic and how it compares to yours (it can’t be just me that does this).
You might hear PR people talking about a site called Alexa, which gives you a rough reckoning of daily visits to a website. Alexa works by encouraging Internet users to install a bit of software on their web browser, that tracks what they look at. It will then measure all the sites its users look at, and reports on their traffic, and relative popularity.
If you’re wondering how accurate Alexa is, then the question to ask yourself is: how many people do you know who use the Alexa toolbar? Probably zero, I bet. Alexa itself says its measurements aren’t accurate unless your blog ranks in the top 100,000 in the world, so I wouldn’t rely on it for more than comparative data – where it is a little more reliable.
Often you’ll find other sites that say they measure traffic to blogs – almost without exception, they’re pulling data from Alexa.
Level 3: Google Analytics
A far better alternative to Alexa is a Google Analytics account. You can add Analytics to your existing Google account if you’re already using Google Reader or Gmail – otherwise it only takes a few minutes to get an account, and it’s free.
Analytics lets you create ‘profiles’ for individual websites and blogs. Google will then generate a small piece of code that you need to copy and paste into your blog.
Top tip: put the code in the bottom right hand corner of your blog or website so it loads last – Analytics can be annoyingly slow, and if you put it at the top of your sidebar, it stops everything else from loading.
Once the code is installed, it takes a few hours for Google to start capturing data, but once it’s up and running it will capture everything from page views to referring sites, search keywords, visitors’ browser capabilities and shoe size (not really).
The nice thing about Analytics is it’s very comprehensive and data is kept indefinitely. But the likelihood is that there’s more information than you need here – it can be very confusing until you get used to it.
Level 4: Basic third-party measuring sites
If you find Analytics a bit much, there are alternatives like Sitemeter and Statcounter, that are available in free versions, and will capture information on referring sites, page views, unique visits, visitor location etc.
They are easy to use, and easy to understand, and I recommend them for bloggers who want to know their stats, without getting too technical. With Sitemeter you can install a widget without needing to mess around with code, which takes two minutes.
You then have the option of either having traffic stats emailed to you, or visiting the website to see more detailed analytics. With both sites you get an overview page showing you weekly and monthly page views and unique users, as well as how long visitors spend on the site.
As a handy bonus, these services allow you to identify visitors by their unique IP address which, in the event of anything unpleasant happens, means you can pass that information to the police, who will be able to track down the exact computer a visitor was using.
One thing to bear in mind is that the free version of both these programs will only store a relatively small number of records – a couple of hundred at most, so you may only see a day or two’s worth of traffic data at a time.
Level 5: Host Stats
All of these packages are great – but if your blog is self-hosted on WordPress, then you probably already have access to the best possible stats package – the figures from your host.
Most hosting providers will offer some sort of blog stats reporting package which will be based on exactly the number of requests made to the server your blog is sitting on. They’ll tend to be higher than other stats, too, because they don’t remove visits from bots (which Google does).
Don’t forget RSS:
Most stats packages will count people visiting your site – either by looking at the server your site is on, or by putting something onto your blog and counting how many times it’s looked at.
That’s great but do bear in mind that as many as half of your readers might not visit your blog – but instead read your posts through a third-party RSS reading application, like Google Reader. The bad news is that it’s almost impossible to accurately know how many people are reading an RSS feed from your blog – but there are ways to estimate.
First, go to Google Reader, click ‘add a subscription’ and type in your own blog name. Click on your blog title to open it in Reader, and then click the ‘details’ link in the top right corner of the screen. This will tell you how many people subscribe to your blog using Google Reader – which accounts for around a third of all RSS readers, according to the experts.
If you want a more detailed count, you can use another Google service called Feedburner. This takes your existing RSS feed and turns it into a Feedburner feed – and once you use this, you can log in and see how many subscribers there are day to day. A note of caution, though – Feedburner stats can go up and down like a see-saw, and these days I hesitate to use the word ‘accurate’ and ‘feedburner’ in the same post, much less the same sentence.
This blog tip came from Sally at Who’s the Mummy