When I set up my first Web site in 1995, Web counters were the big thing. Virtually every site had one of those (rather pointless) rolling counters at the bottom that tracked how many “hits” the page got. We were, at that point, obsessed with the idea that our pages were being read and could care less by who. The whole idea of international publishing was still new and exciting.
Later counters became more evolved, the term “hits” became meaningless and we focused on “visitors” or “users”. A variety of new trackers, most with their own buttons, began to pop up. Those slowly replaced the hit counter as the new metric to watch.
However, as the millennium rolled over and the first tech bubble burst, we saw even more advanced metrics rise out of the ashes. Attention became the most valuable thing to track, especially in an AJAX Web where page views and visitors would be almost meaningless. It was no longer a matter of just how many people visited, but how long they stayed and what they did.
Now we’ve moved forward again, this time it’s “engagement that we’re looking at. Services such as PostRank allow you to track comments, tweets and links to your site as part of your “Engagement Score”, combining that info with your other, more traditional data.
But with so many metrics to track. There’s a legitimate question about what stats are the most important for a blogger to track. The answer is simple: All of them and none of them.
Why We Track
Analytics are a fact of blogging (and general Webmaster) for a simple reason. Without it, we’d have no idea what is going on when we get done with our post.
Your site is not a physical place, when people “visit” it they don’t walk in and out of a room where you can see them. Without some analytics, either on server or off, you would have no idea who, if anyone, read your work. You also would not be able to know what was working and what wasn’t.
Sure, comments and emails might provide some clue, but even on blogs with high engagement, the vast majority do not leave any contact. Tracking our sites is important, but the obsession over these metrics might be unhealthy. They are a means to an end, not a value of a site’s worth or importance.
In fact, there are many stats you’re likely better off just ignoring, no matter how much they are thrown into your face.
What We Should Track
There’s no one-size fits all solution for determining how successful a Web site is. The creator has to decide this for themselves.
First, one has to take a look at what the goal of the site is. Is the intention to get a lot of people to read something? Is it to influence a certain group of people? Is it to start up a dialog on a topic? Is it to make money off of ads? Or is it to sell a service?
Once you decide what the goal of your site is, it is easy to figure out what metric is the easiest to track and, surprisingly, it may not be a Web metric at all.
If your main goal is to make money off of ads, your most important metric is the one in your Adsense (or similar ad program), the dollar amount made. If you’re trying to get a large number of people to read your site, visitor count is the most important metric. Trying to sell a service, the number of clients you have and how much they pay is the most important statistic.
Once you know what your goal is, it is easy to find out what you need to track. However, this does not mean you can ignore other statistics. For example, if ad revenue is low, is it because you don’t have enough visitors? Because they “bounce” from the site? Or is it because they just don’t click ads (low CTR)?
You may have one critical statistic to follow, but you have to keep an eye on those that are related to it to see why that metric is where it is. In this regard, you’re working backwards from the crucial number to the others.
Once you can do that, you see that every metric, from PageRank to “hits”, from “engagement” to visitors, are just a part of the larger picture. However, you have to decide what to focus on, what leads up to it and, from there, what you can ignore.
It is not important that you have tons of visitors to your site. Your blog can be influential and important, especially within your niche, even with a modest number of visitors. In fact, there are many goals that your site can achieve where visitor count is only moderately important at all.
It is more urgent to think about what your site is trying to accomplish and then follow the metrics directly related to that goal. Though you still need a complete picture to understand what is going right or wrong with your site so you can make adjustments to improve those metrics, but you should not be fooled into thinking that your visitor count or your engagement is the most important thing in determining the value of your blog, especially if that is not what you are trying to achieve.
Focus on your goals and focus on the metrics that can help you achieve them and, no matter what, don’t get involved in, “My site is more popular than…” games. They’re meaningless on many levels and will only serve to discourage you, even if you are meeting your expectations.