Generally speaking, bloggers view analytics as a very good thing. There’s hardly a blog that isn’t running some kind of stats program whether it’s Google Analytics, WordPress.com stats or one of the countless other systems.
Analytics provide information that can be very valuable to a blogger. A good analytics system will give you stats that can tell you how many people are visiting your site, where they are coming from and what they do while they are there. This is practical information that can help direct on-the-ground action to improve a blog.
But many bloggers take analytics too far and become obsessed over them. Though we know that lack of blog growth is one of the key reasons for blog abandonment, it doesn’t always have to be, many bloggers make the mistake of treating the improving site statistics as the end goal for the blog, defeating the purpose of having analytics in the first place, which is to help you get the information you need to reach your goal.
This is how analytics, if used improperly, can actually do more harm to your blog than good and why you need to be careful not to take them too seriously.
The problem with analytics is not the data that is provided, but how it is used and interpreted. These services provide a lot of data in an easy-to-read format that can look extremely definitive but, like all technology, are just tools that need human understanding to apply them correctly. They should never be taken at face value.
When people put too much faith in their analytics they begin to make two critical mistakes. First, they target all of their actions around making the numbers go up day over day and week over week, which is a big part of how many bloggers fall into the Flamebait pitfall. The second problem is that they get discouraged if the numbers aren’t going up, even if the site is meeting all of their stated goals.
The first blunder is the worst as it causes bloggers, and other webmasters, to make decisions about their site based solely on getting the numbers up, not what is best for the readers of the site. They write content aimed at attracting new readers rather than helping existing ones, break it up across multiple pages (to get pageviews up) and generally focus their efforts on increasing traffic, not making the site useful or filling its role.
But where analytics worship can lead to a blogger turning their site into a soulless shell of what it once was, it can also turn them away from their site if the numbers don’t keep going up. A blogger who is otherwise successful can become discouraged and quit their site simply because traffic is flat or declining.
In short, focusing too heavily on analytics will very likely either make your site significantly worse or discourage you until you quit. Even if your site is experiencing good growth right now, it probably won’t have a steady rise week over week, month over month, forever, making this a pitfall that often ensnares experienced bloggers when they hit a plateau, even if it is just a temporary one.
How to Avoid It
It is important to remember that analytics are just a tool to meet your goal and not a goal unto themselves. Pretty much no blogging goal can be met by simply increasing traffic.
Even if your goal is to make money through advertising, 10,000 visitors who don’t click your ads are worth less than 1,000 who do. In short, you need to think about what you’re actually doing with your site and understand how the information analytics services provided can help you meet it.
But even when using analytics to provide good information, there are three things you need to remember when looking at the numbers.
- They Are Not 100% Accurate: Even the best analytics systems don’t capture everyone and there is a great deal of disagreement on what the terms actually mean, such as “visit” and “view”. This is why there’s always disagreement between different tracking systems.
- They Are Most Useful For Trends: The benefit of analytics comes over time. Day-to-day fluctuations are normal so don’t worry if today is less than yesterday or this week less than last. Look at trends over the long haul.
- They Can’t Tell You Who is Visiting: Analytics can’t tell you who is visiting unless you know and tell it. One corporate CEO or rabid fan of your site could be worth a 100 regular visitors. Analytics can offer clues, but can’t say definitively who is visiting, you have to figure that out yourself.
What all of this means is that there is very little reason to check you stats every day. Though I keep a casual eye on my pageviews every day, it’s mostly to see if the day is higher than normal, indicating some social media attention. I only delve deep into my Google Analytics account once every other week or so and only do serious number crunching every month or two.
I know my stats go up and down, usually seasonally, and though I do look for year-to-year growth I know that there are many variables that can affect those numbers, such as a few Digg effects sending tons of casual traffic one month. Instead, I track more closely my actual goals, which include queries for consulting services, comments to my site and, most importantly, people I’m able to help.
That, more than anything, has helped me keep sane and focused as traffic has waxed and waned over the years.
If your site is meeting your goals and improving in the regards you deem important, then you shouldn’t worry about what your traffic stats are doing. If you are making money, meeting people, getting the word out or changing minds, the fact your traffic is flat or even declining shouldn’t be very important.
Yes, traffic plays a role in meeting most goals but it is just one component in a very complex puzzle.
Rather than tossing your original goals aside for the sake of improving your numbers, its best to refocus on what it is you want your site to do. That will help you make the best site possible and, if you combine it with good promotion, should keep the numbers going in the right direction, even if they aren’t exactly breaking records.