Deceptive Blogging Stats

Dora the Explorer

Yeah, Great Stats!

Web advertisers measure their ad’s success by number of clicks — this is closely associated with sales. But unlike ads, just because someone is clicking on one of your blog posts, doesn’t mean they are “buying” your stuff — it doesn’t mean they are reading your posts (yet alone affected by your writing).

I love WordPress and can only write about the stats they offer bloggers, but I am sure some of the principles carry over to other blogging platforms.

Clicking on your WordPress control panel’s “Site Stats” will offer you three “Most Popular” stats and “Daily Visits” by which to try to figure out if people are reading your blog. All four sets of statistics are deceptive.  Don’t believe them. Below I tell you why:

(1) Most Popular Posts

If you look at my “Top Posts” since starting my blog in 2009 (>900 posts), the list reveals the vacuous nature of these stats. Below I list the top five visited posts and in brackets I tell you why they are probably “popular”. Note, none of them are popular because of what I wrote:

1) Fighting Dragons & Santa [for a great pic of Santa: 40,000 hits!]
2) Hindu Gods Iconography [for pics of Hindu gods]
3 Hinduism was my Undoing [great pic of Lord Ganesh]
4) Was Jesus a Coward [google search: Jesus & Coward]
5) Ambulance Snake: Bible Literacy [google search: Bible Literacy]

Heck, my “Buddhist Hemorrhoids” post is right up in my top twenty — what do you imagine brought “readers” there?

These “most popular” posts have very few comments and thus showing people aren’t there for content. Some statistical blogging software (not-free) shows how many minutes a person spends on a post, which would tell you something meaningful.

(2) Most Popular Search Terms:

Now look at your “Most Popular Search Terms” — the terms searched that brought people to your posts.

My top all-time high ones (in order) have been:
santa (26,000), ganesh (14,000), dora the explorer (10,000), buddha (10,000), hinduism (8,000), jesus (6,000), shiva (6,000), mushroom cloud (5,000), Wanderer above the sea of fog (5,000), reincarnation (5,000), celtic cross (5,000)

You get the point.

(3) Most Commented On:

Lastly, WordPress offers a way to see which of your posts have been most commented on.  And though more helpful then the two above, this is also deceptive.

My top four have been:
a. Is Evolution just a Theory
b. What is your Greek-Philosophy Type
c. Why Yahweh Kills Innocents
d. Redefining Atheism

So what is the problem with weighing these too heavily.

(a) Few actual commentors:  These numbers may just involve a back and forth between a few people arguing.  And they count the author as one of the commentors (which is often half of the comments).

(b) Unimportant posts: These posts may not be the ones you care about at all.

(4) Total Visits

Since the total number of visits to your blog are compromised of the problems I list above, these too are not very instructive.  I may seem like a hypocrit on this issue since I have many site trackers at the bottom of my right column, but I put these up early in the game. Now I just have them there for curiosity sake and to remind me of how easily we can be fool by superficial numbers.

Interestingly, WordPress offers a great graph showing daily visits in too bars: one showing the number of unique visitors, and one showing the amount of views.  This shows you if people are clicking through your blog, I think.  Any thoughts?


Understanding statistics is hard stuff — people are tricked by them easily. Mere numbers are deceptive. For instance: just because the majority of the world believes in Astrology, doesn’t make it either interesting, deserving of further attention or right. I would reconsider weighing the your WordPress stats carefully.  For just as we teach our children that being “popular” is a superficial judgement so are our common evaluations for the impact of our blogs.

Question to readers:  How do you think deeper and evaluate the quality of your blogging rather than looking just at the statistics I list above?



Filed under Blogging

16 responses to “Deceptive Blogging Stats

  1. I do a lot of blog reading with an RSS reader. And I don’t think WordPress is counting that.

    If the post is sufficiently interesting, I will open in my browser for more congenial reading. But if it is a “ho, hum” post, I’ll just browse through it in my RSS reader.

  2. To answer your specific question — I blog for myself. If other people read it, that’s great. But, if nobody reads it, I still benefit from the exercise of putting my ideas into writing.

  3. @ Neil: I absolutely agree on both accounts !! Thanx.

  4. chialphagirl

    I tend to go with number of likes and comments I get from people, but I don’t count number of comments for the same reason you listed above: back and forths (Not that Ark and silenceofmind don’t make for some interesting thread spats.) But ultimately I write for myself too. It is a place to be more honest than I can be in real life and to keep my thoughts organized.

  5. That Dora, always such a cheerleader:)

    I think you are right on about the stats being deceptive. Most of my traffic is a handful of the same readers. I blog as a hobby, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken if money could be made.

  6. @chialphagirl:
    LOL! (concerning “spats”). I tend to have TWO reasons I blog: for self and others. I do both. And those reasons evolved over time. See my post here if you like. I am very content posting for myself, but without any comments on some posts, I may not still be blogging.

    Concerning “Like” — I detest “like”. It is a cheap way for people to say “I was here — visit my blog too.” without reading at all. It is the “I like you — like me back” superficial facebook culture which I detest.

    Oooops, that may be a bit strong — or maybe not strong enough.

    “Like” is all a part of the culture of me-me-me, no substance, all show. Well, that is my humble opinion. I experimented with “Like” on my poetry blog and saw it as very empty.

    So tell me why you like it? Without comments, how can you tell if they read, if they think, if they do anything but pass by and say “HEY , I was here.”

  7. I love my Stats, they are a source of great amusement. For example one day I had “1 Visitor” from the United States. And Australia.

    I have the “allow Search engines” turned off. I know searches sometimes still find my site but my Search result section is always blank. I don’t mean to sound snotty but I prefer to keep my blog low-key and focus on quality of visitors, rather than quantity.

    I do have a reason to hope for more, since I’m spreading a science and ecosystem message. However I go by the principle of (sorry to use this depressing example) disease models. Some illnesses, if you look at them spread through networks, and quite alarmingly.

    I think science has shown that environmental messages spread through peer pressure, so I only need a few good “leaders” to read my blog so they’re empowered to spread a quality message shou,d they choose.

  8. @ Alice,
    Money would be nice for all the time we spend on this. Blogging is financial a silly hobby for most of us. Of course, we could be boating or horse ridding — now those are expensive! Sure, money does not come in, but if we are blogging, we ain’t spending either! Whheeeeeww, hopefully that redeems our “choice”.

    You are such a radical. I never thought of turning of “allow Search engines”. I wonder how many folks who found any value in the site found it using Search Engines — probably a small number — but, I can take the stat noise for the benefit of them. But I can see how your option is a very good one.
    And your viral method is a fun analogy.

  9. I blog with the *search engine* turned off, though it only takes one person to link to me via their own blog post to have it show up in search engine results and that has happened. Still though, the engines don’t seem to be crawling when it comes to individual posts. I rarely have any spam.

    I prefer the *like* option because I often don’t have the energy, physically or cognitively to respond/comment or discuss. I don’t aimlessly *like* a post. A *like* from me is not careless or meaningless. As well, I have in my sidebar a widget that allows my few readers to see what I am reading and what I liked on WordPress. It’s my way of promoting blog posts from your blog that I think are worthy of being read.

    I am disappointed though that for some reason WordPress does not list all the posts that I have *liked* in my widget.

  10. Hey Zoe,
    Interesting! Thanx
    I rarely have spam that is not filtered for me. So turning off “search engine” doesn’t seem to change that much. But I do have TONS of spam that the filter catches — you don’t. But since it is caught, I don’t mind.

    Hmmm, well, maybe this sort of blog is different that Poetry blog and I should consider turning “Like” back on. The problem is — I don’t need to know if it is liked, and I don’t want the ease of the “Like” button to stop a potential commentor, even if only one out of twenty. But you said the Like button promotes the post ? How does it do that for WordPress? I never understood that. I think the WordPress and FaceBook “Like” are different.

  11. I’m not sure what you mean by “promote.” For me, it is a way of displaying recent posting from other blogs that I like and I think may of be of interest to my very small following of bloggers/readers.

    If you go to my blog, scroll down while viewing the sidebar. You’ll come to a Heading titled: Posts I Like On WordPress. (Dashboard -> Appearance -> Widgets)

    You’ll see a list of posts that I have recently *liked* including this one.

    Thought you don’t have a *like* option check marked, I can still *like* your posts because I *follow* your blog and can *like* it in my WordPress Reader. This allows it to be displayed showing others what I have been reading and what I like. In that way, I have promoted &/or brought attention to what I’m reading and what you are writing.

    I can’t comment re: Facebook. Have never used it.

  12. @ Zoe & Chial,
    You convinced me to try to like for a while — thanx. We’ll see how it goes.

  13. TWF

    I’m with Zoe and Chialphagirl on the like thing. I’d have to agree with you Sabio, that there certainly are some shallow uses of it, but it is a better alternative than just posting a comment that effectively says “Me too!” in agreement.

    As for the stats, yeah, it’s a mixed bag. My post about vampires in the Bible, one of the least important, is one of the most popular on my Bible blog. It kind of makes me ill. I haven’t found a deeper way to look at it, but I do enjoy the stats that show someone looking deeper into the blog, with multiple page visits across the span of 10+ minutes. Those are winners.

  14. @TWF,
    Does Blogger allow that sort of stats: Minutes of viewing?

  15. Note: Hey guys, I turned on my “Like” option for WordPress and already, I see icons of those who “liked” my post that are merely self-advertising to Money-making blogs, Real Estate and much more. “Like” buttons are gateways to spam. I am turning them off. I am glad if they work for you though.

  16. TWF

    Sabio, unfortunately those stats are not native to Blogger. I use SiteMeter, which has that level of detail. You can get entry page, exit page, out clicks, minutes viewed (only measurable by internal clicks or clicks on links to the outside), and some more stuff. And, if you want to pay a premium, you can get the whole path that they traveled, provided they allowed scripting, of course.

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