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.
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?