The Value of Blog Analytics in Planning the New Year
I’m a big believer in using blog analytics to see how well your blog’s ever-evolving content strategy is working and whether you need changes.
Bloggers can learn a lot from checking blog analytics regularly, but I think all too often, it’s the way bloggers view them that limits the value.
In my real job, I do a weekly report on the past 7 days in terms of page views, unique visitors, social media performance and top-performing stories. There are statistics I check on a daily basis to help spot-check how we’re doing throughout the week.
Obviously, I always hope that looking at the daily picture and making necessary adjustments will help make the weekly picture more attractive.
For this blog, I expand it even further out.
Using long-term stats to make longer-term change.
I check monthly and quarterly stats in the hopes of making more longterm refinements in the hopes of making the yearly stats more attractive.
For example, in the first quarter of 2016, 38% of the top 100 posts read on this blog were in the category of grammar. A likely reason for this is that people can Google specific words or phrases and find links to explanations of them here. Faith and Life categories were nearly tied for second place. Among the other categories, some of which were substantially underperforming, I made some adjustments in how the blog was organized and how subtopics were categorized. One of the things I hoped to see improve was better performance of the “Life” category.
So looking back on 2016 as a whole, and using Google Analytics to figure the top 500 posts read in 2016. (That includes, obviously, posts written over the lifetime of the blog, not just in the past 12 months.) As I expected, the Grammar category remained on top, with 31% of the posts most-read over the past year falling into that category.
The Life category, which includes topics like money, debt, government, holidays and other “daily living” subject matter, was a close second, with 26%. Posts that had fallen under the now-defunct “Saturday Coffee” category have been folded into the “Life” category, so this may have contributed to the stronger performance. But that’s still a goal I achieved after reviewing quarterly stats over time.
Faith was slightly behind at just below 20%. That’s still a good number of posts.
Overall, I’m satisfied with the numbers.
Using yearly stats to check annual growth
Another important thing I like to check for in Google Analytics is total page views and unique visitors for one year compared to the year before. That’s the best measure I can find in terms of growth of a blog.
I’d like to be able, of course, to use blog comments as a measure, but given that blog comments have been on the decline for years now, it’s not something that can be generally trusted.
In 2015, I had a 17.2% increase in page views over 2014 and a 26.5% increase in unique visitors.
Page views are the number of pages and other content (like slideshows, for example) that are viewed. Unique visitors are the number of people who have visited at least once during the timeframe. If you visit daily, you’re counted only once in “unique visitor” counts.
I certainly hoped to mirror if not improve upon the success I saw in 2015 compared with 2014. My analytics shows I did so! I had a 29% increase in page views and a 30% increase in unique visitors in 2016 compared with final counts in 2015. That means more people visited the blog and viewed more pages this past year than in years past.
The total numbers still don’t have me in any danger of being listed as a “Top 500 Blogger,” but still, there’s growth. Perseverance, determination and a bit of good old stubbornness can get results.
Another potential measure of success you can find in Google Analytics is in the area of social referrals. They represent people who visit your blog based on social media posts. I had a 29.4% increase in sessions in 2016 compared with 2015. But interestingly enough, Facebook remains my top referrer: approximately 61% of all visits to this blog from social media resulted from a Facebook post. In 2016, Reddit came in second place and Twitter (which was a solid second place in 2015) was in third place.
I realize some of you see huge social media referrals from sites like Pinterest. But that platform is barely a blip on my referral report. Since the most of my readers are using Facebook and Twitter, it’s blatantly clear that those are the platforms I need to maintain a strong presence.
And another goal I set was to reduce the bounce rate on my blog’s front page. Your bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who enter and leave your blog from the same page. If someone does a Google search for a topic you’ve written about in order to answer a question, they go to that post’s page of your website, read the information they were looking for then leave to go on to something else, that increases your bounce rate even though you’ve served the reader with exactly what they were looking for.
So Bounce Rate on a blog can be very misleading if you look at the overall picture.
For my case, I chose to look at the front page only. In 2015, the bounce rate for the homepage was 76.08%. That’s lower than the blog’s overall rate but still higher than I liked. So I tried a variety of layout options for the front page over the last year. At the end of 2016, the bounce rate was 45.10%, a huge improvement that shows people are looking at the home page then clicking something to go a page deeper.
Your blog analytics can help you define new goals.
What’s important to you for your blog? What do you want your visitors to do once they get there? What posts are you hoping will most resonate? Which social media platforms are giving you the biggest boost in readers?
Those are just a few of the questions your analytics can help you answer or strategize. You can then make changes to your blog over the course of 2017.
And hopefully, by the time 2018 rolls around, your blog analytics will give you good news!