Wednesday, September 28

Blogging by the Numbers

Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted.
- Albert Einstein

One of the projects in the revitalization of Learning Circuits Blog has been the establishment of a data set for capture and resulting metrics. I thought it might be of interest to share our work in this area.

The purpose for creating a trackable set of data and corresponding metrics is simply so that we will have an idea as to whether or not we are succeeding at this blogging venture. Simple purpose however, does not necessarily lead to simple implementation. Two factors contributed to this being a rather extensive task. 1) We had no data collection practice in place and 2) Blogger, for all it’s great features, just doesn’t collect data for their free users.

A couple free stat counters (thanks SiteMeter and Bravenet) and several tracking spreadsheets that border on frightening later, we have a solid set of raw data. The data fall into two categories – "Activity" which I use to refer to the posting and comments by the Blog Squad and guest and "Traffic" which refers to the comings and goings of all of you good folks. The raw data we are capturing include:


ACTIVITYTRAFFIC
  • Posts
  • Author
  • Date posted
  • Comments
  • Comment Author
  • Date Commented
  • Days with no Activity
  • Unique Visits
  • Page Views
  • First time visitors
  • Returning Visitors
  • Referring Page
  • Entry Page
  • Exit Page
From these raw data we can build metrics to determine in what direction, if any at all, LCB is moving and why. There are all the ratio metrics (i.e., posts per day, comments per post, zero activity days per month, etc.) and comparison metrics (i.e., August was twice as active as July, or Clark leads all Blog Squad members in postings).

Some metrics which seem to be emerging as meaningful as everything settles in are:
  1. Total Activity - Posts and Comments are weighted equally. It seems a better representation of the work that is being done by the Blog Squad.
  2. Unique Visitors vs. Returning Visitors - This metric seems to indicate that we are drawing people in, but not doing enough to have them return in a timely fashion.
  3. Total Activity vs. Page Views - this has been the real surprise thus far. The ratio of page views per post or comment seems to have settled in at just aound 24-26 pages. Including in August when Activity tripled and page view followed suit. It's too early to know if this consistency is a coincidence or whether it will turn out to be a dynamic predictive metric.
I have a couple of questions I'd love to get some response from the LCB community on regarding metrics:
  1. Are there metrics you see as key when looking at a blog?
  2. Do you know of any benchmarking sources for blog metrics?
  3. Do you track metrics for your blog? If so, care to swap info with LCB?

11 comments:

Dave Ferguson said...

I think the 24:1 pageview:post ratio is curious (in the sense of intriguing)... seems to whisper "static," but maybe not.

Off the top of my head, and not being much of a reader of blogs, I would wonder whether a Pareto chart of comments would reveal anything that your own notions might not -- e.g., do the same X individuals make up 80% of the comments? (No agenda here, just speculating.)

Another tack: does someone continue to comment over time? I'm wondering about that as a sign of ongoing value of the blog to that person.

You'd have to relate that to the rate of initial posts over the same time period -- if the blog has slowed down, it seems likely so would the comments. On the other hand, if the blog has 3 initial posts per day, but only two comments in two weeks, maybe that's saying something too.

Or not...

Bill Bruck said...

Going back to the basics, in order to assess whether we are succeeding at this venture we need to start by asking what are our goals. The metrics you have started to collect tend to make some implicit assumptions about the goals - that more views are better; that participation is measured by quantity (more is better), etc.

One of my goals in blogging, as with my goals in participating in online communities, is to have interesting conversations with interesting people. Another is that I stay abreast of new trends, and learn new things. Another is that I network and build professional relationships.

It's interesting that if my blog used the metrics you're starting to collect, I would not be able to assess how I was doing with any of my goals.

So I guess the contribution I'd like to make to this post is - what are your/our goals in creating and maintaining this blog?

Bill Bruck, Ph.D.
Q2Learning Learning Support Platform

Dave Lee said...

Dave, I agree with you on the 24:1, I doubt it will stand the test of time (in fact a quick look at September's numbers turns the whispers to shouts).

Good thought on the comments. I can easily run the data, but anecdotally in shorter periods of time, say one or two months, it looks like Pareto holds. But over time, the people who form the 80% drop off the radar for a while. The ongoing value to the blog of a consistent commenter over time is very high. I think any voice that is consistent, no matter it's source, is a powerful force in the cacaphony of news, opinions, and ideas that is the blogosphere.

I'll be posting a list of our lead commenters along with some other key and/or interesting beginning with September numbers after I close the door on the month and crush the data.

Thanks for your ideas.

Dave Lee said...

Now dang it Bill, nobody was supposed to notice that lack of goals bit of the equation! I'll admit that the re-generation effort with LCB hasn't quite been textbook. But then again, how many textbooks are there on blogging? (I know a few already.)

In the spring the Blog Squad did a bit of work around fleshing out a set of preliminary Mission, Vision and Values statements. I'll post these later this morning. They are intended for pubic viewing and comment, so let me get to that today.

As to goals, our main goal has been to get some organization, direction and momentum going before worrying about setting measureable performance goals. I personally set some quantifiable goals for myself and the Blog Squad (I think they'll collectively strangle me if I mention "1 post per month" too many more times!). Some of them I we've acheived and some, honestly, there's work to be done yet.

I agree, that "succeeding at this venture" is more than just numbers. But for now the knowledge that I can point to accurate numbers for visitors, comments, and page views is pretty darn comforting.

When we get around to setting goals for LCB I'll be counting on you to be there to help us set them and meet them.

Thanks for the call out, Bill!

Alan said...

FWIW, the stats you get from Blogger, even using the add-on tools described, are pretty meager as they are more or less page hits. Blogger is a great service for getting started in blogging, but if you are serious and want serious numbers, you ought to be looking at a blog platform that tracks more data.

It's just one of many, but WordPress and its associated plugins, can track all kinds of things... I just shared a bit on "Lies, Damn Lies, and Blog Statistics"

I am rather wary of putting a lot of

Alan said...

Trailing thought-- my own weakly analyzed data, and my gut level experience on my own blogs, is that a significant factor in generating inbound blog traffic, is getting mentions, links to a blog from many outside sources, especially ones that have a good audience reach.

You can use tools like Feedster, Technorati to find who's linking to you externaly, e.g. Feedster links for LCB or Technorati links for LCB

And you get this amount of activity by spending time visiting other blogs, posting comments, sharing links back to your own site (but please, make them relevant, do not post elsewhere just for a "link boost").

A lot of people miss the boat as bloggers because they solely focus on their own blog publishing... blogging is a social enterprise, and it means you increase the value by participating in other people's blogspaces, otherwise, you end up with a cass of FoDS (Field of Dreams Syndrome)

Dave Lee said...

Alan: you are exactly right about Blogger's stats. I've been using SiteMeter and Bravenet's counters for a good chunk of my data on LCB. Technorati and Feedster are top flight and I really am intrigued with LinkRanks which you mention in your posting for today.

Oh and I forgot. I unfortunately also do alot of pointing with my finger and counting or depend upon Excel to do the equivalent for me. I don't know of any service that will tell me if Jay Cross made a comment on David Grebow's post on March 16th.

Eva Kaplan-Leiserson said...

Hi all,

I use StatCounter for the T+D Blog (http://tdblog.typepad.com) and am very happy with it. It's completely free and gives you a good range of statistics. Give it a look at statcounter.com.

Eva Kaplan-Leiserson
Associate Editor
T+D magazine and Learning Circuits
ASTD

Stephanie said...

Dave,

Quick question in response to your latest blog post-- how does the number tracking take into account RSS feeds?

I, for one, am a dedicated LCB reader. However, I rarely, if ever visit the site to read the posts because they filter in through my Google Deskbar and Mozilla Thunderbird RSS feeders.

As these tools become widely utilized, I wouldn't be surprised if your actual number of visits declines -- but the number of dedicated readers rises.

Just a thought for your consideration.

Dave Lee said...

Very good question Stephanie. I'm not sure, but I'm going do some nosing around to see what I can find out. Anyone out there in the LCB community have answer for Stephanie?

It's my recollection that bloggers, at least originally, supported the idea of RSS because more people would potentially be exposed to your site.

On one hand, I'd like to believe that a balance would be struck so that those who create content could receive some benefit from their work (monetizing it or just 15 minutes of fame). But on the other had, RSS is already proving to be a disruptive technology and it wouldn't be the first time that an internet technology ate its own.

Who knows, maybe the next Google service will be selling me my stats!

(I'll let you know if I find out anything in my nosing around.)

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