Blog and Web Statistics

What is the point of monitoring web and blog statistics? I don’t just mean visitor numbers, but all the extra information one can obtain nowadays about where visitors came from, which page they landed on, which page they left from, what they did while on site, etc, etc. When I have my web developer hat on, I dutifully look at site statistics provided by Google and others because clients often obsess about them. It is a good way of establishing what does or does not ‘work’ on a specific site, especially if a client is adamant that something should be done this way and no other. (Fellow web developers will groan in sympathy if I add that the less  people understand statistics and rankings, the more they fret about them!)

Rarely do I check the site statistics for iBenedictines or our community web sites (e.g. www.benedictinenuns.org.uk) because I don’t see the point. We do the best we can to produce sites that reflect our purpose in being online, which is not the same as that of a commercial enterprise.  Some of the features most important to users (e.g. our email prayerline) are never going to attract much attention except when needed, so I wouldn’t know how to use their particular stats to improve visibility, usability and so on in any meaningful way. Much more important, from our point of view, is the testing process and feedback we get from individuals. That is what most radically affects what we do and how.

So, what are we to make of blog lists and rankings complied by eBuzzing and the like (a question prompted by @redjules’ compilation of stats for women bloggers: see http://bit.ly/OJHl6M )? Personally, I’d say don’t take them seriously. There are many excellent bloggers and writers on  the web who will never come very high on search engine lists or attain any degree of ‘influence’ on Klout. Most ranking bodies are a little coy about the algorithms they apply, so I question whether trying  to ‘improve’ results, especially if one is creating sites from a Christian perspective and with a Christian end in view, is ever worthwhile. Of course it is legitimate to try to raise awareness of a site and encourage people to visit it, but there is always a temptation to concentrate on the score card at the expense of the game itself. Chasing higher rankings sometimes leads people to lose sight of why they began writing or blogging in the first place and can result in self-absorbed and indeed fundamentally selfish behaviour online (e.g. commenting solely in order to get a link back to one’s own blog/site). Ultimately what matters is that the writer writes something worth reading; and that the reader is challenged, consoled or led to engage, as the case may be.

Whether you are challenged, consoled or just enraged by what I’ve written above, I do hope you’ll now engage.

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12 thoughts on “Blog and Web Statistics”

  1. I’m challenged and consoled, but not enraged. Your post is helping me to re-consider the purpose of my blog. I’m thinking that a key purpose of a blog like yours is to encourage people to engage with God – and I think it does.

  2. Once upon a time I was stat obssessed. I would study the analytics obssessively and there is no doubt that I measured my ‘success’ on visitor numbers.

    This led me completely off the path and I started deliberately blogging using those ‘key words’ and controversies that I knew would drive traffic to my blog.

    And I was ‘successful’ in this. I had large visitor numbers and a huge commenting community. I did not moderate the comments so as not to lose the commenters; however, in the end, most comments were in antipathy of my faith, and my blog was not a safe environment for my own community, who voted with their feet and stopped commenting.

    In doing so I not only erred, but betrayed myself on more than one occassion. During this phase I started to tailor my blogging with the audience in mind, rather than staying true to myself, my faith, my journey, my heart, my God and the Christian community.

    As a result, in the end, I lost the joy and purpose of blogging and wanted to quit.

    And so – eventually – I stripped out the more sophisticated analytics software, weaned myself off the stats cold turkey style, and began to blog those things that I simply found interesting and important to me.

    I started moderating comments.

    In doing so most of the commenters left in disgust.

    As a result, the simple joy of blogging has returned. I blog on issues that are imortant to me. I no longer try to ‘project and image’, I call it as I see it, and aim to please no particular person or reader.

    The few commenters I have a absolutely lovely, they feel safe, and I have built up realtionships with them. They travel with me our the journey.

    I’m now happy to get it wrong.

    The issues that are at my heart such as the interplay between mental illness and faith are never going to big ‘hitters’, but that doesn’t matter to me any more.

    I love blogging once again.

    ps I’m so sorry this comment is so long, I hope you don’t mind, it’s an issue that has been very hard learned by me 🙂

  3. I agree with what you say, Nancy – I’m challenged too! (and I hope there’s consolation in there). It’s a very fine line… I love to share what is life-giving for me in the real hope that it might be life-giving for others, AMDG, and that’s why I blog, but of course there is a shadow side. Oh, and if anyone would like to drop by my blog you’d be very welcome..? Aaargh, here I go…

    Thank you as always, Digitalnun.

  4. Ebuzzing is particularly detrimental to good, spirit-led blogging. Or really interesting writing. It focuses on links. If you chase this, you land up writing what will be linked to, writing controversial posts or about controversies which do not really engage your heart.

    It’s far better to follow your bliss and your interests and write about what interests you.

    However, I blog as opposed to journaling to be read. So I do monitor my stats daily (on Google Analytics). If the readers are growing weekly, as they usually are, I guess what I say is striking a chord. And it is alive, for all things alive grow, for a significant part of their life cycle.

    For me, that fact that is read justifies the use of time. For there is no point blogging if you are not read. It might be better to turn your energy to some more useful form of work or writing.

  5. This reminds me of my working life. After a big event at the museum, the organisers would be looking over visitor numbers, takings, margins etc. For those of us able to take a wider view, we worked on the understanding that we would never know the outcome of our work. An encounter with one visitor might change a life or bring an amazing legacy.
    Our concern was a surprisingly Benedictine one; that of offering hospitality to guests.

  6. I agree with pretty much everything that has been said here. I am not particularly competitive by nature, despite the best efforts of the various schools I went to. But competition is something that does persist, as any one involved with a village flower show can tell you – or as is so vividly depicted in the pages of E F Benson’s ‘Mapp and Lucia’!

    I do compete against myself, that is I try to improve the quality of what I do, and yes, attract increasing numbers of people to my site. I also agree with Anita that there is no point in blogging if you are not read. Imagine a latter-day Mrs Moore going into cyber-space instead of the Marabar caves and, no matter what she wrote on her blog, got only the answering echo ‘Boom’!

    Also, as I have the temerity to call my website ‘Lay Anglicana’ and aim it at the whole of Anglican laity worldwide, it would be discouraging if the readership was not gradually rising, which it is, albeit extremely gradually.

    I too rely on Google Analytics to give me a hint where my weaknesses lie, and also Empire Avenue, which measures your attention to social media as well as enabling you to forge friendships in a more extensive way than would be possible just through Facebook and Twitter.

  7. For a different approach to blogging, it is instructive to look at the written evidence provided by Adam Wagner of No1 Crown Office Row (1CoR) to the Leveson Inquiry. This amounts to a (legal) guide to good blogging practice and was instructive when Frank Cranmer and I were setting up our Law and Religion UK blog.

    Leveson LJ is interested in the ethics of blogging, comments and complaints policies, and whether regulation was appropriate. Wagner’s evidence suggests that the reasons why human rights and other areas of law are often misreported include: sloppy journalism; no links to primary sources; lack of dedicated legal correspondents in the media; merging factual with opinion-reporting; and wilful/reckless misrepresentation.

    An important principle that 1CoR identifies, and we subscribe to, is that information is drawn from primary sources, and where possible all references are hyperlinked to the original source. However, the term ‘blog’ is extremely wide and this may not be appropriate in many cases.

    To put Blog and Web Statistics into perspective it is worthwhile considering the comment:
    ‘The number of websites calling themselves blogs is phenomenal. There are now over 70M sites registered on WordPress alone, accounting for 800M page views each week. This is a significant proportion of the total number of internet sites worldwide.

    • the reasons why human rights and other areas of law are often misreported include: sloppy journalism; no links to primary sources; lack of dedicated legal correspondents in the media; merging factual with opinion-reporting; and wilful/reckless misrepresentation.

      I think you could put more or less anything in the place of “human rights and other areas of law” in there (adjusting the rest of the sentence as necessary), and it would be true!

  8. Thank you for your comments. I love the way people take up different ideas and play around with them. I’m especially grateful to Stuart for charting his ‘change of heart’ about blogging and statistics, but one of the things that makes his blog so well worth reading is its honesty and lack of self-congratulation.

    I think the eBuzzing algorithms are a bit more complex than just links, Anita. When Lesley entered this blog as part of her effort to get more notice for women bloggers, I did some checking. iBenedictines appears on very few blogrolls and I don’t often comment on other people’s blogs, so there are actually very few links: I think eBuzzing may be using part of the Google algorithm, which is rather more sophisticated. That raises a few questions about privacy and data security, doesn’t it? But I may be wrong!

    I have to say that it doesn’t matter to me how many people read this blog; it is how it is read that counts. If it has helped even one person come a little closer to God, it has achieved its purpose as a small Benedictine enterprise which, as those familiar with the Rule will know, begins with earnest prayer by the whole community, not just the individual. Perhaps we need a new category. I don’t know whether a Plog would have quite the same resonances, but it might be worth trying. 🙂

  9. Thank you berenike, I agree that this can apply to almost any area. One has just to look at the various web sites that now exist with the sole purpose of debunking misrepresentation by the media – the EU has a site specific to addressing ‘EU Myths’ in the national press; the Health and Safety Executive had its ‘Myth of the Month’; and the column I write on environmental issues frequently raises issues of this nature.
    Blogging is an area that is not subject to regulation, yet, and as such has greater potential for unfounded statements to be published. This raises two issues: by what standards does a blogger regulate the content of his/her post; and how can their readers assess the veracity of their statements?

  10. Thanks for the mention. It’s an interesting one because as Anita points out if you are not being read, whats the point anyway… But there is the danger to get a bit obsessed and often visitor numbers don’t make a difference to ones ratings anyway!
    I do think its important to know why one is blogging and not obsess about numbers, because then you start to write what you think people want to read and not what you want to write.
    Would like to see more women blogging though, hence my list!!
    blessings
    redx

  11. I’ve read all this with interest, as recently I’ve been wondering why I blog! It is so easy to lose one’s way.
    My blog is hardly read at all, and at first I was anxious to increase my readership. However it is important to “go back to first principles” (a phrase I encountered time and time again in maths lessons and lecures!) on a regular basis, to remember why you started in the first place, and whether you are still travelling in the same direction.
    My blog is a way of keeping in touch with friends and family, not from the point of sharing personal news, but keeping a gently conversational link with them.
    It’s not a “private” blog, and I know a number of people that I have never met have found me. In the same way, I have found ibenedictines, and other blogs, and enjoy the sense of community from sharing with them.
    So thank you all, for reminding me that in my case the stats and readership are really of no importance. (It doesn’t stop me from checking them out every time I log in – hey, I’m just human!)

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