How To Measure Success of a Blog (120 Days in Numbers)

[There is a updated version of this post, please check out:
          Tips For Measuring Success Of Your Blog (365 Days In Numbers).]

point 20right small3Due to the sheer diversity of blogs and relative youth of the medium there is a lack of standardized approaches towards measuring success of blogs. We have standard web analytics packages we use, we have technorati and alexa to give us rankings and we have our feed stats.

But this does not make things easier, for example how do you relate the web analytics data with the feed data (after our friendly debates over what analytics stats mean)?

This post attempts to provide one point of view on how you can measure success of your blog using a trinity mindset. If I miss anything I have come to realize you are all very adept at using the comment feature below! : )

(Analysis Tip: Never start your analysis of what is possible with what you have. Always start your analysis with “critical few” / “existential”questions. Two benefits: 1] You’ll actually report/analyze what is important 2] You will look good.)

We start with the “critical few” questions about what constitutes success. IMHO this simple list would apply to most blogs:

  1. So what have you actually contributed?
  2. Is anyone consuming your blog’s “great” : ) content?
  3. Are they engaging in the conversation?
  4. Are you making a dent in the world? (Are you standing out amongst the 70 million blogs on earth on this day?) (Are you contributing to world peace?)
  5. What’s in it for you? (Are you making money? Are you making friends? Enemies? Are you getting Job Inquiries / Letters from your fans? Has someone proposed marriage? : ))
  6. What are your “cost” metrics? (Is the cost, inputs, worth the answer to #5?)

It is quite possible that some of your six questions for blog success could be different , but it is important that like the Trinity they cover Experience, Behavior & Outcomes and like any website they cover Cost and Benefit.

I am going to use the actual data of this blog to illustrate how you can answer these questions for your blog and measure success.

# 1 So what have you actually contributed?

From my wordpress GeneralStats plugin…..

blog general stats 1202

The contribution of this blog is roughly 1,400 words in each post over the last four months. The contribution of course is ideas and tips and controversial statements and things that might make you think. I hope.

So is this good? The plan at the start was to post roughly twice per week. But I am surprised at how long each post is (you are the judge if that is a reflection of quality, long posts could just be a manifestation of my inability to be succinct).

# 2 Is anyone consuming your blog’s “great” : ) content?

(Analysis Tip: When reporting numbers sometimes it is beneficial to filter out “uncontrolled” / “non-repeatable” factors.  Outliers if you will. The reason is that you don’t want to set expectations you can’t meet and because you want to show a real trend sans those non-repeatable factors.

In my case one of the blog posts got “digg’ed” in August. Completely unintended and something that won’t be repeated, I think, so all numbers from being digged have been excluded. If they had been included Total Visitors and Readership would increase by roughly twenty thousand.)

Content consumption is simply how many people (Total Visitors or Unique Visitors or anything else you like) are visiting the blog (no reflection on quality yet, more on that below). The challenge on a blog is that the content is on the website and also available via RSS. So how do you know true content consumption?

My proposal is to compute a metric called Blog Readership (and its “web analytics” equivalent Blog Unique Readership). It is derived from two different sources, the web analytics tool and the RSS tool, (and one leap of faith).

or readership 21202

  1. Get Total Visitors (or Visits or Visitors) from your Web Analytics tool.
  2. Get the Average Daily Feed Subscribers for each month. (I use FeedBurner for RSS stats).
  3. Get your Monthly Feed “Subscribers” number (sum of each day’s subscribers from FeedBurner).
  4. To get a best estimate your Feed’s “Unique” Subscribers multiply your feed subscriber number by 4. (Sort of inspired by Greg Linden’s reference. Update: Please see Greg's comment below and also my reply for more context.)
  5. Now your Monthly Blog Readership = Total Visitors + Feed “Visitors”
  6. And your, again best estimate, Monthly Blog Unique Readership =  Unique Visitors + Feed “Unique” Subscribers.

Abracadabra you have a classic Web 1.0 metric to measure the world of Web 2.0. : )

As all practitioners of Web Analytics know we have to make the best of the data we have access to and to paint a complete picture the best we can. I believe that above is a good first pass, if you have a moment I would love to get your feedback on the computation of this metric. Please poke holes in the logic (and bonus points on why some cells are blank).

So is this good? Regardless of the number above, any column or row, this far exceeds any estimation I might have had for the number of people (or “visitors” or “cookies” or “visits” : ) who would read the blog. But since I did not have a goal for this metric I don’t know if I can declare success. I also have no idea what other blog readership is so I can’t benchmark. I would declare this one neutral.

This does highlight an important part of declaring success: Have goals (they can be aggressive, conservative, anything but something you can hang your hat on.).

# 3 Are they engaging in the conversation?

Blogs by their inherent nature are social and one core reason for being is to engage in a conversation. This could take many forms but one of the simplest forms is readers having a conversation with you via comments on your blog or via posts on their blogs etc.

blog general stats small 120The GeneralStats plugin shows roughly 9 comments per blog post with each comment containing 100 words (manually eliminating comments contributed by me).

So is this good? My goal when I started the blog was to get three comments per blog post so a small amount of success on this metric (so far). I am amazed and humbled by how much you have added to the blog, almost as much content as I have via your comments.

(You all get credit for this, thank you very much for engaging in a conversation.)

# 4 Are you making a dent in the world? (Are you standing out amongst the 70 million blogs on earth on this day?) (Are you contributing to world peace?)

Since it would be unwise to simply declare anything based just on our own data,  think of this as external validation of your blog’s “accomplishments”. 

My suggestion is to tap into two resources. Technorati since it “specializes” in blog ranking and Alexa (even with all its issues) since it uses “traffic” to creating website ranking. Between the two you have yourselves a trend (remember even with quirks in the methodologies the trend can be very meaningful).

or technorati alexa 120

So is this good? Luckily for this I had a goal as well, to be under technorati 10k by end of year 2006. So this one is good. For Alexa I had no goal but it is a great metric to check on the competition. Alexa has issues but hopefully they afflict you and your competition the same way.

As to world peace, I would like to think the blog is making some contribution! : )

# 5 What’s in it for you? (Are you making money? Are you making friends? Enemies? Are you getting Job Inquiries / Letters from your fans? Has someone proposed marriage? : ))

I have a habit of saying at every speaking engagement that every site owner should answer the question: Why does your website exist? In 20 words or less. The reason this question is so important is because it will dictate the answer to the core Outcomes question.

For your blog Outcomes will be leads, positive word of mouth, cost savings in PR expenses, new customers, more revenue, publicity in newspapers etc etc.

or blog worth 120 smallBut much to the chagrin of my wife Jennie, and a few others, my answer to the why question for the blog is: I really don’t know! :) This is something I just wanted to do and now I am doing it. A recent post by Seth Godin represents my motivation for blogging very well, the post is here.

The number on the right, even if not really worth anything, is nice in terms of tracking. But by any other measure I am quite a bit richer. I have made many new friends (and those who know me in real life know that I need friends : ) and I have felt the affection from all the readers in the responses to Damini’s post. I have received some presentations to give feedback on and I have received two technical support calls on my work phone number (!!).

So is this good? I think it is all good and I would certainly declare this particular blog measure a success from my perspective, even if I can’t qualify anything and it is all a qualitative read.

# 6 What are your “cost” metrics? (Is the cost, inputs, worth the answer to #5?)

The finance MBA in me would never let you get away without stressing the value of cost-benefit analysis. : ) In #5 you figure out what your benefits (outcomes) were from your blog. Don’t forget to measure the cost.

Costs could be 1) software and hardware 2) salaries / cost of contributors [or time you put in] 3) opportunity cost [what you give up so that you could do this].

For this blog:

  • Cost for blog hosting and serving is $9.95 per month.
  • No cost of salaries etc, simply time investment. 15 hours per week (more according to those close to me : ). [If a Software Engineer, and I am not one, makes $75 per hour then this time investment is $58,500 per year, you can compute a number like this for your blog.]
  • Opportunity cost is harder (since I am not a business that could invest the resources elsewhere). But roughly it is
    • All the TV missed (no Jon Stewart or Iron Chef post blogging)
    • Time I take away from
      • work (none) 
      • kids (used to be some but now none)
      • wife (still a bunch, thanks Jennie)
      • good night’s sleep (still not enough)

 So is this good? Again the lack of goals makes it harder to judge success. In any scenario I underestimate the cost it would take but given the benefits I would say that the costs are worth it (again a qualitative read).

For your business it would be optimal to create a framework for cost upfront and then post launch do the cost benefit analysis (especially in context of opportunity cost: click here).

Bottom-line: Plan to contribute something of value that will set you apart from your competition, have goals before you start, measure if anyone is consuming your content and having a conversation with you, how are you doing in terms of external benchmarks (and no they are not out to get you) and finally don’t forget periodic (based on your business) cost benefit analysis.

So what do you think about all this? Do you think this six question framework will allow to judge success of any blog from a holistic perspective? Do you have alternative suggestions? Please share your critique and comments via the form below. Thanks.

[Like this post? For more posts like this please click here.]

Comments

  1. 1
    Steve says:

    # 5 What’s in it for you?

    Ah! An easy one. :-)
    Just For Fun.

    It's amazing what people can be motivated to do for the sheer pleasure of doing X. Whatever their form of X may be.

    One person's job is another's hobby.

    - Steve
    Who counts for about 12-16 of those visitors, based on number of PC's and subscribe feeds configured. :-)

  2. 2
    Ramnath says:

    Hi,

    I found this great article at technorati. And after going through this article I have started to rethink. I do try to contribute in someway or the other in my 'tiny' weblog and I dont think its the right time for me to measure the success. This article is worth sharing! Thanks.

  3. 3
    Berny says:

    hi!

    great article. – i think, it's very easy to spend too much time on a weblog. but it's your decision to decide on what to spend your free time. if you prefer for instance diving or snow boarding, you spend 'real money' on your equipment. for me it's important to know, that those few people i met on travelling or friends i 'left at home' are able to read about things happening and looking at photos or watching movies.

    and for the mba in you: if you speak about opportunity costs. – you are absolutely right. – i always miss beautiful days (and sunsets as well) working on my web2.0 appearance, but it looks like sometimes geek stuff is much more worthy… ;)

    if it's not a money-related-goal you're tending to reach with your weblog, it doesn't matter how many people you inspire, the quality counts…

    berny

    ps.: thanks for using my stats-plugin.

  4. 4
    Peter Cohen says:

    Probably one of your best posts Avinash. In the blogosphere amidst all the free for all there is a need for some kind of guidance and structure to measure success. People and companies seem to get into blogging simply because it seems cool or becuase someone else is doing it.

    The six recommendations give a place to start, recommendation #2 is quite beneficial. It can help us start having a overall view.

  5. 5
    Ian Thomas says:

    Great post, Avinash. It's good to be reminded that there's more to the success of a blog (or indeed any online endeavor) than just the raw visitor/traffic numbers.

    Ian

  6. 6
    Greg Linden says:

    Hi, Avinash. The "x4 Bloglines subscribers" rule of thumb I mentioned in my post is just a wild guess at the actual number of subscribers based on the feed reader market share of Bloglines, which is about 25%.

    If all subscribers to your feed use FeedBurner, you should have a fairly accurate count on number of unique subscribers. No x4 should be necessary.

  7. 7

    Greg: In computing Blog Unique Readership the attempt was to calculate, as best as we can, an equivalent metric to “Unique Visitors” from the web 1.0 web analytics world. Thank you for pointing out the correction for the “leap of faith” in my computation. (Oh and you are right about bloglines times four is very close to total readers, it is for this blog.)

    But we would still need to have some kind of computation for computing Blog Unique Readership because feedburner does not calculate true “subscribers”. A magazine can give a straight answer to the question: how many people have subscribed to Fortune magazine. Not so with feedburner.

    Feedburner measures (source):

    FeedBurner’s subscriber count is based on an approximation of how many times your feed has been requested in a 24-hour period. Subscribers is inferred from an analysis of the many different feed readers and aggregators that retrieve this feed daily. Subscribers is not computed for browsers and bots that access your feed.

    Subscribers is calculated by matching IP address and feed reader combinations, and then using our detailed understanding of the multitude of readers and aggregators and bots on the market to make additional inferences.

    Net net: It is number of feed requests approximated. Hence for this blog on the weekend my subscriber number is 324 and yesterday it was 442.

    Therefore there are more people out there who are subscribed to my, and your, blog but not everyone reads the feed every day the real number of “unique readers” (akin to fortune magazine subscribers) is not available.

    So the number of people subscribed to our blogs is probably greater than what feedburner is saying, but is it x 4? Now I think perhaps not, but it is not x 1 either I suspect. As I mention in the post, as long as we look at the trend the multiplier will not have too much of a adverse impact on your analysis.

    I am also positive that soon feed providers will partner with RSS software providers to better track real number of subscribers.

    Thanks so much for the clarification and feedback. I appreciate that very much.

  8. 8
    markbnj says:

    Thanks for the 6 questions.

    I think I agree with one of your first respondants that the reason is because it is fun.

    But readership is another question. And not as easy for the average blogger, as for a professional like you.

    Most amateurs (like me) actually need more help in figuring out how to make our readership grow.

    thanks again/
    Markbnj (markbnj.blogspot.com)

  9. 9

    Markbnj: The post is very much about how to measure success of your blog, regardless of size. I am sure your "amateur" blog has certain goals for you (a subset of the six questions might apply to you). In that case you can measure it and see if you are making progress against your goal (be it growing readership, bringing about world peace, or making money).

    This blog is very much a amateur blog. :) But in response to your request I'll have a post on Monday on what IMHO can be done to increase blog readership.

    Let me know what you think of it next week. Thanks.

  10. 10
    Sulakshana Gopal says:

    Tangential thought — Ideally, in today's Internet era, shouldn't this apply to all online entities as an extention of numeric data/bottomline? HCI finally points to humans and the virtual ecosystem just as is offline, no?

  11. 11
    Truman Booth says:

    What web analytics tool do you use?

  12. 12

    Truman: I use ClickTracks as the single source for all analytics on this blog. I also use StatCounter for more of the real time stuff (not that it is that important).

    As you'll see if you do a View Source on this page I also use Google Analytics, CrazyEgg and am trying out IceRocket. All of those are just to play with.

    In my professional life I use almost all the tools that are out there.

    Hope this helps.

    -Avinash.

  13. 13
    C. vd Berge says:

    It's good to measure the amount of conversation using the Conversational Index, but also the type of conversation using the Dialogue Index. More on this in this article:
    Measuring the type and level of conversations of blogs

  14. 14
    rony john says:

    hey avinash…

    i thnk you now have 624 suscribers to your Blog…..graet blog have to admit…

  15. 15
    Liara Covert says:

    This article and the postings are full of helpful hints. Thanks! Measuring success of a blog can clearly be done several ways. We can get ratings from blogtoplist and list feeds. I have used a number of different trackers for traffic, but I haven't yet done as comprehensive an analysis as you. I began my blog in January 2007 and I envisage it will continue to grow. Also, counters and sites like http://www.swicki.com hypothesize a net worth of my blog based on searches in its engine. I like the technorati statistical counter and will find a way to add that to my site. I think the definitive answer to your sense of web success lies within you. After all, if you seek to accomplish something, only you know what that is and whether you do it.

  16. 16
    Bhupendra says:

    Great write up Avinash. I was thinking in this line last week and trying to form the guidelines for the success for my blog. You have not only helped me but solved my problem.

    Well, what I have seen by my personal study is to get the matrices like blog readership high month after month, you will need to write more frequently than earlier. The unique visitors or total visitors too. So, I think average number of readers (unique or total) per post will be a good measure too. Simply dividing the monthly count by the number of posts posted (adjusted for few parameters – like exclusion of last 2 days post).

    One personal question for you, I don't see any ad in your site. How do you get revenue from the blog?(Google pays you as per the metrices you have shown below or ….).

  17. 17
    gotanidea says:

    Very informative article. Truly helpful indeed.

  18. 18
    Liara Covert says:

    Another thing worth noting alongside all these great ideas is that as you visit blogs, you can discover additional ways to measure success.

  19. 19
    Naren says:

    Cool write-up. I was searching in Google for success of a blog, e.g. when can one say that his blogging endevour is successful. Came across your post. Cool analysis. Thanks.

  20. 20
    Tom Moertel says:

    Interestingly enough, the equation (total readership) = 4 * (reported feed subscribers) seems to be holding up. I recently analyzed my blog's statistics using linear regression to model readers on feed subscriptions and image downloads and came to the same result. (The 95% confidence interval for the subscriber-to-reader multiplier was 4 +/- 1.3.)

    That other people are arriving at similar results suggests that the ratio of subscribers to actual readers may be fairly stable, both over time and over blog genres. That's interesting.

    As a side note, as Greg Linden wrote, FeedBurner claims to adjust their reported numbers to predict actual readership. Thus applying the 4X factor to FeedBurner stats may overestimate readership (perhaps by the full 4 times). I'm not sure what models they are using, but (as my analysis shows), you can get pretty good readership inferences from feed subscriptions alone, once you combine that data with a few tidbits of additional information. Thus I suspect that FeedBurner's reported statistics are reasonable.

    Cheers! –Tom

  21. 21

    Tom : Great points. This is a "old" post, there is a updated post that you should check out:

    Tips For Measuring Success Of Your Blog (365 Days In Numbers)

    I have learned more as this journey has continued and the post above outlines my latest thinking, including key learnings about feedburner.

    -Avinash.

  22. 22
    Nancy Hoe says:

    Thanks. Great post. I'm a bit new in this blogging thing and am still learning.

    Nancy
    http://www.visualizeforsuccess.com

  23. 23
    tdaonp says:

    Success with your blog is all very nice but there are other reasons to blog. Today I posted a declaration of independence of sorts: http://www.onepostperday.com/?p=219

  24. 24
    Robert M. says:

    Thanks very informative. If you have a sec, do you mind throwing me a tip on how i can make my blog a bit more exciting for people? How to bring them to comment and subscribe?

    http://thatsgottabefair.blogspot.com

  25. 25

    Robert : What can I tell a young millionaire? I should come to you and request tips and guidance from you!! :)

    This post might be of value to you:

    I think you'll find the tips to be interesting. In your case, as a new blogger, I would point out # 4 and #1.

    I hope it helps.

    Good luck!

    -Avinash.

  26. 26
    Nicola says:

    Thanks for the post – very interesting.

  27. 27
    Nyomi says:

    Sounds like a very useful framework for blog success.

  28. 28
    Jack Zufelt says:

    Great post. I'm looking to start off with three comments per blog post, hoping to build my way up.

  29. 29
    Christian Fredebeul says:

    Hey Folks, I was looking for success blog and no wonder Google led me to this Blog and I am happy with this, eventhough I was looking for something different, I found very useful tips and interesting stuff. Thank you and keep up the good work. And, btw, all the best for 2011 to all readers and Avinash, of course.

  30. 30
    Mark says:

    Thank You! This is reaally useful and practical!!

  31. 31
    Jessica says:

    Great post, I use a have been using a method like this to measure how successful a blog is.

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