[There is a updated version of this post, please check out:
Tips For Measuring Success Of Your Blog (365 Days In Numbers).]
Due 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:
- So what have you actually contributed?
- Is anyone consuming your blog’s “great” : ) content?
- Are they engaging in the conversation?
- 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?)
- 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? : ))
- 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…..
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).
- Get Total Visitors (or Visits or Visitors) from your Web Analytics tool.
- Get the Average Daily Feed Subscribers for each month. (I use FeedBurner for RSS stats).
- Get your Monthly Feed “Subscribers” number (sum of each day’s subscribers from FeedBurner).
- 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.)
- Now your Monthly Blog Readership = Total Visitors + Feed “Visitors”
- 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.
The 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).
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.
But 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.
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