[There is a updated version of this post, please check it out: Blog Metrics: Six Recommendations For Measuring Your Success.]
On May 13th our son Chirag turned three and yesterday this blog turned one. I am more excited about Chirag's birthday but my family members might disagree. :)
When this blog was four months old I had a blog post titled: How To Measure Success Of A Blog. It was my first attempt at providing a framework that pulled together different data sources to provide a holistic view of how to crack this tough nut.
It has been eight months since then and I wanted to use my blog numbers for the entire year to revisit the framework and tweak it a bit to make it better based on recent learnings.
My hope is that you'll find specific ideas, metrics and tools that you can use to measure how your own blog (personal or professional) is doing.
Measuring success of Social Media in general is an evolving art (not quite a science yet) and you have to be up to the challenge of both thinking a bit differently and be ok with leveraging several different tools.
Here are the important metrics / KPIâ€™s (Key Performance Indicators) for measuring success of your blog:
- Raw Author Contribution (posts & words in post)
- Unique Blog Readers (content consumption â€“ Unique Visitors & Feed Subscribers)
- Conversation Rate (measuring success in a social medium)
- Technorati â€œAuthorityâ€? (measuring your impact on the world!)
- Cost (what!)
- Return on Investment (what's in it for you/your business)
Let's visit each recommendation in detail……
# 1: Raw Author Contribution.
If you want to achieve success, you've got to pay your dues. This KPI measures the answer to the question: "So what have you actually contributed?".
My recommendation is to measure two simple things: 1) Number (trend) of posts in a given time period and 2) Words in posts.
I admit that neither of those two is a proxy for quality, but it is a foundational metric that might hold some answers if other metrics below are "sub optimal".
You can get these stats from your blog log files or in my case I use the General Stats plugin for wordpress.
My stats: 12 months, 97 posts, 160,851 words.
Success? It depends. In my case the goal was to have fewer posts but with higher quality and lots more content in each. If I graphed the words per post over the last 12 months you'll see a nice gradual upward trend, and if I correlate that with the trend in comments per post (also going up) it would give me a primitive indicator of quality. So I would consider this KPI to be indicate initial niceness.
For your blog you'll watch the trend and watch for that trend to go in the right direction. As you can imagine it is quite ok for you to have lots of small posts with fewer words, watch the trend and for no large gaps (absence) in that trend.
# 2: Unique Blog Readers.
So how many people read your blog? And is it trending in the right direction? There is a tiny challenge with measuring this.
None of the current crop of accessible web analytics tools (except for perhaps Visual Sciences) track RSS feeds, which is a important content consumption methodology for blog readers. The RSS measurement tools, like feedburner, are just beginning to provide traditional onsite metrics.
My recommendation, for now, is for you to compute Unique Blog Readers by yourself by combining two metrics that are measured slightly, only slightly, differently. Unique Visitors, from your web analytics tool, and Feed Subscribers, from your RSS tool.
Unique Blog Readers = Unique Visitors (to the blog) + Average Feed Subscribers (consuming your feeds).
Here is how the trend looks for Occam's Razor for the first year…..
Some people who subscribe to your RSS feed probably visit your blog from time to time, so there is slight over counting. Also Feed Subscribers is probably even better at measuring uniqueness than Unique Visitors using a web analytics tool like ClickTracks or Google Analytics or Omniture or WebTrends or HBX etc.
But here is the important point: Look at trends.
Over time if your trend is going in the right direction you are doing fine. See the last two columns above.
While I think that looking at the combo metric is optimal, if you wanted to use just one then you could use the growth of your RSS Feed Subscribers.
For the most part it is immune to vagaries of one time events that might impact your visitor stats (see Months 2 and 12, column four above), and it shows great commitment from your readers to sign up for your feed.
The only "funny" number in the feed stats for me was when a post got on the digg home page. Notice that otherwise the trend is nice and steady growth, the bump you see is when Google started reporting Google Reader data.
Success? For this blog I am absolutely surprised and grateful. I never imagined that a year later I would have approx 20k visits from 12k unique visitors (month 11) or that I would have approx 3,000 feed subscribers. It is a case of you all just showing up and me very grateful to all of you! Thanks!
For your blog you want a nice steady growth for the Unique Blog Readers metric. If yours is a professional blog I encourage setting of goals, say 10% growth every month, and then measuring against goals. It can be unbelievably motivating.
# 3: Conversation Rate
Blogs are a social medium and they facilitate excellent two way conversations. For your blog measure the Conversation Rate (not conversion! :)).
Average Conversation Rate = # of Reader Comments / # of Posts
For my blog the Conversation Rate is 13 (approximately 13 comments per post).
That is 1,523 minus 115 (a recent post got too many comments so I am eliminating it as an anomaly) times 0.9 (since approximately 10% of the comments are mine) divided by 97 (number of posts).
For me the most awesome part of the experience is the content you all contribute. Notice you all have written as much in comments, approximately 120k words (eliminating approx 31k from my comments), as I have in posts (161k)!!
Success? My goal when I started the blog was to get approximately 3 comments per post, but since I was meeting the goal at mid year I raised it to 5 comments per post. So I would deem this as a success. But it is important to stress that this is your contribution to me meeting the goal, if it were not for your willingness to engage in the conversation this would not happen.
For your blog set a goal for this most social of social mediums. It is also a great reflection of your content creating a level of engagement with your target audience. As with other metrics watch the trend.
# 4: Technorati â€œAuthorityâ€? (benchmark externally).
Technorati elicits mixed feelings, but I am a fan. If you just stick to your blogging and write great content then there is no better authority, at the moment, that will provide you a metric to compare your impact on the blogging universe.
It is a simple metric, there are 70 million blogs and if they were ranked from one to seventy million then what would your rank be.
There are two things about Technorati that I like very much: 1) You have to consistently stay relevant, links to your blog are counted on a six month rolling window so you can be good once and then enjoy the ride. You have to keep producing good content that people will link to. 2) It is democratic. Unless you are part of a content network etc, you will have to earn every link the hard way and your peers vote with their links. Can't beat that validation, I think that is why we are hooked on Technorati (we all want to be loved!).
Here is the trend for my blog over the last 12 months….
That last point might be bit of an anomaly, I expect the ranking to settle back to around 3,500 in six months.
Success? The blog started on May 15 and my goal was to have my Technorati ranking be under 10k by end of 2006. I was happy to reach that goal in October (thanks to all of you in the blogosphere). I should probably have a new goal now. I'll shoot for a under 3,000 Technorati ranking by end of 2007 (it is important to note that meeting that goal is much harder than is might seem).
For your blog, personal or professional I recommend a similar goal setting exercise. Here is a great way to do that: Do a quick Technorati search for all the blogs in your own ecosystem. Create a goal to beat the highest listed blog in that ecosystem in x months, where x is aggressive. :)
# 5: Cost.
What is the cost to your life, business, time of your blog? Compute it and you'll be surprised.
I use a simple formula. I only blog at most twice a week (in the last few months it has bee just once a week which is why some of the growth numbers above are surprising to me, maybe if I blog once a month my numbers will shoot through the roof!). But my computations I still spend approximately 25 hours per week on blog and directly blog related work (research, replying to email, creating draft posts, etc etc).
Assuming my time is worth $75 per hour….
Annual cost of the blog = 25 * 4 * 75 * 12 = $90,000.
If this was a real job that is how much I would have earned. And that is not even computing the opportunity cost (which if you are a business committing to blogging you should absolutely also compute).
That is a huge number, even at $75 per hour. It makes me carefully evaluate what I am trying to accomplish with this resource (and if it is really worth not watching The Daily Show, or any TV for eight months).
Success? I had no goals for this and I don't think that is the real cost of my investment in the blog, it is probably much higher. While I blog for the love of it, I recommend that we should put a number on the cost of what it takes to blog. In multiple ways it can be insightful.
Interestingly this is an addiction and I don't think that the investment is going to go down. But atleast I know, and so should you.
# 6: Return on Investment.
The question you are trying to answer is: "So what do I get out of it all?". Sure it sounds selfish but it is important.
Let us get this out of the way: If you are a "real" blogger, :), you probably do it for the love of it and you will do it even if you had to give up sleeping. All because it makes you happy. And there is no price that you can put on a ROI of happiness. If you are one of those (and I am!) then for a moment leave that aside.
You (and I) should track ROI. Use what you have: job offers you get, proposals for marriage, increase in salary at work, sales driven to your ecommerce website from the blog, reduction in the cost of PR because now your blog is so omnipresent and a big bull horn (for businesses this is big), number of paid conference speaking engagements, and so on and so forth.
I don't have a ROI number to share with you this time around. I do have a new consulting gig that I just started and the blog had something to do with it, but it is too soon to compute ROI on that. I did get a offer to write the book (Web Analytics: An Hour A Day), but because I wanted to keep the blog pure all that money is going to charity.
Success? The next time I do this I'll compute ROI and show what I get for a investment of $90k per year into this blog, by including some numbers. But I have to admit that I would probably keep doing this even if the ROI is not positive, especially if you all continue to engage in the conversation with me like you do (because what you teach me through your comments is work more than $90k per year).
I hope that you'll find this post helpful in measuring the success of your own social media efforts (be they blogs or other such efforts).
What do you all think? Did I cover everything? Is there a metric you use that I have not highlighted above? Have tips for me on how better to compute ROI? Please share your feedback and critique via comments.
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