Updated below, February 26
VelveteenMind.com welcomes an average of 250 visitors a day.
I acknowledge I receive more than that when I publish a new post and particularly when I write something cause-related, but my schedule is my own so the average works out to 250.
More than you thought? Less? Never considered it because who cares, just write?
I’m telling you my “stats” because, quite frankly, you asked. After I retweeted this:
Immediately after that, I received emails and direct messages asking, “Ditto to coming to your house or ditto to the number?”
Ah. The number.
As I write this, a big fancy shmancy company is monitoring my blog, under consideration for a campaign. Hi, Big Fancy Company! Looking for numbers? You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. And I’m confident that you’ll wanna getchoo summa this. (insert salacious wink)
While speaking at BlissDom recently, I referred to blog statistics (how many visitors your site receives) as an “insatiable monster.” A comment I’ve made before. I offhandedly mentioned a number in reference to the evolution of my blog subscriptions and a few hands went up, asking for me to repeat the number.
Ah. The number.
The number was not the point of the statement. Some of the numbers I was using to illustrate the point were pulled from thin air. The number was beside the point. Sitting right beside the point, shielding its eyes from the glare of the sudden spotlight. And yet these damn numbers trip us up. We internalize them, take them personally, get riled up about them when we feel misrepresented.
Hellfire rained down on me on twitter today when I tweeted, “Hi, my name is Megan and I JUST installed Google Analytics. When I tell you I don't focus on stats, I'm not joking.” A lot of people responded, echoing each other in the fact that they either did not have Google Analytics (a statistics program that measures site activity) installed on their sites or that they do and never look at them.
A few of those people were bloggers that are widely considered “successful” or “popular,” however you want to measure those terms. I responded, “That's it. I'm writing ab this. Again. ‘Big’ names @schmutzie @redneckmommy @herbadmother et al confirm. Newbies, don't buy the stat hype.”
Point being that you don’t have to install and monitor fancy analytics on your blog for it to find its audience and be “successful.” A lot of personal bloggers don’t know and don’t want to know all of that technical back-end stuff.
I’m tempted to put “personal” in quotes, in addition to “successful,” because part of that hellfire reception included analysis of what every. single. word. I used meant.
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Needless to say, the conversation rapidly turned to a broader discussion of the value of installing, checking, utilizing, and interpreting stats. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to keep a conversation in context on twitter with everyone jumping in and out of the stream, so I was hit with variations on “Having big stats and saying they don’t matter is like making the softball team and saying that not making the cut shouldn’t hurt.”
Why yes, that would be true. Good thing I didn’t do that. What I did was use some established blogs as examples of how you don’t have to install and monitor your stats in order to make your blog work for you.
Though that would depend on your definition of the word “work.”
Is this really the kind of blog you want me to write? Where I am constantly covering my tracks and anticipating the lowest common denominator? Would you have me qualify every word into oblivion? Because that’s exactly where this blog would be: lost in oblivion because who wants to read such wishy washy drivel?
So I return to my point.
Going into BlissDom this month, I was aware of my words because I’m aware of the tendency of newer bloggers to try to identify the “right” way of doing things. I wasn’t there to speak to the “right” way. I throw my incorrectly manicured hands up on that one. I spoke on the Writing Track (versus the Business Track), so I didn’t have to bother with a lot of “how to” and Blogging 101 explanations. We focused more on the craft and passion of writing, as well as the “why.” A lot on the “For the love of God, why?!”
When you start analyzing the craft of writing as it pertains to blogging, though, it is near impossible to extricate it from discussion of audience. If we were writing solely for the private joy of it, we would write in paper journals and stash them under our beds.
Audience is part of the blogging experience. Frequently, lack of audience is part of it, too.
So we talk about stats. What do they mean? Are they necessary to track? How can we use them? How should we use them? How much do they matter to us? How much do they matter to companies that want to work with us? And why, for the love of God, can’t we just write well and that be enough for our audience to find us and adore us?
Exhale because I don’t have those answers. I do have one strong opinion, though:
You are not your stats.
You are not your little stats. You are not your big stats. You are not your ignorance of stats.
I once wrote that I am a Have but I Happen to Have Not, pertaining to money. I wrote that as much as I don’t let my lack of money right now define me, I intend to not let a future plethora of money define me, either.
Swap “stats” for “money” and the point remains.
Listen, I’m not writing this post for the pro blogger who relies on money earned from impression-based ad networks to help support her family or the niche blogger who needs to value SEO and Google traffic because her content is useful to strangers out of context. Trust me, very little of my content is useful to the random Googler. You can’t Google feelings and philosophical shotgunning.
Most of my Google traffic comes from “squeeze b**bs” and I assure you, they are always disappointed.
Still think I’m the softball player patronizing the bench? Fine.
I’m writing this post for the mom blogger in Minnesota that has 10 readers and lets her awareness of other people’s stats make her feel like crap. The one that writes about her kids and their days together. The one that doesn’t fall into a niche and worries that she should. The one that lets this stats stuff get her down.
I can’t explicitly make this post work for everyone that reads it. It can’t work for frugal bloggers and special needs bloggers and humor bloggers and political bloggers and recipe bloggers and personal essay bloggers alike.
You have to find yourself in the broader strokes. Look a little closer. Work a little closer. Disarm. I promise that you are here.
I know several of you asked via twitter for me to write a “how to” post regarding improving stats. I respectfully decline your request because my “how to” posts are usually much more tongue-in-cheek and, honestly, there are whole blogs dedicated to improving blog stats and they cover topics like SEO far better.
Coming to Velveteen Mind to learn how to improve your stats is like shelling out $1,000 for a blog conference in order to learn how to hyperlink. Save your resources and Google it, babe.
Wow. We’re just now reaching what this post was originally going to be about.
In the Memoir Writing panel at BlissDom, I referenced a Fortune magazine piece titled Why Business Loves Charlie Rose. I emphatically quote that here:
When folks in the financial district say, "Did you hear what was on Charlie last night?" everybody knows what they mean.
The show's modest numbers belie its true reach. TV ratings over the past year, calculated city by city by Nielsen for Fortune, indicate his nightly viewership is probably well under a million. Over the past year in Washington, for example, his audience averaged but 7,000 a day.
In New York City it was roughly 67,000 (compared, say, with Nightline's 338,000 or Larry King Live's 308,000).
Nonetheless, few would dispute that it's Rose's show that carries the most influence. Nobody watches Charlie Rose except everybody you know.
Do statistics matter? Yes. For a lot of reasons. And no. For a lot of reasons. All of which I have written about before. And yet I keep on writing about it. Mrs. Flinger, Scribbit and I even pitched a BlogHer Room of Your Own about this subject a while back, which may come to fruition for New York 2010 if you log in and vote for it. We refer to it as “a cage match between your personal, independent writing goals and your professional blogging ambitions.” Because why not get riled up?
Social media is messy (personal) business.
Statistics represent reach and influence and they simultaneously can “belie true reach.” Statistics represent a path to monetization for some and represent voices in a community for others. There is no definitive answer. I’m not writing this to provide answers.
Look closer. Find the answer for yourself.
Oh yeah, one more number for you:
The 250 readers that visit VelveteenMind.com on a daily average spend close to 4 minutes each on this site. The average blog reader (including those that open multiple tabs at once) spends 5-30 seconds on a blog before moving on.
That’s the sole statistic I internalize. Interpret that as you please.
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The one about promoting your writing because you damn well better.
The one about why ambition does not have to mean enlisting in the army of compromise.
The one about gagging on your own social media fairy dust.
Update February 26, 2010 -- A few quick points brought up in comments and messages:
1) To clarify, this post is about how to not let your stats define or discourage you WHILE you use them. It is not a recommendation to not install or monitor stats at all. Although I did just install Google Analytics, I've had some form of monitoring installed since day one. Everything has a place and I prefer to keep stats in my back pocket rather than on my heart or mind. It's hard and yes, I do check them. One of the criticisms of this post is that you wanted a "how to not let it bother you." I'll work on that again another time.
2) A mash-up of a recurring technical question that I need to make clear I can't help you with [it helps to know that the following "ranks" are tools businesses use to gauge the "value" of a site and are interpreted as that the lower the Alexa number (1 is best) and higher the Google Page Rank number (10 is best), the better]:
"Hey, I get 600+ visitors a day and my Alexa Rank is 2,400,000 and my Google Page Rank is 2. How do you get 250 visitors but your Alexa Rank is 165,000 and PR is 4?" Yeah, I don't know how that stuff works. Another reason not to define yourself by constantly changing rank and stats. I'd say Google it. Or maybe someone can answer it in comments. I swear I'm not ignoring your questions, though, because...
3) Where have I been since I published this? Our whole family was hit by Norovirus. Two blown IV's later and this is the first time I've sat down and coherently looked at a computer screen. I swear I'm not ignoring your thoughtful discussion in comments, I'm just pretty sure I'm imploding or turning into a supermodel. Neither bodes well for blogging. Blech.
Back soon and thank you for all of this gorgeous discussion. It's fascinating and generous. Even my half-functioning brain can tell that. I'll catch up.