Tag Archives: web analytics

Half-yearly blog stats geekery

Blog Stats GeekeryIn the spirit of full disclosure and transparency, and because such things may be of interest to new and student bloggers (and hopeless WordPress geeks), here’s the first installment of what should become a regular series of half-yearly posts on the statistics behind Freelance Unbound.

First off – Freelance Unbound is not a hugely visited site. There, I’ve said it.

My biggest traffic day so far has been a smidgeon over 200 visitors. On the average weekday, I get a minimum of 50-60 visits, though this halves at the weekend (unsurprisingly, for an essentially work-based site). This tends to drift down if I don’t update regularly – ie pretty much every day. There’s a lesson there.

All this doesn’t bother me that much, though – for several reasons.

  • Blogs don’t usually get much traffic. At the Association of Journalism Education Conference, successful political blogger Guido Fawkes reckoned more than 100 daily visitors is good going, apparently. Why? Maybe because the golden age of blogging is behind us and people seem more interested in social media.
  • This is a very niche blog. In the world of journalism blogs, which in itself is pretty niche, this is one that not only navel-gazes more than most, but also tends to focus specifically on the effects of digital media on content. That pretty much slashes the audience right there (though the audience it gets is quite focused too, which is nice).
  • It’s a bit esoteric. I have posts about PHP and Drupal, though I’m not a techy talking to techies. And I have posts about Marvel Comics and vampires on TV, though this is not a science fiction blog. It’s a funny old smorgasbord.
  • I don’t market it. Although it now gets a listing in Journalism.co.uk’s Best of the J-Blogs section, and I make a bit of an effort to visit and comment on relevant sites in the same field, I really don’t spend enough time relentlessly bigging Freelance Unbound up.

Nonetheless, there’s enough going on here to be interesting from the point of web analysis.

Top posts

In fact. looking at my top two posts of all time is a bit of a case study by itself.

The biggest post I’ve had by far was one offering advice on 11 key ways for journalism students to improve their employability.

I thought it might get some traffic, but it alone was responsible for the bulk of visits on my busiest day ever. But why?

The simple answer is Twitter. I now feed all the posts from the blog to my Twitter account, as well as sporadically updating with the occasional post there directly. (Yes, I know this isn’t really what you’re supposed to do with Twitter, but hey – it’s tough enough keeping up with the blog.)

In this case, the Twitter update was what drove my blog traffic. Several people with vast numbers of followers picked up on it, and the result was a healthy clickthrough to Freelance Unbound. It was an impressive example of how the right use of social media can help you draw an audience. (Twitter also seems responsible for yesterday’s spike, which saw more than 180 visitors in a relatively quiet week, mostly drawn to the post on whether media owners should ditch journalism altogether.)

On the downside, very little of that traffic stayed with me. Almost immediately, visitor numbers dropped to pretty what they had been just before this “big post”. Which is another important lesson, familiar in marketing circles. You want repeat business above all, not just people who drop in once and then never darken your door again.

Which brings us to the second biggest post – in which I asked is People Per Hour any use?.

I had a sneaking suspicion this might draw some traffic, as it’s a question I have asked myself and for which I have also searched on Google for an answer.

I came across People Per Hour last year when the bottom dropped out of my business plan and I had to start hustling for work when the recession kicked in. I thought it was an interesting idea – an online marketplace for creative and media-type work. But how reputable was it? And what were people’s experience of the site?

There wasn’t much information about, so I thought I’d stick in my twopennyworth and see if others were interested in the topic.

They were. But interestingly, the traffic has only twice been in double digits in a day. Instead, the post has seen a steady flow of visits, day in, day out, since it went live in April. There’s a good chance that it will feature in the Most Visited section in the sidebar as you read this. If not, it may well do tomorrow. And before long it may well overtake the meteoric student employability post to gain the top slot. [UPDATE: as of 16/9/09 it has.]

The lesson from this? A top tips on employability is popular, but it often needs to go viral to work. (For non web marketing geeks, that means it needs to be picked up by others and passed around their online networks).

On the other hand, pick a topic that you sense may have potential interest, and that isn’t covered to death on the internet, and you can draw in casual readers via search engines on an ongoing basis.

It’s at this point that you do start having to think about search terms when you’re writing your posts and your headlines – and it’s why journalists who shun search engine optimisation (SEO) as beneath their dignity are on a losing wicket.

Top referrers

If you want to build readership, though, gaining traffic from search engines may not be the best way forward. Instead, you’re better off plugging into the blogging community and drawing on a readership that looks at blogs reasonably regularly.

Again, my experience of pulling in traffic via referral from others has been instructive.

There are some oddities here. For a time I found a lot of visits came from a site called Alpha Inventions – a strange site whose only purpose was to aggregate a stream of posts from different blogs and show them in sequence for a few seconds each in real time as they updated. It’s a bit like Twitterfall, only once the post has been shown, it vanishes forever.

I still can’t figure out if this is the equivalent of viewing spam – so if someone has the Alpha Inventions site open in their browser and it scrolls past your blog it counts as a visit, even if the person concerned is away from their PC or looking at a different program. The inventor of the site claims not – but who knows…

In the real world, however, the clear winners in terms of pushing traffic my way, by nearly an order of magnitude, have been those lovely people at FleetStreetBlues.

It’s interesting because, although the site’s traffic is bigger than mine, by their own admission, they only have about 250 daily visitors. Crucially though, those visitors are the kind to click through to other sites – which makes the difference between a small and active audience and a large but passive one.

This is a phenomenon noted by Laura McKenna in her Apt 11D blog on what has changed in the blogging world over the past six years. Readers are burning out and not clicking through to blog links as much as they used to. It makes building readership tougher, and its why I’m very grateful for the support of blogs such as Knowledge Workers, Bristol Editor and Taking Out The Trash that have recommended Freelance Unbound and linked to my posts.

Bill Bennett on Knowledge Workers has been particularly kind – sending a couple of my posts to Reddit, which pushed traffic here up noticeably. Though, of course, it’s difficult to know how ‘sticky’ these readers were. Did they stick around for a while and browse the other posts? Have they been back since? I don’t know. Which is another reason to get the hell out of WordPress.com and move to self-hosted so I can get some better analytics going.

Top comments

The real life-blood of any blog is its readers – especially if the readers care enough about the blog or the subject matter to take part in the comment threads.

So far on Freelance Unbound, comments tend to be a bit – shall we say – clustered. Some posts have sparked lively debate – others nothing (though they have seen healthy traffic).

The most commented post (and the most commented topic) is about why, essentially, I argue that the old news model is dead and journalism as we know it is finished. Understandably, journalists get stirred up about this and are more likely to challenge me, or take my side, in this debate.

But it’s difficult to predict what will spark a debate. Sometimes I will post on the same topic and get no reader reaction. All I can say for sure is that I seem more likely to get more comments once one reader has responded. It seems, like the early stages of a party, no one wants to be the first to break the ice.

It also seems that readers will chip in when I ask them to. As noted, my post on People Per Hour has drawn a lot of visits over the past few months, and once I asked readers to add their own experiences of the site, it has also generated comments.

For what it’s worth, bloggers love comments. Freelance Unbound welcomes all reader comments – whether they agree with a post or not. The only proviso is that they are more or less civil in tone.

Conclusions

What do we learn from all this?

  • You can’t really predict what will work.
  • It’s important to update every day.
  • Loyal, regular readers are worth their weight in gold.
  • Blogs work best when it really is a conversation.

Stay tuned for more blog stats geekery in six months’ time…

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The future of digital publishing – a conversation

Today I’ve invited another blogger to join me in a discussion about the future of web journalism and the economics of publishing in a rapidly digitising world.

Blogging about the world of amateur horticulture under the name Soilman (well, it’s nice to have a hobby), he also has wide experience in journalism and editorial training. He has seen first hand the radical changes in editorial practice and thinking demanded by the switch from print to online.

We ramble on a bit – the topics covered are these:

  • What do readers want?
  • Who pays for content?
  • The impact of web statistics on journalism
  • The strength of niche editorial

What do readers want?

Freelance Unbound: What kind of content are we looking at to drive readership and revenues? And where will the revenue come from?

Soilman: Not news. News is dead. It’s a dull commodity that doesn’t sell anything worth paying for. There’ll always be somebody offering it (badly – but who gives a shit?) for nothing.

I’m more and more convinced that the future, for publishers, means going
 into the software business. Producing applications for use on computers
 and
 iPhones (and others, yet to be invented) that bring the user a valuable, useful, sexy service unobtainable on the web generally, that happens to
 incorporate the stuff we already do (news, reviews, etc), but also gives value-added extras to create a brand new ‘product’.

Who pays for content?

Freelance Unbound: How could the financial model work? There’s been a lot of chatter recently about clever ways to monetise content – in effect breathing new life into micropayments by creating a bastard hybrid with the web subscription model.

Journalists love this. They think readers will happily volunteer to subscribe to a concept called “web journalism” because they value its contribution to a free society. The sticking point has been just how the money can be collected and allocated to the content that web users consume.

But now it seems we are developing clever ways to account for people’s web usage and it might be possible to work out some way of imposing a levy on the web to be parceled out to content producers. Do you think it’s viable?

SoilmanI know there are voices calling for pay-per-page micropayment systems and old-fashioned subscriptions to websites, but I’m still convinced these are (mostly) misconceived. While there remains even one vague competitor, however poor, who offers content for free (even if second-rate), most folks will always be reluctant to fork out for the basic content.

BUT experience shows us they are willing to pay for value-added ideas around the content, ie

  • A targeted software delivery vehicle, or indeed a bespoke software plus hardware solution
  • Cleverly aggregated and focused one-stop-shops of other people’s material
  • Tailored DNA-specific packages of content for individual clients, or tailormade ‘widgets’ and/or feeds delivering focused your own brand’s content to individual clients
  • Tailormade business software incorporating your own products’ feeds and databases for added client value… ie a software package to run a media grid for companies in any particular sector, which automatically assimilates feeds and data services from your magazine sites.
  • Sponsored search within your own sites
  • Top-level ‘premium’ content for a charge (while basic is free)
  • Sponsored editorial

There’s absolutely no reason why this couldn’t be more widely adopted in business brands. It just requires clever and imaginative ideas.

Many of those ideas rely on technical software solutions, requiring a focus on technical development over and above mere browser and database coding.

I’m not aware that many publishers have even begun to explore this in their business plans and budgets for technical departments. Obviously it’s outside their comfort zone and it’s not cheap. But, equally obviously, if it brought in revenue it might not look so expensive.

How does knowing visitor statistics affect the practice of journalism?

Freelance UnboundWhat do you think about the way web metrics are changing the responsiveness of journalism to audience behaviour?

Not so long ago there was a discussion piece at Journalism.org about how the availability of copious web audience metrics has changed the way that publications choose and prioritise their content.

Former washingtonpost.com executive editor Jim Brady argues that, while it is important to watch daily numbers carefully, the Post did not let “real-time, hourly information drive [its] editorial strategy”.

This meant he was willing to nurture a columnist whose readership was relatively small, but very loyal. He wasn’t seduced by the occasional casual traffic spikes generated by a link from a high traffic environment such as Yahoo or Google.

“If The Washington Post decided to promote stories on its home page based purely on traffic potential, what makes it unique would quickly evaporate. So any analysis of traffic also has to keep this in mind”

Former Salon.com Washington bureau chief Walter Shapiro is even more hostile to the “tyranny that comes from real-time readership numbers”.

“What this meant in practice at Salon was that an article might have as few as six hours to prove itself with readers before it was yanked out of a position of prominence.”

The result? Fluff and partisan political ranting scored much higher than thoughtful, in-depth reporting. As a result, he argues:

“Salon’s internal culture and stray comments by editors worked to discourage writing about important topics (campaign-issue analysis, non-war-related foreign news) because they invariably earned lower readership numbers.”

Is this a problem for journalism do you think?

SoilmanI think both of them are stone wrong. Phrases like this from Walter Shapiro sum up the problem:

“But what Internet journalism requires are self-confident editors (and
 owners) who can resist the blandishments of quick-react readership statistics and allow laudable stories time to build their own audience. Otherwise, we will all, reporters and readers alike, find ourselves stuck in heavy traffic with nothing but fluff to read.”



This, to me, is old ‘printie’ thinking at work. Both these guys come from a place where journalism has some higher purpose than mere commerce. It has noble aims, entwined with the preservation of democracy etc.


If there’s one thing that seems crystal clear to me (and to Clay Shirky, in his admirable essay recently), it’s that attitudes like this are only possible in the print legacy world, where large profits generated from that 500-year-old ‘model’ (high barrier to entry, advertiser-as-hostage, small
ads pay for Baghdad bureau) make the ‘higher purpose’ possible. It’s no longer possible. It’s gone, busted, over. Period.

Freelance UnboundI think the first argument was about a bit more than that. He was
saying, basically, that you should be careful how you interpret your
traffic. Huge spikes in single page views are not necessarily as
valuable as content that draws in a much more loyal readership. It’s the
”big post” argument. There are some interesting views on this on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog here and here.


SoilmanOf course, you’re right: I just home in on the shit that irritates me about the ‘responsibilities of great journalism’ etc. It drives me nuts.

Quantity versus quality is a tricky one, though, because the advertisers and media buyers are only just beginning to look beyond sheer volumes of uniques and impressions. Click-through and click-through-to-sale are becoming more important, though.

I call this the “Eldorado metric”. It means the ad on a website that actually encourages a browser to click and buy straight from an editorial page.

On a consumer technology site, for instance, it’s would be the golden moment when you’ve had the viewer seeing reviews pages and they click on a manufacturer advertisement that says something like “Buy this product here!”… And then they do. The advertiser can see they came from your site, and that they
made a sale as a DIRECT result of the ad.

Clearly, this is gold dust from a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) point of view – you can suddenly charge for an ad the kind of money you might once have expected from a print display ad. 

Unfortunately, it’s a rare scenario… And specific (probably) to a particular kind of editorial product.

The strength of niche editorial

Freelance UnboundSo, basically, that means from a revenue-generating point of view editorial generally can’t rely on advertising any more.

Does this mean we’ll start seeing a heavy bias towards review-type editorial that can generate this kind of ad?

I guess we’re seeing this already – lots of web sites set up for the sole purpose of plugging a set of products with supposedly independent
reviews, but which are said to be funded by the companies themselves. Web hosting review sites are a good example

Perhaps there’s a place here for the trusted brand element of publishing…

SoilmanI do wonder. Certainly, websites that are highly vertical, highly focused on a particular subject seem to me to have an in-built advantage online. You can do detail –down to the ‘nth’ degree – online in a way that simply wasn’t possible in print. Plus if I were a marketing man today, and wondering how to spend an ad budget, I’d be looking for the most targeted, niche, directly-relevant ad vehicles that I could find… And the more specialised and focused a website, the more interested I’d be.

Why on earth would I want to advertise on a generalist site like a newspaper site? It may attract thousands of eyeballs, but I know that only a fraction of them are specifically interested in what I’m selling. Far better, surely, to go straight to the specialist site with PRECISELY the right audience (albeit smaller). If 100% of readers are definitely interested in what I’m flogging, I’m not wasting a penny. Plus online I can see from statistics precisely how those people react to my ads… which is, in itself, market research. Valuable market research, potentially.

Certainly the kind of journalism you want to be in would have this kind of potential… just as doctors are well advised to specialise in diseases of the rich.

In conclusion

So, there you have it. Print is dead, news is dead, and we all have to spend our time writing software applications and writing niche reviews to get advertising revenue. 

I’m not sure how well that will go down in the UK’s journalism degree courses. 

More views on this are obviously welcome – comment at will…

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The power of social bookmarking

With one bound, this blog has gone viral. (Well, kind of).

I’ve always been curious about social bookmarking, but never really explored it very much. Aside from signing up to StumbleUpon to see how it worked, I haven’t really used sites such as Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Del.icio.us to steer or filter my web use. Or indeed used them to try to boost traffic on Freelance Unbound.

This is probably a mistake, of course. One reader was amused enough by one of my posts on local newspaper headlines to send it to Reddit. And guess what? My traffic spiked dramatically (albeit from a lowish base). 

As this blog has limited plug-in capability, I don’t have an automatic “Share this”-type widget attached to every post.

There is a long-winded workaround that allows me to add social bookmarking links to the bottom of a post, but I have to do this individually for each post, and it’s a pain, frankly. 

So I’ve run “share this” links on only a few posts – the ones I thought might capture a reader’s attention and go, for want of a better term, viral. Needless to say, I’ve been completely wrong about the ones I chose, none of which has been shared. 

It’s fascinating to see how this works. I’ve mentioned before that this blog is partly a tool for learning about blogging – building an audience, understanding web metrics and seeing how it’s possible to make connections online that it would be difficult or impossible to achieve otherwise. This offers some valuable lessons about generating traffic – especially for student bloggers. 

  1. Be brief: Your posts don’t have to be long and/or worthy essays. Suddenly my 43-word post with illustration is the top viewed content here of the month. 
  2. Be amusing: People tend to spread light-hearted material around. There’s a lot of gloom in the world as it is. 
  3. Be open-minded: As mentioned above, I had no idea what would trigger the sharing response. Assume any post might do this. 
  4. Be wide-ranging: As a result, don’t restrict yourself to one style of post or topic. Sure – stick to a basic theme or two, but feel free to be creative within that. 

Having said all that, don’t restrict yourself to 50-word jokey posts. Those worthy and serious essays may well be what get your visitors to stick around to see what you have to say once they StumbleUpon your witty one-liner. 

As John Scalzi found on his venerable Whatever blog, his post about sticking bacon to his cat has generated an astonishing amount of traffic and become a meme. But it’s his long, impassioned and serious essay on Being Poor in the US that has been the single most important post on his site and ended up being syndicated in national news media…

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I soar up the Technorati rankings

Out of curiosity, I just went back to Technorati for the first time, probably, since I registered there. 

Kind of gratifyingly, I find I am now ranked at 2,476,024 in the universe of blogs. Well, in the universe of Technorati-registered or otherwise noted blogs. I don’t actually know the difference, strictly speaking. 

Eagle-eyed readers with a keen memory and geeky tendencies may remember I started out with a ranking of 4,770,814 in late Fenruary. This is clearly fantastic news, and I will be celebrating hard at Chinawhite this very evening. (You know, if it’s actually open and they let me in).

What does this meteoric rise mean? I have no idea. But the numbers don’t lie. Oh no…

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Unlocking the mysteries of Technorati

I’ve just registered with Technorati [no idea how it works, but I think it’s one of the rules of blogging].

I find I have a ranking of 4,770,814.

As the great David St Hubbins might have said, that’s a bit too much flaming perspective…

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