Distracted By Blog Statistics

April 30, 2008

This is another post documenting my blog refocus. After reducing the time spent in Google Reader, I decided I was spending way too much time tracking website statistics.

These stats can definitely be useful. There are any number of metrics one can use to measure the activity on a website – hits, page views, unique visitors, feed subscribers, ad clicks, what pages people look at, how long they stayed, sources of traffic. Plus, there are all sorts of packages that one can install to feed one’s love for data.

But for me, the wealth of information had become yet another pile of information requiring time to parse. I’d estimate I was spending about a half hour each day monitoring them, and based on what information gleaned from them, I think I was spending too much time watching water boil (paint dry, grass grow), and not enough writing quality posts.

So about two weeks ago, I decided to essentially ignore this website data to a large degree.

Some Reasons Why I’m Now Ignoring My Stats

They’ve Become Uninteresting: It was fun to watch traffic go from 50 to 100 visitors a day because I could say “it went up 100%!” but past a few thousand, the numbers become less fun. My traffic has plateaued at a decidedly average number (around 2 – 3K visitors a day, 40 – 45K uniques monthly based on server logs). Even on days I don’t post, this number is essentially constant.

They’re Unreliable: Each stat gives conflicting information, and can be flawed in and of themselves. I’m sure you’ve all read posts on Alexa’s flaws, inflated FeedBurner numbers, and all that spam traffic. With large variances between each data set, I have an unhealthy temptation to believe the highest numbers.

I’m Skeptical Readers Are Interested In Them: The readers who most care about stats are other bloggers who care about theirs. That’s understandable, but their usefulness is debatable to everyone else who just wants to read a well-written article.

It May Be Healthier To Just Not Know: Since I was so aware of my stats, I felt bad for any blogger who had lower numbers and envious of those with higher ones. As Louis Gray notes, talking about stats could be seen like divulging your salary (I recently read an SFGate article about that social taboo). As with money, comparing yourself with others is a bad idea – I should be satisfied and make do with what I have. My solution is to attempt to be blissfully unaware of my own “salary.”

I Have Enough Traffic To Be Satisfied: Since this blog is a hobby, not a business, the amount of traffic I currently get is fine by me – and frankly a bit ridiculous considering how much I write about Battlestar Galactica and cats.

What more do I want to achieve from blogging? Money? Power? Influence? A new career as a professional blogger? Not interested. This blog is self sustaining with ad revenue plus I can buy some extra stuff every once in a while. I have a day job.

What I really want is a return to the basic joy of writing.

Anyhow, I recently took some drastic steps to reduce my stat information overload:

Removed All “Dashboard” Widgets

I own a Mac and had set up some OS X Dashboard widgets that tracked my stats, namely Google Adsense and Google Analytics. I once had a widget that tested if my website was up. I found I was hitting F12 every ten minutes or so just to see if I had earned a dollar that day. I could have earned a dollar doing something else during all the time I was hitting F12. I deleted all of them.

Removed Stat Related Stuff From My Blog Sidebar

I’ve had a long running goal of “decluttering” this blog – and the sidebar is a favorite target of mine. I nuked the Technorati rank, the MyBlogLog widget, and FeedBurner stats. I still have some stuff related to Disqus like recent comments and popular threads, which I’m enamored with as I installed them recently – but they may be next to go.

Removed Google Analytics

The best way to prevent information overload is to not collect it in the first place.

What’s Left?

I still have the good old server stats package (AW Stats), which is installed on my server. Any other stats (FeedBurner, Google AdSense) requires a login, which removes much of the temptation to check them incessantly.

Going forward, I’m restricting stat checks to a monthly activity, as all I really care about is whether or not the traffic increased over the month prior. I don’t need an answer to this question on a daily or even weekly basis.

Conclusions

I realize this info-avoidance is rather contrary to what many bloggers currently do, and I’m not disputing their usefulness for those that have fun monitoring them. But in my case, it wasn’t fun anymore. All I can say is during the last two weeks, I have felt a great weight lifted off my shoulders, and I’m slowly returning to what I originally loved about blogging: the writing itself.

(This post is a direct result of my new-found room to breathe.)

Comments

  1. Louis Gray says:

    And after reading to the end… the Google ad banner reads: “Triple The Traffic To Your Website… In 48 Hrs!” Contextual advertising… FAIL!

  2. webomatica says:

    I'm as amused by these ads as you. Despite my love for Battelstar Galatica, I do not want to know the person that clicks on the ad for the ring tone.

  3. Corvida says:

    Re: ads – That is pretty funny.

    I think it's a bit egotistical to try to keep up with your stats 24/7. I just my RSS subs during the weekdays, but I could care less about my traffic. I'm more concerned with my comment stats at the end of the day. You're good though. I'm not sure I'd cut off Google Analytics. I don't use it for stats as it pertains to numbers, but there are other valuable gems in GA.

  4. webomatica says:

    If there's one metric I'd like to increase is the number of comments here, too.Most likely I just need to write better posts and comment both here and on other blogs.

  5. Jason, I don't think you can necessarily correlate quantity of comments to quality of posts. Comments typically seem to correlate to how controversial the post is. If you write X is better than Y, or Y sucks, or something else controversial, it'll generate more comments.

    I'll cite Kara Swisher's “Boomtown” as an example. Most of her posts, even ones that are prose instead of videos generate few, if any comments. It's not a function at all of the quality of her prose, and doesn't really indicate anything about how much they were read either. But then she posts “Twitter, Where Nobody Knows your name” and she gets 25 comments. And way more conversation was had than just in those comments. It just was scattered throughout the blogs, Friendfeed, Twitter itself, etc. Which I'm sure was just fine w/Kara.

    I'm sure many have shared your trajectory from “stats obsession” to “eh, who needs it!” That said, Corvida is right, there are some valuable gems in GA.

  6. rodaniel says:

    Wow, how refreshing this is! So many bloggers seem to get so wrapped up in PageRank, Alexa Stats, PPC, etc. and forget that those stats aren't the reason for blogging. Or actually, in quite a few cases, those bloggers are in this purely for the sake of trying to get rich quickly – and you can easily tell from their weak websites crammed with glaring ads, distracting buttons & banners, wonky widgets and just about anything else they can dream up to take focus away from the fact that their content is junk at best.

    Our intent was never to blog for income – not in the least. Blogging is a means for my wife & me to share our interests & happenings with our friends & family who're scattered all across the nation. Working on web development has also been an incredible learning opportunity. And then finally, I simply enjoy that this offers me expressive and creative outlets. Who knew I liked to write? And blogging may have improved my written communication skills a bit too…

    That said, I do still go over my Google Analytics & Webalyzer (provided by my site host) stats just to cull out interesting trends and for curiousity's sake. Once a week or so, I enjoy pouring through the wealth of trivia that GA scrapes in.

    Like you, the single biggest improvement I'm eager to make is to increase the number of comments on my blog. But I dunno if the dearth of comments is is a by-product of less-than-stellar topics, crummy writing, ho-huh site design, or if the people who visit our site really do read – and maybe even enjoy – the stuff that's there, but simply don't have anything to add. The thing is, I can check stats all day to see if anyone is showing up – and traffic is steadily, slowly climbing – but that doesn't give me a feel for how much the readers are connecting with my content once they get there. Comments are an immediate validation that something you said actually resonated with someone else. Vanity, thy name be “Rob,” I suppose.

  7. webomatica says:

    Robert, good point. Old habits die hard – must remember the conversation has moved elsewhere.

    Well, that's one less stat to obsess over which is a good thing.

  8. webomatica says:

    Hi Rob – I suppose lack of comments might be a good sign, too – in particular, negative ones calling the blogger a moron. :)