How to evaluate a blog – Part 2:
Check the numbers
We can discuss blog statistics, visitor trending and referral patterns for days and on end. We don’t need too many figures for a general blog evaluation: only the basic traffic statistics will already give us a good view of:
- the blog and visitors’ profiles, and
- a trend over time.
The main purpose of this exercise is to draw a picture of:
- who visits the blog
- where they come from
- what they are interested in
- how interested they are in the content
- how the blog progresses over time.
Assuming the blog uses Google Analytics – as any serious blog should do -, ask the blogmaster to give you an Analytics profile, or direct access to the blog statistics.
Oh, and before you start: read my tutorial on how to interpret the quality and quantity of blog traffic. That will give you a good background to which figures are really important, and how to get them.
1. Profiling a blog, and its readership
Remember, the purpose here is to try to form a picture of a typical visitor using some very basic data:
- Look at the typical statistics over the course of a week. Anything unusual? For instance: do you see a dip in the weekends? If so, this indicates the people use the blog as a resource for work, and they clearly plug into the ‘professional’ market.
- How long to people stay on the blog? What is “the time spent per page”? If more than 1.8 minutes/page, then people really read the posts.
If less, then we get too many people on our blog who don’t really get what they are looking for, or don’t find what they are interested in.
- What is the bounce rate (percentage of people who leave the blog from the first page they visited)?
I use the norm where any bounce rate less than 80% indicates a good retention rate for visitors, for an average blog. This means that while reading one page, we somehow got 1/5th of our visitors interested in another page too.
The lower the bounce rate, the better.
- Are most visitors, returning visitors or new visitors? New visitors is good, but returning visitors are better (Again, read my analysis “Traffic quantity versus quality”)
- Related to that, what is [homepage hits] divided by [Google visit hits]?
If < 0.3, the blog has much more random visitors than regular visitors. Meaning: either Google really loves the blog (hardly), or (most probably) there is room to improve the amount of returning (loyal) visitors
- Are most visitors coming in from referral sites, or do find the blog through search engines?
There should be a good balance between the two. Good “search traffic” is buono, but is only a thin bubble if there is no referral traffic: it is not possible to sustain a blog without a good number of sites who are referring traffic to it.
If you have a bubble blog, your content is not appreciated by your peers. For a blog, that is a bad sign, a sign your content lacks quality, readibility, credibility, accessibility, and is not appreciated by your peers. The worse that can happen to a blog, in my opinion.
- Are there any particularly popular posts, which stick out?
Why were those posts popular? Was it because of a Reddit/Digg hit? Or because a popular blog picked it up, and referred to it? Or simply because it is a popular subject for the general public?
“Hit posts” are a gold mine for a blog. Check with the blogmaster if there any way we can capitalize on those popular posts. Can we expand those subjects? Ensure we have embedded sufficient links to related posts, so we can have the random visitors, attracted by that single popular post, to other content in our site,…
- How many referrals come in from search engines?
Abnormal low figures might indicate an SEO (Seach Engine Optimisation) problem: it is very well possible that even a high ranking blog (with a pagerank of 5 and higher) makes it difficult for search engines to find its key content.
Evaluating a blog’s SEO is stuff for an upcoming post in this series
- How many referrals come in from social media and social bookmarking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit?
Is the blogmaster actually doing a conscious effort to promote the blog on social media? Often not. The power of social media is generally under-used to promote the content of a blog.
You might check my series on how to promote your blog using social media tools.
2. Analyzing traffic trends
Absolute figures are nice, but often it is even more interesting to look how the blog evolved over time.
In principle, I like to see a blog evolve for the better. I like to see a positive trend in the visitors, in the retention rate of the visitors, in the amount of traffic coming in from the search engines and referral sites…
I would expect, that over time, as a blog gets more content, I can also see a clear trend. A stagnating blog, is a blog which does not fully live up to its potential.
As a tool, once more Google Analytics is your main ally. To see trends, select larger period of the blog’s statistics, and click on ‘Graph by week’. This will take out the ‘sporadic noise’ you see in ‘Graph by day’, and show you how the blog evolved over time:
- Do you see the amount of visitors growing? You should!
- Any trend in “new visitors”? Going up or down? “Up” is the way to go!
- Is there a trend in pages/visit, time/visit, and bounce rates? The first two should go up, the latter should go down.
- Any trends in referral traffic, traffic from search engines? All should go up.
Once again, it is easy to get hooked on figures, on statistics. Remember, blog statistics are not “the goal” for a blog, they are “a means” to observe how our visitors react to the blog and to identify areas for improvements or changes.