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Understanding the traffic on your blog – Part 1: Traffic Quantity

Posted on Jun 20th, 2009 by

funny traffic

A serious blog is geared towards its audience. As a serious blogger, it is important you understand your audience, your readers.
When I started blogging, I struggled to understand my blog traffic. Simple and free tools like Google Analytics, gave me heaps of figures and graphs, but it took me a while before I could recognize trends, and really understand the meaning behind the figures.

I’d like to share this experiences using a practical case study. I hope it helps you understand some basic questions:

“Who reads my blog? Where does this visitor ‘traffic’ come from? How many posts do they typically read? How do I group this traffic so I can see trends, and how can I turn new visitors into returning visitors?”

Analysing your traffic will help you writing posts in function of your audience. It helps you target your content’s promotion. Optimizing your time spent on non-core activities like social bookmarking sites, blog catalogs or forums, will free up time for what a serious blogger should do: write good content.

In the series “Understanding the traffic on your blog”, I will go through the different steps, using The Road to the Horizon – my personal blog – as a practical case study, so you see how easy an analysis is.

First things first: the background of the case study.

The Road to the Horizon is my first blog, running on Blogger. It is a non-profit blog, covering social issues, travel stories, aid topics and news clips. It has a broad audience. It makes a good sample case for the average non-profit blog, the type of blogs we are covering in BlogTips.

I started “The Road” two and a half years ago. It reached close to 300,000 visitors, an amount steadily increasing to about 15,000/month. It has a Google Pagerank of 6.

I post about once a day maximum, and am quite active on social bookmarking (like Reddit, Digg, Mixx,..), so-so active in discussion forums (about expat life, travel and blogging) and have joined social media like Facebook and Twitter only six months ago.

For the case study, I ran Google Analytics over the 30 month’s life span of my blog, and processed the data from the top 50 referral sites (sites which generate visitors) in a simple spreadsheet.

I will first give you the objective data analysis and then summarize a number of recommendations which you can use for your blog.

Question #1: Where does my traffic come from?

I have categorized all visitors into 7 main groups, according to the source of the traffic (where do visitors come from?):

  1. Search engines: Google, Google Images, Google Answers, Yahoo, AOL, MSN
  2. Social Bookmarking Sites: mostly Reddit, Digg, BoingBoing, Fark, Shoutwire, StumbleUpon, PopUrls and Instablogs
  3. Direct Traffic: visitors who come onto my blog directly, without being referred by another site
  4. Discussion Forums: for me, these are expat-blog, aidworkers.net, flyertalk, freeones, …
  5. Blog Catalogs: Bloglines, blogcatalog,..
  6. Social Media: Twitter and Facebook
  7. Other blogs and websites: single blogs and individual websites with linking to my blog.

Each of these groups have very specific patterns for the visitors they generate, and they form the basis of this analysis.

First and probably the most important question: which of these groups generate the most traffic?

Blog visitors by traffic source

Visitor traffic by source

You immediately notice the majority of visitors come in via search engines and social bookmarking sites: 77% of my 300,000 visitors stumbled across my blog by coincidence. These are mostly first time visitors.

The second important figure is the direct traffic. These are my loyal readers, my returning visitors. They will come back to check for updates, and are the most active in commenting on posts. This is the social community created around this blog, the community every blogger dreams of, cherishes and beams with pride when this figure increases. For a blogger, this is your core audience.

While the traffic from discussion forums, other blogs, blog catalogs and social media only account for 8% of the traffic, we should not discard them purely on volume. There is some quality traffic in there. More on this in the next part in this series.

Note that, even though I have only been active on Facebook and Twitter, the social media traffic already represents 1% of my traffic, or about 3,000 visitors. Six months of Twittering/Facebooking underrepresents the traffic it can generate, as I explained in this post and in this simple case study.

Let’s have a closer look at the search engine traffic:

Search engine traffic on my blog

Search engine traffic on my blog

Need I to stress the important of spending some time on your blog’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Some very basic and simple tricks I explained as part of Five things to do after creating a new blog.
In that post, I also stressed the importance of using the Google Webmasters tool, to ensure the Google crawler discovers and displays the most relevant pieces of your blog.

This figure is no surprise to me, as my blog has a pagerank of 6, making it stick above the average blog. Pageranks are the single utmost important factor for search engine traffic. The higher your ranking, the more prominent your blog will appear in Google searches, and the more traffic you will get.

Pageranks are based on backlinks (links from other blogs and sites to yours), which “come” automatically if you write good content and if your blog is known. Often backlinks are generated through your readers’ community, readers who have their own blogs.
Two key tips on getting a high pagerank, is to write good original content (and this I will repeat over and over again), and to keep interacting with your readers and commenters. I will detail this more in depth in a future post.

People searching for images using Google Images represent 17% of all search engine traffic. They look for pictures and are usually not interested in reading stuff. And they rarely will. Still, it is “free traffic”. Even if 1 out of 1,000 image searchers actually reads stuff on my blog, and becomes a loyal reader, I would welcome that.
Of all the tips on how to attrack Google Image traffic, the most important is to include “alt” and “title” tags with relevant keywords in your <img> tag. A small and simple effort for a lot of traffic.

I have a low amount of traffic from Yahoo, as I refuse to pay to submit my site and only use their free services, I explained previously. As BlogTips concentrates on non-profit blogs, I am sure we can all use our money for better and more noble purposes.

A more detailed analysis of the social bookmarking traffic:

Social Bookmarking traffic on my blog

Visitors on my blog, coming from Social Bookmarking sites

I use all kinds of social bookmarking sites. Reddit, Shoutwire and StumbleUpon are by far the most successful in driving traffic to my blog. But that is for my type of blog, and the type of subjects I write about. You will have to find your niche in the Social Bookmarking world, and make optimum use of it.

While search engine traffic comes ‘as a bonus’, social bookmarking traffic involves hard work. You need to post some of your most relevant posts yourself and interact with the community you find on these bookmarking sites. I would also strongly suggest to make it easy for readers to bookmark your posts by including bookmarking service widgets, as I did here on BlogTips.

From time to time, a post is picked up by the masses and spreads like fire. When “a post goes viral”, the sky is the limit. On my personal blog this post was picked up by BoingBoing, one of the most popular (edited) social bookmarking sites, and accounts for about 15,000 visitors and almost ALL the traffic from BoingBoing.

An other post (which I wrote in five minutes by the way) went viral on Digg and generated about 6,000 visitors in two days. Apart from that, Digg does not account for much of my traffic. It seems most submitted sites disappear amongst the vast volume of posts submitted to Digg every day.

Summarizing: what have we learned so far?

  1. Analysing your traffic is important to understand your traffic, and to decide where you need to spend your valuable time.
  2. Search engines count for the majority of a blog’s traffic, so allocate some time for basic SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  3. Google outperforms any other search engine, so spend some time optimizing the Google crawler and your image tagging.
  4. “Content is King”: good content will get you backlinks, increase your pageranking and return higher traffic from search engines
  5. Social bookmarking sites are an important traffic source, but take more work.
  6. The most useful social bookmarking site for me is Reddit.
  7. The higher your direct traffic, the more successful your blog. And vice versa.
  8. When using social bookmarking sites, there is a chance a post goes viral and the instant return is a gold mine.
  9. Traffic volume is not the single most important factor in analysing your audience.

In Part 2 of this series, we will concentrate more on the quality rather than the quantity of traffic.
Check also the conclusions in this case study.

Picture courtesy Tom Foolery




2 Comments to “Understanding the traffic on your blog – Part 1: Traffic Quantity”

  1. Googleverse says:

    Along with great details, what I like about Google analytics is the simplicity :)

  2. Sandipan says:

    I think one should not underestimate the potential of LinkedIn. With a proper strategy in place one can use it to bring a steady inflow of traffic to his/her blog/website.

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