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The Hidden Blog Metrics Trap

Since reading the FeedBurner report Aaron has been thinking about how to change his approach towards RSS metrics

I wonder, really, how our strategies will change as assumptions fly in the face of reality. I also wonder how many people cater to their RSS audience and encourage engagement from those readers. I personally have taken to better headlines and strategic first paragraphs as recommended by people like Brian Clark and following other good-practice techniques. It seems those great headlines convert pretty well and I don’t even have to pay attention to which reader they are using.

I commented over on his blog but I think I need to explain myself a bit more fully over here. It’s an interesting discussion and I am glad he raised the issue.

My favourite metric is conversions as I said in my post “The Problem With Metrics in a Web2.0 World“. Conversions are “How many people did what you hoped they would do?”. This can be expressed as a total number of actions (“100 people bought our widget”) or a conversion rate (“5% of visitors bought our widget”).

Just focusing on any metric can be dangerous, particularly when you have to accept assumptions and inefficiencies along with your data. In my widget example there are various assumptions and cloudy definitions, what is a “visitor”?,  what was it that caused the conversion?  Just those two questions could take a lot of answering. You have to be clear what you are measuring.

Aaron is focusing on improving his click-through rate (CTR) by creating more powerful headlines. As desktop feed readers don’t provide referrer information, FeedBurner has the ability to tell how many people click through if you allow them to change your links to special redirection URLs. Click-throughs mean people are interested in what we write. This is definitely something we all should take care over. Thing is, here lies the trap.

Any single metric can both inform and lead you down a bad path. A path that damages your blog. Say we focus on certain metrics, and over time we get some great results in that area. Success, right? Could be. Or it also might mean you have steadily damaged your blog over the long term.

If I obsess too much over making immediate sales I could be damaging my business in the long term by prioritising short-term actions over lifetime value. With click-throughs the temptation will be to switch from full-feed to teasers. Then make each headline more sensational than the last. In addition add more and more attention-grabbing devices, buttons, more links. All of these things increase clicks but also without due care for the readers needs could cause irritation. OK, though I doubt Aaron would take it this far, you can see danger.

So how do you monitor long term value? Take all metrics as a picture but also stay in touch with your actual readers. In the business world we have lots of data to mine about individuals, we have how much people spend, how often, how recent, etc.

With blogs, unless we have people log in, we don’t have anything near that quality of data on individuals. Even worse are RSS metrics. As we are lacking really good data we need to be more intuitive and focus less on the actual numbers and more on overall trends.

  • You need to decide what the goal of your blog is.
  • What do you need people to do more of?
  • How can you get people to do more of that thing?

Right now while keeping my eye on my long term goal I am judging my blogs success based on RSS subscriptions, in-bound links and (quality) comments. My tactics revolve around trying to create the most valuable, compelling blog I can and monitoring those things.

Blogging is still in its infancy. Many people are happy with a simple hit count. Advertisers at the moment want to see page views and unique visitors. We are not at any level of sophistication but perhaps because the majority of us don’t need to be. One day we will get there, but we are way off having truly informative blog metrics just yet.

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Comments

  1. Chris – I have taken a similar approach as you, mainly because in the beginning I didn’t know what else to track. Now it seems that a combo of subscribers, backlinks, and comments are a good indication of how I’m doing – at least for me. I also get quite a lot of feedback through email and new readers and feedback from MyBlogLog.

    I’m finding that a mix of tools helps me better gauge my readership, rather than just one or 2 metrics. That may sound obvious, but you’d be surprise at how many folks I talk to who only look at pageviews or some other single metric.

  2. Chris – I have taken a similar approach as you, mainly because in the beginning I didn’t know what else to track. Now it seems that a combo of subscribers, backlinks, and comments are a good indication of how I’m doing – at least for me. I also get quite a lot of feedback through email and new readers and feedback from MyBlogLog.

    I’m finding that a mix of tools helps me better gauge my readership, rather than just one or 2 metrics. That may sound obvious, but you’d be surprise at how many folks I talk to who only look at pageviews or some other single metric.

  3. Chris, if adding value is your preferred blog metric, I’d say you’re doing well.

    The point about headlines is especially interesting. Whereas you should test website headlines, your blog headlines had better be spot-on the first time–thanks, of course, to track-backs, outside linking, and blog software incorporating the post’s title in the URL.

    For instance, I thought of a much better title for my post responding to your Web 2.0 metrics piece when I woke up this morning. Oh well!

    By nature, blogging is a long-term strategy. It’s not about getting the cash right away; it’s about participating, building trust and relationships.

    At GrokDotCom, we’ve gone a step further toward promoting engagement as our metric. Before launching our new blog, we asked our blog and newsletter readers to resubscribe. This might sound nutty to some (including some of our readers who emailed us about it), but it sent the message that we were happy to be permanently ignored by those who were already ignoring us.

    Why’d we do it? Well, we knew that if we didn’t change the list, we’d be forced to assume our readers wanted to hear from us every day. So, we made an assumption that–regardless of what we think about the Grok–maybe, just maybe, not everyone is ready for a committed relationship.

    One way to handle this is to give people more subscription options.

    But, hey… at least blogging unveils lame, automated SEO tactics for what they add: noise.

  4. Chris, if adding value is your preferred blog metric, I’d say you’re doing well.

    The point about headlines is especially interesting. Whereas you should test website headlines, your blog headlines had better be spot-on the first time–thanks, of course, to track-backs, outside linking, and blog software incorporating the post’s title in the URL.

    For instance, I thought of a much better title for my post responding to your Web 2.0 metrics piece when I woke up this morning. Oh well!

    By nature, blogging is a long-term strategy. It’s not about getting the cash right away; it’s about participating, building trust and relationships.

    At GrokDotCom, we’ve gone a step further toward promoting engagement as our metric. Before launching our new blog, we asked our blog and newsletter readers to resubscribe. This might sound nutty to some (including some of our readers who emailed us about it), but it sent the message that we were happy to be permanently ignored by those who were already ignoring us.

    Why’d we do it? Well, we knew that if we didn’t change the list, we’d be forced to assume our readers wanted to hear from us every day. So, we made an assumption that–regardless of what we think about the Grok–maybe, just maybe, not everyone is ready for a committed relationship.

    One way to handle this is to give people more subscription options.

    But, hey… at least blogging unveils lame, automated SEO tactics for what they add: noise.

  5. @Tony, yup I think many people fixate on numbers rather than what the numbers are *saying*. Goes back to what I have said earlier about “top trumps” (blogtrumps?) mentality, “my number is bigger than yours!”

    @Robert, it is a brave person who starts their list over but talking to people who don’t want to hear is not just wasteful but annoying, well done!

  6. @Tony, yup I think many people fixate on numbers rather than what the numbers are *saying*. Goes back to what I have said earlier about “top trumps” (blogtrumps?) mentality, “my number is bigger than yours!”

    @Robert, it is a brave person who starts their list over but talking to people who don’t want to hear is not just wasteful but annoying, well done!

  7. But I’m sure in time we will see greatly sophisticated metric systems. Ones that tell us, in great detail, about our visitors. It’s inevitable. I actually wonder what level of metrics the huge corps have access to that we don’t.

  8. But I’m sure in time we will see greatly sophisticated metric systems. Ones that tell us, in great detail, about our visitors. It’s inevitable. I actually wonder what level of metrics the huge corps have access to that we don’t.