I've been trying to collect screen captures and stories about nonprofit web analytics for a screencast on Google Analytics for NTEN. Kevin Gamble left me a comment on a google analytics post that the "Depth of Visit Report" was one of the best metrics (coupled with referring source) for understanding visitor behavior on his university's web site. He notes:
"It doesn't take you long to figure out that spending a lot of time on top-down navigation is mostly a waste of time. Too many people are still wanting to "manage" the visitors experience, and I think these two metrics speak to the ways that the Web is changing."
I asked him if would share a screen shot of the report and reflect a little further on his comment. He did and gave me permission to blog! (Thanks for the transparency). He notes:
"The bottom line on statistics -- we're seeing pretty routinely that around 80% of the hits are coming from search. The second graphic on depth of visit says we're seeing 90% look at less than two pages and exit. It's around 82% looking at one page and exiting. These numbers have been pretty consistent for several months.
We're trying to make some changes in our web site based on user behavior. Search drives visitor behavior. Our mantra has been (and will continue to be) that each page of content needs to standalone. We also keep hammering that content needs to be content - not solely navigation -- just related links that are directly related to the content.
He went on to say something that made me pause for a minute:
The user behavior on my blog is quite different. Only 40% of the direct hits come through search. Most come through referrer links. Even more don't come at all -- they come from feed readers (as you would know). But the stats are very different. I still don't think navigation matters much though.
Ah, my screencast script on google analytics completely ignores social media and only focuses on web sites.
I also keep reflecting one sentence in Dan McQuilan's post on the NTEN blog about Social Networking and Social Change:
"There's some uncertainty about how non-profits should approach social networks, and especially how to get an effective return for the time that has to be invested in these relationship-spaces."
And I'd add blogs, twitter, flickr, tagging, and all the other social media tools and strategies to the list too ...
Measuring outcomes for social media tools and strategy is as Avinash Kaushik notes in his recent post on the topic, "an evolving art (not quite a science yet) and you have to be up to the challenge of both thinking a bit differently and be ok with leveraging several different tools." I might also add that figuring out what are realistic short-term outcomes is just as hard if not harder.
Kaushik offers up some metrics for blogging:
- Raw Author Contribution (posts & words in post)
- Unique Blog Readers (content consumption – Unique Visitors & Feed Subscribers)
- Conversation Rate (measuring success in a social medium)
- Technorati “Authority” (measuring your impact on the world!)
- Cost (what!)
- Return on Investment (what’s in it for you/your business)
He goes on to analyze his blog's success on its one year birthday. I'm struggling to learn Google Analytics, so I thought it might be a useful exercise to go through his framework with my own blog.
1. Raw Author Contribution (posts and words in post)
My blogging platform, Typepad, does not have a way to easily and automatically measure the number of posts and words in post in a given time period. I did some research and couldn't find anything, although I did find an excellent blog on blog optimization. Maybe one of my readers will point me to some third-party typepad plugin that does this? Word Press users can use General Stats plugin.
Hmm .. something to consider when choosing your blogging platform.
I can't easily measure this metric unless I set up some sort of Ruby Goldberg contraption like cut and pasting a month's worth of posts and cut paste into word, count the number of posts, and then chart in excel. Yuck.
Some people have used the word "prolific" to describe my raw author contribution. And, if I scan back over the past year, I typically write between 30-60 posts per month, including at least 4-6 longer posts per month. My goal in "raw author contribution" was to write at least one blog post every day. I did compute one month's worth of posts and words in post. For April, I had 52 posts and 29,332 words.
Kaushik acknowledges that this metric only measures quantity, not quality. He does suggest that comments per post is also another metric of quality. I agree, but is a ratio the best number?
I find it very hard to measure quality with numbers ... like anyone who has a background in the arts full well knows. I remember serving as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and had to quantify artistic merit ... which is very hard to so. I think that writing a blog is an art more than a science and there is something unappealing to me about looking at numbers of posts and numbers of words to evaluate the quality of my blog posts and ultimate success of my blog. Why am I resisting this?
I learn so much from Kaushik, but I'm seem drawn more to qualitative measures and the integration of numbers too.
2. Unique Readers
This is defined "How many people read your blog?" That's a hard question for me to answer because as Kaushik notes and all of us bloggers know all too well -- analytics programs do not track RSS feeds. His recommendation:
"Compute Unique Blog Readers by yourself by combining two metrics that are measured slightly, only slightly, differently. Unique Visitors, from your web analytics tool, and Feed Subscribers, from your RSS tool.
Unique Blog Readers = Unique Visitors (to the blog) + Average Feed Subscribers (consuming your feeds)
So, here's mine - sort of. The visits and unique visitor counts come from Google Analytics (for some reason I've lost about several months of stats ...so I can't go back further than the last four months....) A year ago, I had 1,000 monthly visitors -- so it is nice to see the growth.
UPDATE: Chris Blow in the comments suggested that I had to point them over to feed burner and says it is tricky. I need to know how! Anyone know?
Counting and seeing trends in my RSS subscribers/readers was a pain because I have several feeds and only one of them is in feed burner. The only way to track the real numbers of subscribers or at least people who read via bloglines is from looking at the subscriber stats in bloglines. I have 256 in feedburner and another 249 who read one of my 3 feeds via bloglines. That makes 495. Not sure if there is duplication and there isn't anyway for me to see trends over time.
And, that's the important point. My readership has continued to grow over time. I need to set some goals for the next six months and a strategy .... What is a reasonable growth rate? What is a reasonable goal?
With all that aside, I'm pleased with these stats! Thank you readers!
3. Conversation Rates
The conversation rate is the average number of comments per post. I had to compute mine manually by counting them in typepad. A time consuming pain .... particularly because I'm 100% in love with this metric to measure conversation. Since Jan 1, I had 247 posts divided by 387 comments which is 1.5. (I did not include spam comments or my own)
For your blog set a goal for this most social of social mediums. It is also a great reflection of your content creating a level of engagement with your target audience. As with other metrics watch the trend.
When I first started blogging, I hardly received any comments at all. So, I set a modest goal of 1 comment per post. I'm there I guess.
I am thinking that looking over the comments of posts that attracted more comments than others and reflecting on why that occurred would be extremely valuable. (Geez, that a whole other post, huh?) So, if I want to increase my conversation rate, I'll have to look at those posts with the lens of Kaushik's advice above and go back and re-read every single word Amy Gahran has written on the topic. So, should I consider this a success? Well, that award goes to you dear readers who are willing to contribute your thoughts and provide insights.
Again, measuring the conversation rate is not easy in typepad. I have to do it manually.
4. Technorati “Authority” (measuring your impact on the world!)
If you just stick to your blogging and write great content then there is no better authority, at the moment, that will provide you a metric to compare your impact on the blogging universe. It is a simple metric, there are 70 million blogs and if they were ranked from one to seventy million then what would your rank be.
Again, I have not consistently written down and charted my technorati rating, but I do know that trend has been to go up.
Kaushik's advice is:
For your blog, personal or professional I recommend a goal setting exercise. Do a quick Technorati search for all the blogs in your own ecosystem. Create a goal to beat the highest listed blog in that ecosystem in x months, where x is aggressive. :)
That goal setting exercise seems right for businesses, but nonprofits? I try to link to and encourage as many nonprofit bloggers as possible and help them increase their technorati rating. Why would I want to make it into a football match?
Setting the goal is step 1, but of course a strategy is needed. What is most important for me is to track and reflect on what makes that technorati rating rise. I've been doing this informally, what I've learned I'll put into a separate post.
What is the cost to your life, business, time of your blog? Compute it and you’ll be surprised.
I was surprised to read that he invests 25 hours a week on his direct blogging process (answering email, writing, researching, maintenance.) I haven't tracked my time on "direct blogging process" and it is also hard to separate from other work because the two are so intertwined. Take for example, I writing this post because I'm trying to teach myself Google Analytics so I can make a screencast for NTEN and I can only learn by first-hand experience -- and to learn I'd be writing about it anyway - but with the blog - other people get to read it.
And, I blog on multiple sites, but I cross post here.
Oh, this is sort of hard to precisely measure.
Kaushik adds that he blogs for the love it:
Interestingly this is a addiction and I don’t think that the investment is going to go down. But at least I know, and so should you.
I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying I'm addicted ... okay, okay, yes I am. However, I have found the daily discipline of writing extremely important to my professional learning. So important that I get crabby when I don't blog. The key for me that the topic I'm blogging about is close to my work and my passion.
I probably spend at least 10-15 hours per week on direct blogging work for this blog. And given the tracking tasks outlined, that will probably go up. I'm going to have track down that salary study NTEN did a while back and compute the value based on that.
Kaushik does not provide an ROI, but mentions the "happiness" factor related to blogging.
All because it makes you happy. And there is no price that you can put on a ROI of happiness. If you are one of those (and I am!) then for a moment leave that aside
I have to agree. He does say that we need to look at ROI:
You (and I) should track ROI. Use what you have: job offers you get, proposals for marriage, increase in salary at work, sales driven to your ecommerce website from the blog, reduction in the cost of PR because now your blog is so omnipresent and a big bull horn (for businesses this is big), number of paid conference speaking engagements, and so on and so forth
I have to admit that number is hilarious! If I made that much money, I'd stop working and give my time to worthy causes (and my family.)
The ROI is hard to compute because there are so many intangibles. Like the fact that blogging forces me to do a certain level of reflection everyday and that makes me think more deeply about my topics. And, then readers comment and help me get smarter which in turn deepens my expertise.
And, what about the readers who learn from my learnings? That's really intangible and hard to measure. For example, I got this comment in my LinkedIn the other day:
Your blog and portfolio items have made a tremendous difference in my work. Since discovering your blog in late March, I have:
-Uploaded 300+ (mostly) annotated images of Minnesota forests, several of which are linked from my (6 week old) website, www.myminnesotawoods.org
-Given blogging more serious consideration, and feel much more aware of what I'd be getting into
-Begun to be more intentional about reading and commenting on blogs, per your advice
-Set up a pageflakes feed reader, which I now consult regularly
-Set up a wikispaces page for collaborative concept development (actually, to allow a group to develop the forestry blog idea for/with me)
It's been a busy spring! You've really been a huge help. Thank you for taking the time to help us newbies along. I especially appreciate both the quality and the personal nature of your posts and learning tools."
The numbers and data alone are almost meaningless unless you take those numbers think about how to make improvements, set goals, and reflect. The reflection involves qualitative data -- anecdotes, reflections, stories, and pattern analysis.
I also realize that I need to be more consistent in collecting and analyzing the data and collecting data about my blog (or other social media) there may not be fully automated tools that make it efficient unless I consider switching platforms or tools. I need to look at the pros/cons of other platforms. I also need to clean up my RSS mess and perhaps contemplate.
So, dear readers, have you set goals for your blog (or web site?) What metrics or qualitative data do you use to measure them? How do you reflect on them?