Friday, January 27, 2006

Wondering about blog traffic

Last night, over at his fine blog Nobody Asked . . . , Winston asks the question I'm pretty sure just about every blogger wonders at one time or another: whether anyone reads his blog besides a few faithful commenters. This seems to have been on his mind the past few days, seeing as he alludes to it in his comment on my post here noting the 6,000th visitor to my site since I posted a counter. But I'm not picking on him for wondering. I myself STILL wonder.

What follows here is a pretty rambling meditation on whether or not to count and, if you do choose to, just what exactly is being counted.

By way of beginning, I've chosen to compare/contrast the blog-traffic philosophies of two bloggers whom I've linked to and whom I very much admire, then I'll get around to discussing my own take on all this.

Some bloggers, the most prominent I know of being Jeremy Freese, adamantly refuse to put counters on their sites. Freese would argue, I suspect, that he doesn't want to know just how many people visit his site. Not wanting to know, by the way, is rather different from not caring. And Freese DOES care, some, as evidenced by the fact that he has a Frappr map for his blog and provides a Blogroll link for those who care to add his blog to their blogrolls. But he doesn't do those things that bloggers do to try and drive traffic their way, like joining blog rings or listing their blogs in directories. If people link to his stuff and others find their way via the links, then fine by him. Whether they keep returning or never ever return, he'll be none the wiser. He clearly enjoys blogging, but expanding and keeping an audience is not what drives his blogging, as nearly as I can tell.

A representative of the other end of this continuum is "SB" of Watermark. I don't know of another blog with this many links to other blogs, memberships in blog rings, listings in directories, etc. It's really a bit overwhelming to contemplate how she manages to keep up with all this. But then again, she is a real advocate of promoting other people's blogs, too; it's from Watermark, as I've mentioned before, that I got the idea for encouraging others to visit and link to some of the "insignificant microbes" of the blogosphere. So, sure: SB cares a lot about traffic and has done all she can to draw some to Watermark, but she also tries to send some out. Other blogs, and I'm sure we've all seen them, are only about themselves in the end.

Now to me. I look at that number "6000" (which, by the way, is a count of "unique visitors"--both first-time and returning visitors) and to me it seems an impressive number at first, given the kind of blog I have. But then I think about who/what is represented by that number, and it soon begins to appear a whole lot less impressive.

I mentioned in the thank-you post that a lot--well over a hundred--of those numbers indicate my own visits to my site via other computers. My Statcounter tells me that 75 of my last 100 "visitors" stayed less than 5 seconds--so extrapolate that ratio out over a few thousand visits. Although I'm thankful that the members of Blog Advance are such avid surfers, their visits are less about visiting my blog and more about earning credits. Most of them have stayed only the requisite 30 seconds. For a few glorious days back in October, a couple hundred people were drawn here because this post showed up in Technorati searches. Where are those folks now? And how long did they stay in the first place? Once that particular 15 minutes was past, they went elsewhere to spend another 15 minutes.

I know all this stuff because I have counters that keep track of such things. There ARE counters out there that only keep track of hits, and there are times when I have to admit that the chef advantage of the absolute, unbreakdownable number is precisely that it's unbreakdownable. It's hard to become obsessive about a simple number. But I like knowing how people find their way here and what they read when they do get here. I like knowing that I have between a dozen and 20 regular visitors. I'm pleased that the posts people read the most are, by and large, the ones I would choose as my favorites. I'm also pleased that, of late, I've been getting more return visitors per day, and my visitors have tended to stay longer (it used to be that well over 80 of every 100 visitors stayed less than 5 seconds). I wouldn't know any of this if it weren't for the counters. And I don't think knowing it has changed what I write about and how I write about it.

This will never be a high-traffic blog because it doesn't have rapidly-changing content (see the more prominent political blogs), it isn't about technology or sex; indeed, it's not focused on much of anything. But I enjoy keeping it up, and--thanks in large measure to others who have linked to it--it is finding and growing an audience. While I don't need to have counters to accomplish all that, I'd be less aware that that is happening and grateful to those who have helped make it happen.

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Winston said...

Thanks for the punch John B. Good rundown of the extremes and your own position. My position is probably close to Jeremy Freese in that I have no counters, attracting and keeping an audience is not what I am about. I DO care or I would not have wondered out loud on the question in the first place. But it is not what drives me. I blog for my own reasons, as do we all, some of which are publicly stated, some not. The community and friendships that have developed are bonuses, but I blog for me. It has been fun, an outlet that I needed, an escape and catharsis, all rolled into one.

I feel a blog coming on... but first I want to go check out Jeremy and Watermark...

fearful_syzygy said...

I don't like to say it, but I have on occasion looked at all the little counters and gizmos on the right there and thought, 'man, that guy's just a little too desperate somehow'. But perhaps it's just that LiveJournal doesn't allow you to have counters on your blog, so the fact that you have any seems excessive, and there may or may not be an element of sour grapes in there somewhere. Because, sure, we're all curious to know who's reading and what they're getting out of it. But in the end, I like to imagine that if someone reads something on my blog that they find interesting or funny or what have you, they'll post a comment. After all, how else would I know? There are some friends of mine who read my blog but don't comment, despite my repeated exhortations, because even though I may know they're there, in the background, it's always nice to get a comment. But I'm less interested in the people who surf onto my site by accident only to wipe out instantly, so not having any sort of counter on my journal is no great loss, ultimately.

pk said...

I have kind of mixed feelings about all this. On the one hand I'm reasonably insecure and like the validation I get from checking the counters - and yes, this is despite the fact that I have had something of a quite successful site 'rise' since commencing in Sept.

And I don't have (thankfully) a measure on time (I don't think) each visitor stays at my site. I say 'thankfully' because I know the richocheting and completely random way I career around the internet and it is OFTEN the case that I'll have 4 windows loaded with 10 or 20 tabs in each so although it may seem like I'm 'on a site' for a long period of time, you or anyone else will have no way of knowing either what I looked at or how long I actually looked. So I think that observing the time element probably gives false indications.

Hell, I often go to sites and don't even read the content, I sometimes only go looking at the sidebar links. Perhaps I'm more random than most in my web habits but the way I operate tells me that I should have less of a reliance on traffic feedback and more of an eye for commentary and links from other sites (yeah, I realize that level of observation from the rest of the web is not the stuff of all personal sites).

At the other end of the spectrum I'm actually quite dismissive or skeptical of stats. I try to remind myself all the time that this thing I do is about compiling a webopedic 'magazine' about digitized printed images which I do both for the interest, hobby and psuedo-academic discipline (research by any other name).

So I vacillate between the poles on the topic. That's likely a good thing I suspect.

R. Sherman said...

It seems to me, that if one has something to say, one might as well stash it somewhere. If others like it, so be it. If not, too bad. Those of us who pop in, do so because we like what we read.

Keep up the good posts.


Sine.Qua.Non said...

ditto everybody...not much to say that hasn't been said already.......but it's succinct!

sutrix said...

Finding counters on blogs has always felt a little bit like attention seeking to me, to be frank. It's like the blogger is shouting from his rooftop about how what he has to say is being read, pretty much the same way an author who publishes his first book would weild the signed contract to everyone who looked down on him for choosing such a profession.

Not that any of that applies to you, of course, John B.

The blogs I visit on a regular basis all have tremendous, good content. I couldn't give a fiddling fib about how many people visit a particular blog. And I've noticed the most popular blogs are literally poop anyway.

f_s, I hear you. The people around me who read my blog, prefer to comment on the entries in person. (God save me if my parents ever read my blog.)

But that's not really bad--I got tremendous flak for an entry about people excreting on the streets a few months ago. It's better than a flame which runs on for a thousand comments, anyway.