Personal Blog Analytics - Which Numbers Really Matter and Why Medium Analytics Sucks
Maintaining a personal blog is time well spent. You reinforce your knowledge, help others learn from your experience, and it also plays a big role in personal branding which deserves a post on its own.
So far I've blogged on Wordpress, Medium, a static site built with Gatsby and Github Pages, and now I'm finally happy to run my blog with Devblog.
In this post, I'll cover the bare minimum of working with Google Analytics, and show you how it helps me understand how people react to my posts. I hope that people who are just getting started with blogging will benefit from the rest of my post.
Most important blog metrics
- Unique pageviews
- Total number of visitors
- Source/Medium and Referers
- Time spent on page
- Bounce rate
Depending on the sort of analytics you use, you'll find different names for this. To cut to the chase, if you're not using Google Analytics for your personal blog, you definitely should. Since you can add Google Analytics plugin to your Wordpress website, Medium remains as the sole platform which doesn't allow this.
Depending on the sort of analytics you use, you'll find different names for this. With Wordpress and Medium analytics, all you can see is "Views", which correlate to Google Analytic's "Pageviews".
Mind you, unique pageviews are more important than just pageviews.
Here's an example.
10 people read your post. Each person visited your page two times.
- Unique pageviews - 10
- Pageviews - 20
Sure, the second number is larger and makes us feel like we've helped a lot of people, while the reality is that only 10 people actually read it. This gives you the idea of how many people you actually reached with a specific post.
Total number of visitors
This number gives you the total number of people who visited your site, regardless of the pages they visited. In Google Analytics this metric is called "Users", Wordpress calls it "Visitors" and Medium gives you ... nothing.
You should use this metric to estimate the general look and feel of your blog performance. You should aim at raising this number every month and with every post. After looking at this number I usually ask myself "What can I do to share my posts with more people?". Afterward, I dive into other metrics, but as this is an intro post, I'll skip the specifics for now.
Source/Medium and Referers
These metrics show how people came to your blog.
Did you share something on Hacker News and it was featured on the first page, did Hashnode's network work for you, or are you simply nailing the SEO part of your posts? Thankfully, Devblog takes care of all the tech aspects of SEO, so all you have to think about is how you're structuring your posts.
I prefer looking at Source/Medium on Google Analytics. It gives me the website address from which people came to my blog, and also tells me if they discovered me through a newsletter, social media, or whether people found me organically.
See this "Direct" traffic? Don't get confused, this is what happens when people right-click and open your post in a new tab. Some of them might have it bookmarked and are re-reading it.
Both Wordpress and Medium give you these metrics, however, Wordpress is doing a much better job. You know exactly where the people discovered or mentioned you. Medium, heh... Take a look...
Medium gives you a sum of some things, and you can't deduce why the post performed the way it did from these metrics. Basically, you end up being a John Snow.
Time spent on page
This Google Analytics metric gives me insights about the people who saw the post. Have they read it, just skimmed it, or did they go through the first line and decided not to read the rest?
Wordpress doesn't provide this info, while Medium gives you "Reads", so you can understand whether the people actually read your post. It's not clear how they calculate these numbers, whether they track that people reached the end of the post, or look at the time spent on page, or if they combine these things.
If you see that people aren't reading your posts, spend 5 seconds or so and then drop off, then you need to review whether your intro was catchy enough and if you shared the content with the right audience.
This metric shows whether people who saw your post decided to visit other pages as well or just read that one and closed the page.
Neither Wordpress nor Medium give you this data.
Ideally, you'd like to see people checking out the rest of your blog, looking for similar posts.
Medium and vanity metrics
In today's world, people give more value to vanity metrics than they should. These metrics give us large numbers and boost our ego. We're talking about reach as if that's the number of people who actually benefited from our post. Likes and shares on social media don't mean a thing if the sad reality is that people didn't finish reading your post.
Medium thrives on these vanity metrics. They give me "Views", "Reads", "Read ratio" and "Fans".
In other words, I get a bunch of vanity metrics that are designed to make me feel better. "Views" - pageviews, "Reads" - the number of times the post was read, "Read ratio" - the percentage of times the post was seen VS the times it was read and "Fans" are the number of people who clapped to a post.
Let's say you wrote about your open-source project. Imagine getting a lot of claps, but no contributors or people who starred your project on GitHub. Did your post do the job? No.
I'm not saying you shouldn't be happy about the fact that a bunch of people liked your post, but ask yourself what can you do to reach more people? In order to improve your writing and understand your audience, you need more than these simplified metrics designed to make you feel good.
Another issue with Medium is that it keeps pushing gated content to people and non-gated is pushed aside, but heh, that's a story that deserves a whole post.
If you're just getting started with blogging, make sure to set up Google Analytics and set specific goals for each post. With each one, your writing skills will improve, and with the right metrics by your side, you'll understand your audience better. And oh, if you're still blogging on Medium, check out Devblog. You can blog under your domain and import your old Medium stories. What's not to like there? 🍻
If you're on WordPress and value your users privacy, do not use Google Analytics.
Sure, webmasters get to take advantage of big brothers' trove of fingerprinted browsers and fancy metrics, but you're also diming out your users to Google and feeding a beast that's already obese.
Google benefits most when you put Google Analytics on your site. Now they can track your users. Webmasters getting analytics out of the deal is the only way Google can sign you up to spy on your traffic.
That's why I use the 100% self-hosted WPStatistics plugin on my WordPress.org blog. And it's considerably faster than Google analytics too, because you don't have to make your clients do an extra DNS query and download external tracking scripts from 3rd party (Google) servers.
Thanks for your comment Justin Grimes! I'm also concerned about online privacy and I do get your point. Realistically speaking, any analytics is going to feed some beasts, whether it's Wordpress, GA, or someone else. I do use GA, and I'm happy that the data is anonymous, so I can't map the people to their actions.
Also, if people don't want to leave their data, they can use any adblocker or Brave browser.
All I want is to make sure that people actually read posts and that I'm reaching out to people who actually might benefit from them. No evil intentions at all.