As the ever-insightful Morris Rosenthal of Foner Books noted in his recent post A Website Lesson For Publishers at his blog, some of the most useful (yet underused) information many novice Web site owners don’t get around to taking advantage of is good analysis of site visitor stats. First of all, if you’re not tracking site visitors, you’re essentially driving blind on the Internet. But, if you never move beyond counting total hits—that is, each individual page load—you never know how or why people are ending up at your site. Besides, as he says, you could be getting hundreds of hits a day but if they all are coming from a link at The 25 Worst Web Sites, that’s not exactly the kind of productive traffic you’re probably shooting for.
There are four big categories of information to break down your stats into that will give you a much better idea of how well your site is working:
- referrers or referring pages (the page people were at when they clicked a link to come to your site);
- search engine terms (when coming from a search engine page this will list the term/phrase people used to generate those results);
- popular pages (what pages or posts people visit the most often at your site); and
- clicks (what links, if any, people clicked on your site when leaving).
One of the reasons that I like using WordPress for our blog is because of the wealth of useful statistical information that it provides. Below you’ll find examples of the kind of information I listed above.
On July 7, 2007, people came to our blog from the following pages:
The first referring page was from a Book Design Blog post they did about us a while back. The WordPress.com referrer was from someone looking at a list of WordPress posts tagged with “publisher editor.” (If you look at the bottom of each post, it is “tagged” with various categories that relate to information contained in the post.) The third referrer was from the Textbook entry at Wikipedia. The fourth referrer was from a link in a Yahoo.com email. The fifth referring page was from the Publisher entry, also at Wikipedia. Finally, the last referring page was from the beta version of a MySpace.com news service that I had never heard of until I found this link in our stats.
Search Engine Terms
In addition, it can also be useful—without having to follow the link to every search engine results page—to see what search terms people used to get to your site. So, on July, 17, 2007, people used the following search engine terms to wind up at our blog (plus, it shows how many page views there were from those resulting visits):
|co publishing between india and america||3|
|book design with indesign||2|
|‘dan coyne’ typo silverman||2|
|Literary Agents in India||2|
As it happens, we get a lot of hits based on publishing and the outsourcing of publishing to India. In addition, we get a lot of hits based on graphic and book design topics. The “dan coyne” search is due to a recent post I did about the book Typo: The Last American Typesetter or How I Made and Lost 4 Million Dollars. “TSTC BLOGS” is pretty self-explanatory while someone—somebody, somewhere—wound up at our site after using Todd Glasscock’s name—he’s our full-time editor—in a search.
Popular Posts & Pages
It is also helpful to see what posts/pages are generating the most views as you’ll see below by looking at the cumulative numbers for the last 30 days:
|Book Design: InDesign Tips||96|
|Book Publishing Industry News: Simon &am||81|
|Book Design: MS Word vs. Adobe InDesign||47|
|Book Publishing Word of the Day: Front M||37|
|Book Design: CS3 Conference||30|
A few key things show up in these numbers. First of all, once you subtract the individual page views—About US, Publishing Resources, Our Publications, and Useful Links—from the posts themselves, you’ll see that graphics posts—InDesign Tips, MS Word vs. Adobe InDesign, and CS3 Conference—are by far the most popular. While Grace did two of those three graphics posts, I recently did the one about MS Word vs. Adobe InDesign to see if a post on this subject would generate traffic like hers had gotten. Sure enough, it did! So, that goes to show that if you know what people want to read, you can then provide more related information. Finally, the Book Publishing Industry News post was about Simon & Schuster opening a publishing office/operation in India. I wrote that post several months ago but it is still one of the most popular posts we’ve ever done.
Finally, tracking what links at your site—if any—people used when leaving is also helpful. For example, so far today people have left our site by way of these links:
The first URL is someone looking at the jpeg of the publishing calendar I recently posted. The second URL at shop.tstc.edu is for one of the technology forecasts we carry. The third link goes to the blog of Aaron Shephard’s blog where he writes about using MS Word for book layout and design. The last link goes to one of Shephard’s books at Amazon.com.
In the end, as Morris Rosenthal (and many others) would say, there is a wealth of information to be had by analyzing site visitor stats. On the other hand, it’s awfully easy to get so caught up in these numbers that you do nothing else during the day. One thing I will say about WordPress is that I wish there was a cumulative number—not just day by day—for referring pages, search engine terms and clicks like there is with popular pages. But, for that information, you can use a third-party web-based application like Statcounter.com. We use Statcounter for all our sites as well to generate even more information . . . in a future post I’ll detail what kind of additional information can be gleaned and how we use it.