Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Let's talk about stats, baby

I have been sitting on this topic for a long, long time, and after seeing it become an issue earlier today on Twitter, I thought there was no better time than now!

Stats: we've all got 'em. They tell us all kinds of useful things, like how many people subscribe to our blogs, how many hits our blog gets, how many page views we have, where our viewers are reading from, and so on. They're like circulation numbers in print media: stats give a good idea on how much and how many things are going on on a blog. In addition to stats as useful numbers, there's also commenting numbers that can provide some interesting information.

These numbers can be passed along to publishers in exchange for, say, receiving advanced copies of titles -- those numbers can show your reach and your ability to spread the word about a title -- and they can be used if you're seeking out advertising and revenue for your blog. Stats are important because they help separate out and help file bloggers into different categories. Bloggers who get a lot of comments and a lot of hits appear to have bigger reaches in the blogging world, and they then are more entitled to receiving certain "high interest" galleys and receiving some of the perks and promotional opportunities that can come with working with publishers or publicity agencies. These are the bloggers making bigger impressions, and they're the ones who'll give the most exposure to the most people. It makes sense. Numbers can say a lot!

When bloggers approach publishers seeking ARCs, sometimes they will lay out their stats for the publisher, and sometimes they publisher will ask directly. There are some publishers on Netgalley who have in their requirements that bloggers wishing to receiving an egalley put their information right in their bios, so that the publisher can make an easier decision on whether the blogger's numbers match what their ideal numbers are. If a blogger meets that number, they have a better chance at receiving one of the limited number of ARCs available (it's not guaranteed, but it's a plus point to them).

Bloggers work exceptionally hard to make sure they're getting good numbers -- they blog regularly, write features that garner traffic, spread the word about their posts in any social media outlet possible, teach themselves search engine optimization to ensure their posts are among the first results popping up when people Google a book. They check their stats daily, weekly, monthly, and they note trends they're seeing and work to ensure it's an upward, not downward, movement.

Honestly, it's at times mind blowing to see how much work bloggers put into their blog -- they're impassioned, they're loyal, they're dedicated, and they're always looking for the next opportunity. Those who work hard SEE the rewards, through not only stats, but also through commenting, through their posts being spread wide and far, through being asked to take part in a huge promotional push on a big title (which then helps their blog's exposure, the stats, and so on and so forth). But my question is this, and it will continue to be this: what does it even mean? What value does it have? Is there a value at all?

There aren't answers and there never will be. That right there is why stats, in my mind, are not at all a useful means of measuring a blogger's worth.




Here's a screen shot of our stats from the last month (February 20 - March 20), as provided by blogger. As you can see, we've had almost 500 hits today, and we've had over 22,000 hits in the last month. It's pretty astounding, considering these numbers do not take into account our readers who subscribe via RSS (I'll get there in a second). This is only people who go to stackedbooks.org.


And here's a comparative screen grab of what Google Analytics says our stats are in the same time frame. We've had somewhere between 4,100 and 6,800 visitors, and we've had 11,300 page views. As you can see, our traffic patterns vary, depending on the day and depending on the content. I can tell you that the peaks are when we have guest posts and when we have posts that elicit conversation, and our valleys are when we post book reviews (the bread and butter of what we do garners the least amount of traffic - go figure!). We also know we get more hits on weekdays as opposed to weekends, and during holidays and during conference seasons (ALA, etc.) we have declines in our readership. The traffic pattern information is useful to us when we're planning our posts, so that we don't post something we want people to read when we know our readership will be lower.


One more statistical compilation to look at -- this is what sitemeter (the little button at the very bottom of our blog and many other blogs) says about our blog. We have far fewer hits per day and week according to this site than we do account to either Blogger or Analytics's numbers. It also has our overall page views much lower than the other two.

Now those numbers all show the information for how many people are going to our blog directly and interacting with it at stackedbooksblog's worth on these numbers at all. As both Kimberly and Jen can attest to, this is probably the first time they've actually SEEN all of these numbers in one place. Same here. We have them but we never pay attention. We pay attention to writing strong reviews, interesting features, and doing so on a consistent schedule.

So, when we're asked for our stats, we average out the numbers and get a good idea of what our page views are.

In theory.

We have never once been asked to provide our stats for anything. Never. Once.

I mentioned earlier that these numbers do not take into account readers who subscribe by RSS. But that's a number that's always changing and inconsistent, much like the stats listed above. We can, however, get a bit of an idea thanks to Feedburner and thanks to the stats feature in Google Reader (which only gives information about GoogleReader subscribers).

Here's our Feedburner readout:



Here's what Google Reader says for our feed:


These two numbers are reading our feeds by different addresses but I know that FeedReader shows our GoogleReader subscribers as much higher than GoogleReader shows our GoogleReader subscribers. But these are two wildly different numbers! And then there's the complication of numbers of people who are "following," rather than "subscribing" to our blog.


I've talked before about readership and about critical reviews and about different types of bloggers, and that conversation is worth thinking about when we look at stats.  Different bloggers are going to garner different readerships and different stats. They reach different audiences and have different goals. I've believed for a long time this is something people were aware of, but I know the case is that that's not true. There are bloggers who have astronomical stats because they're promoting titles and they're working as publicity for titles, rather than as reviewers for titles. Then there are bloggers who only review popular titles. Then there are bloggers who seek out lesser-known titles or bloggers who work primarily backlist titles. Their stats are going to be much different than those who are, say, doing cover reveals (and racking up hits that way) or those who are the first to review a very popular title (say Bitterblue). And that is okay. It is okay. Everyone reaches a different audience and everyone has different goals, and the entire beauty of the blogging world is that everyone can coexist like this.

One of the things we know about our readership is that the bulk are librarians or educators. It's not our entire audience by any means, but a good chunk are. These are people who are gatekeepers to other readers. They spread information by word of mouth and, often, by opening their budget, too. We have readers who tell us they purchase books because we've given it a positive (or critical!) review. We know we have readers who look to us to find out what book they can next hand to a teen who loved x-titled book and needs something similar.

And that -- that right there -- is exactly why we do this.

We don't do it for the stats, and we don't do it to see our numbers explode. We don't do it so we can get the next greatest promotion nor the next biggest title. We can get them from the library or purchase them ourselves when they're available. Sure, being the first to review an exciting title is neat, but it's never our goal here. That's not to say the folks who do do those things are wrong. It's just that their goals are much different than ours. And that. is. okay.

So why the long and detailed discussion of stats?

Stats tell us NOTHING.

They tell us absolutely NOTHING about a blog.

The truth of the matter is that while blogs certainly have a role in buzz marketing and in helping sell books and in putting books on people's radars, we are only hitting certain audiences. Each blog hits different audiences and different readers, and those readers do different things with that information. They pass it along to colleagues or teens, they use it to buy books or avoid buying books, they use it to keep up-to-date on what's coming out. But do we, as bloggers, know what they're doing?

The answer is no. We don't. We have ideas, and we can be told, but the truth is, unless we're the ones buying a title, we don't know how many titles we're selling of certain books. We don't know our true REACH. We never can and we probably never will.

All these stats do is give us a number. They give us something to look at and to pass along, something that can feel good or feel bad, depending on the day the blogger looks at it. But the truth is, these stats don't tell us about content or quality of content. It just tells us something was looked at a lot or not looked at at all. It tells us when things are looked at more and when they're looked at less. They're a tool for the blogger to plan and think through what they're doing. And if you take our numbers at their value, our biggest days come when we aren't reviewing books, which is what we like doing most here. Which is what publishers provide ARCs for -- the review. Our stats aren't useful except to ourselves and whatever meaning we ascribe to it; they're not useful for publishers because for them, it's a raw number without meaning behind it.

Stats, as interesting as they are, really don't tell us anything. They don't tell us the true impact of what we're doing. They don't tell us whether what we said made someone buy a book. They don't tell us how many people added a book to their GoodReads to-read shelf (sure you could extrapolate, but that's giving yourself a lot of credit). They don't tell us anything about ourselves except that we exist and, in some cases, we should be paid attention to. Because we ARE reaching someone. Just . . . we can't know more than that.

Back to an earlier point: we have never been asked to provide our stats for anything, and I've laid them out right here for you to look at because as much as people are protective of their own, they're also perversely interested in other people's numbers. Publishers often talk about bloggers providing stats but they've not -- as far as I know -- given any indication of what good stats are. They haven't laid out publicly what they're looking for in terms of numbers or reach. At Kid Lit Con in 2010, there was a discussion about this very topic, and the response from the publishers was that they look at quality of work, they look at stats, and they look at comments. To which savvy bloggers cried precisely what I have said -- numbers. mean. nothing. Reviews get the lowest views. Reviews get the fewest comments. But it doesn't make the work any less valued or valuable or worthwhile.

There's a lot of interest in comparing one another in the blogging world (and in the greater book world, too). But the truth is, comparing yourself to anyone else is pointless. Looking at your stats and seeing they're better than or worse than ours says absolutely nothing about the quality of what you're doing nor does it say anything about what your readers are taking away from your work.

18 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! Sometimes people get very caught up in numbers and worrying about meeting some arbitrary requirement when the truth is, there is no such thing.

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    2. Now, see I have numbers anxiety about my storytimes - but not about my blog. Please take away my numbers anxiety Kelly!

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  2. Thank. You.

    This post is awesome for a lot of reasons, but mainly for the distinction you make between different styles of blogs.

    Actually, no, it's awesome for every bit of it. My blog is small, but I love it. However, it can be easy to slip into the whole "my numbers are down, what am I doing wrong" funk. Thanks for reminding me that's not why I do this.

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    1. Keep your focus on doing what you're doing because you love to do it, not because of some numbers.

      Think of it this way: if you have 10 readers, but they're eager readers, they comment, they spread the message, that's better than 100 readers who just breeze by.

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  3. This all is so very true, Kelly. Blogoverse is a wonderful and very convoluted place with an uncertain, elusive "reach," but every person who ventures into the world of blogging is bound to find something for him/herself.

    I am pretty new to the whole scene, but I have already deduced that I, myself, am drawn to thoughtful blogs and not the advertising machines that seem to have the biggest following/page views. They certainly have a place in the grand scheme of things and I do understand why publishers would make such blogs their priority. It is not clear to me yet what kind of readership such blogs actually have, because I personally do not see what they provide content-wise. It is often hard to see the fun that the owners of such blogs might be having, behind all the obviously commercial glitter.

    I still have a lot to figure out in this world:)

    Tatiana (The Readventurer)

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    1. I read a real mix of blogs -- some that are straight advertising machine (it keeps me in the loop!) -- but the bulk ARE the thoughtful, articulate, and sometimes less-frequented blogs.

      I try not to think about what other people get out of blogging because I like what I get out of it myself enough not to worry about it. There are days it's not always as easy as that (hah) but for the most part, I'm content doing my thing and letting others do theirs with no harm anywhere in the process.

      I've been doing STACKED for almost three years and I still have a lot to figure out ;)

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  4. When will the book blogosphere be free from drama? Wonderful post and something that we should all remind ourselves of. I won't lie and say that I don't cre about the numbers and that I wish that they were a bit higher, but a true and faithful audience means so much more to me. Yup--stats really don't means whole lot in the grand scheme of things... Great post

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    1. I don't like to call anything that comes up in the book blogosphere drama because most of it stems from a legitimate place of discussion and inquiry. We just don't always address it as we should and I wish more people would. There's a lot to talk about and a million approaches to doing so.

      You're right -- a true and faithful audience is what matters most. The numbers come and go (for real).

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    2. "I don't like to call anything that comes up in the book blogosphere drama because most of it stems from a legitimate place of discussion and inquiry."

      Best. Comment. Ever.

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  5. well I'll tell you Stacked is one of my fave book blogs. So there's that!

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    1. We have the best readers, so there's THAT!

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  6. THANK. YOU. Sometimes I obsess about my numbers, but then I come back down to reality and think: If I'm only doing this for the numbers, the notoriety, and/or the free books... I'm doing this for the wrong reason.

    I blog and review books because I LOVE IT and I love sharing my passions with other people. Isn't that why we're _all_ doing it?

    I appreciate this blog post and hope others will take a longer look at what they think really matters within the book blogging/reviewing community.

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    1. Your first statement hits the nail on the head.

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  7. I LOVE.this post. I love my small but loyal audience and we're quite happy in our little corner of the book blogging world without needing to prove anything with numbers.

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  8. I think you're right on the blogger part. Marketers, however (and I'm a marketer as well as a beauty bloggers) are obsessed with Metrics because they need to prove their bosses that every penny they spend does provide some return. If I send a book/a beauty product to that blogger, how many people will read about it, and potentially buy it? We're at the very beginnings of online metrics, lots of companies are still unsure about online marketing, they NEED the metrics to be reassured. So, as bloggers, if we want to interact with the industry, we will need to know and provide those metrics.
    Now why we would start competing with each other over our metrics, I don't know, I suppose it's some stupid competitiveness that would be attached to human nature? That pretty much kills the fun of blogging.

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    1. I know that marketers/publicity folks do need the metrics and it makes sense they do BECAUSE it's their bottom line in the situation. And there's legitimate value and validity in that.

      My concern comes when we're not told what "good stats" are. Being told what they are would complicate things in a sense -- how many bloggers would lie or fudge? -- but it also would be helpful in knowing what the definition of "good stats" is. Because there's not one. And then there is the complicated question of 10 loyal readers who comment, who share, etc., vs 100 readers who read a post and the information goes in and out in the blink of an eye. It's all complicated!

      But the competition is a SILLY thing, and it's the sort of thing that I do think stems a bit from all of this still being new and undefined.

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  9. I need to bookmark this post so I can read it every time I get worked up over my low stats. I love the way you say it over and over - they don't matter and they don't mean anything about our blogs. Thanks!

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