I gained a real appreciation for the use of metrics when the company that I worked for a decade ago decided that it was going to become ISO 9001 Certified, and also apply the Software Engineering Insitute's Capability Maturity Model. So back when I started this blog, I immediately hooked it into Google Analytics.
Like all the tools I use, it is free. Google can tell you quite a bit about what people are reading, and you can watch the trends and link them to events to give you some clues. Here's a picture of the top part of the dashboard that shows page visit trends over time:
When I started this blog, I was writing a couple of times a month then quickly moved to around 2 times a week. In June of 2009, about a year later, I hooked the blog up to twitter using http://twitterfeed.com/. Everytime I posted, it now went to twitter. Pretty quickly there was a small but noticable bump up in readership. In July and more so in August of that year I made a concerted effort to post daily. It was hard at first but I found ways to repurpose what I was doing for other things, which made it much easier. More content about doubled and then tripleed readership.
Do you see that sharp spike in the middle of the chart? That was due to two posts, but mostly this one: Recognition. The Ad Hoc Harleys have since become some of my most popular posts, and that post broke single day and single week prior records by a clear margin. It was helped by a viral e-mail push. I hit as many e-mail lists as I could with that post, and in that time, that meant HL7, IHE and HITSP mailing lists. I don't do that often, but for really important stuff I do. At least 40 of Andrew's co-workers saw that post.
How do I know? Google told me. If I look at the stats on that particular post (View content by title), and then list by network Service Provider, I can often get a good deal of information about who is reading a particular post:
what posts prompted these page views once I tracked down who works in this office, and the dates that they hit the blog. If you click on the individual service provider, it shows a graph of when the hits occur:
That was two days after I wrote my first review of the PCAST report.
My next most favorite image from Google Analytics is this one:
When you click on the Map Overlay button in the Overview report, you get a bigger map. Any colored areas are those where you have readers. My goal is to someday see this map filled in.
Many of the features of Google Analytics are also available in Blogger or Blogger In Draft, if you use that as your blogging platform. In Wisconsin, I have one hit in one particular city that I know belongs to John Moehrke before he turned scripting off in his browser. I know he reads me more often than that.
What Blogger does is a little bit different. It tracks hits at the server, which provides more accurate page counts but is somewhat less featured in capabilities than Google Analytics. In my particular space, I'm seeing about 50% more hits through Blogger than Google Analytics can track. John gets different results because his readers are often more security concious.
There's one little tidbit extra for blogger users. When Google tracks the titles of your page in Blogger, the root page of your blog is just given the title. So http://motorcycleguy.blogspot.com/ has the title "Healthcare Standards", but the page for a single post is "Healthcare Standards: Title of the Post". But I believe that most people hitting the root of the blog are there for the first post. So, I have a bit of script that changes the title of that page, which means that Google tracks the title of the blog differently depending upon which post was first up.
There's two pieces of script code you need to add to your page's HTML. In blogger, you would go to Design | Edit HTML, and then click on the "Expand Widget Templates" checkbox. After the body element, add the following to declare a variable that gets used later.
The first goes in after the body element.
The second comes right before the div using the post-header class. It checks to see if the variable has already been changed, and if not, fixes up the title. Just remember to change "Healthcare Standards:" to the name of your blog.
This will change the title that Google Analytics uses to report on your blog when you use the Content by Title View, but won't have any impact on how it reports the URL for the page the reader hit. That's a handy way to distinguish how they got to the page.
There's a ton more you can do with Google Analytics. Read the documentation and play around.
The best Search Engine Optimization tip that I've learned from it is that simple names for blogs and posts are the best. This blog is called Healthcare Standards. Guess what is in the top spot in Google for that query? Look also at the Meaningful Use Standards Summary. I learned this when I realized how well my post on Clinical Decision Support was doing over the course of a year. Now I conciously think about titles. Sometimes I'll forgo a clever title for an easy to find one.
One last free tool that I'll mention is Google Web Master Tools. That tool gives you great information about links to your blog, searches (most people find me using "motorcycle guy blog" as the query), and page rank.
Keep on blogging