Is Anybody Out There? Assessing a Blog’s Audience
Hello? Is anybody out there? Who are you? These are the questions that often go through a blogger’s mind. Hardly anybody wants to blog to nobody. As one blogger once wrote: “Maintaining a blog with no one visiting or commenting would be [as] sad as a clown doing a show with no one watching.”
I’ve often wondered who our readers are. That’s right – you. I’m writing this blog post to you . . . and I might not even know who you are. Some of you comment a lot, and we’re very grateful, since the comments on this blog have been absolutely wonderful. But we have many readers who don’t add comments. Who are the readers who lurk in the shadows? Is anybody reading? How does one find out?
The best answers thus far are supplied by Site Meter, which tracks IP addresses visiting the blog. I’ve become obsessed with Site Meter, seeing who is coming in, whether they’re from government or academia or somewhere else. We have visitors from over 70 countries, with the most coming from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, and Israel. We also have visitors from Qatar, Belarus, Papua New Guinea, Togo, Bangladesh, Nepal, Malta, and Tanzania.
Site Meter doesn’t do a great job of telling us much more about who is visiting, but it at least gives us a head count. The numbers, however, perplex me. Do blogs with thousands of visitors a day really have a readership of thousands? Site Meter doesn’t lie, right?
Repeat Visitors: Site Meter “defines a ‘visit’ as a series of page views by one person with no more than 30 minutes in between page views.” This means that if you visit Concurring Opinions and then visit again 10 minutes later, you only count as 1 visitor or “hit.” But if you visit again more than 30 minutes later, you count as a new visit. This gives us credit for drawing you back later on in the day to read us again, and it prevents gaming the system. But this means that many of our hits could be from repeat players who check our blog many times throughout the day . . . which you should do, by the way, as we’re constantly creating new content during the day and we love our readers who generate 10+ hits per day for us the most!
Bots: Then there are bots that regularly hit the website. Bots are software programs that explore the web gathering information. Search engine bots, for example, such as from Google, will register some hits.
Spammers: There are also hits from spammers who leave comment spam and trackback spam. Most of these hits are by bots too.
Google Search Hits: Then there are those who find the blog via Google searches (or those with other search engines). In our logs, for example, we can see the search terms people used to access our site.
These Google hits count as visitors, and we get a decent amount of Google search traffic. I think that these visitors to the site certainly count, but many are not the blog’s regular readership. Many are “one hit wonders” who visit once and never come back again.
Over at Conglomerate, they get a ton of hits from Europe for “Google’s Heart” because of one post with that title. Gordon Smith pointed this out in a post and expressed great puzzlement over it. But more importantly, does Google have a heart?
PrawfsBlawg got a visitor for the search term “self cannibalizing.” I’m not sure which is scarier: the visitor who would search for such a thing or the PrawfsBlawg bloggers who must have written something that pulled up the blog in the search results!
Should these count toward audience? After all, the people searching for these terms are visiting the blog. But many are not regular readers — they’re not part of the blog’s community.
RSS Feed Readers: RSS feeds take away hits to the blog. Many of our readers use RSS feeds. This means that they can read the full content of our blog without registering a hit on our website unless they click to read the comments to a post. If these readers would ordinarily check our blog a few times a day without the convenience of the RSS feed, it means hundreds of visits that are not being counted. [So RSS readers -- if you like a post you read, click through to give us a hit -- think of it like giving us a high five.]
Weekly Readers: Not everybody visits several times a day. Some people will visit once a week or even less frequently. In contrast, some readers check the blog multiple times per day, seven days per week. [Yes, we love these readers!] A multiple-hit reader might register 20 to 40 hits per week; a weekly reader registers 1 hit. Yet each might be reading our content equally.
I’m no expert in all of this, so I’m curious what more knowledgeable readers might have to add.