It's hard to gauge success, especially in the early stages of a blog. You're making maybe 1-2 cents a day with AdSense, no one is buying that great t-shirt you designed, and the only comments you're getting are from people in Slovstakiskania, offering to sell you Cialis. Sometimes it can get downright frustrating.
How can you tell you're building an audience, when there is no immediate, visceral evidence of you having one?
I use Google's tools to track my webcomic's performance. I'd like to show you what I do, and how to set it up, so you can use it to measure your own blog's success as well.
The first tool I turn to is Google AdSense. It's a tool with two purposes: it helps monetize your site (that's web 2.0 mumbo jumbo for "make money") and it helps you track visitors. It's not as robust as Analytics, which we'll look at next, but for a quick overview, it does the job admirably. It also has an important difference between its raw reports and Analytics'.
If you don't already have an AdSense account, I recommend you get one. It's free, it pays you to use it, and the only real restriction is that your site isn't "adult" in nature (some of my erotic writer friends may be borderline not-approved bloggers). I'm not going to spend any time here explaining how to get an account and get AdSense set up. If you need information on that, do a quick Google search for setting it up on whatever blogging platform you're using. I recommend you check out these sites, too: Blogger Hints and Tips and My Blogger Tricks.
When you're ready to start measuring your results, log in to AdSense. The initial page looks like this.
Click on the "View Full Reports" link to the far right of the date. This will give us some important graphing tools.
Once you've got the graph up, you can set the date for the date range you want to analyze. Click on the Date Range at the top right, and select the time period you want to look at. I usually do this on a monthly basis, and click "Last Month" or set custom values manually.
Then, especially if you're not receiving much revenue to speak of for your site, change the view from estimated earnings to page views. You'll now have a day-by-day graph of the traffic to your site that requested an AdSense ad. I highlight that because this graph will not show you people who've got Adblocker installed, nor will it tell you when someone simply linked to a graphic on your site or flat-out copied your text. So keep that in mind when you see the rendered grid.
I had a particularly great end-of-the month comic!
To do a comparison you simply have to pick a previous month in the date range tool, and see what it tells you.
In my case, most of March hovered between 100 and 200 hits a day, never peaking much higher than that, except for an extraordinary day near the end of the month. (That was a stumbleupon day. For some reason, my "Most Interesting Hobbit in the World" comic got the Hobbit front page that day. Plus, I took mid-April off to go on vacation, as evidenced by the flat line through the middle of the month. All in all, even though the served page views here are slightly lower from March to April, I felt April was a good month, improving slightly over March.
So, are there better, more indepth ways of analyzing this data? Yes. There is. Jump over to http://analytics.google.com. Again, this article isn't going to delve into how to set these up. If there's interest, I'll write up articles on how to do it. Right now I just want to show you how I use the tool. Much the same way... set the month up in the date range finder at the top right. And in the "metric" selector (the little box just under the word "Overview") select "Unique Visitors." I prefer unique visitor counts because that helps eliminate the massive number of times I hit refresh myself waiting for comments from people. :D
Underneath the graph, Analytics will give you both counts anyway. Total visitors, and total unique visitors.
So, I had 2600 people visit the site in March. Not bad. Changing the date-range finder to April, I get the following.
The count went up. Over 3100 visits by nearly 2900 unique visitors -- an increase of nearly 300 people. That's pretty nice! We can use this tool to see trending lines, too. For my case, I stretched the date-range finder to a 3-month period, February through April. You can see February was way down -- it was the first month, and I started late in the month. March comes with a solid number, and then if you look carefully at the graph, you can see that the line is trending upward.
In the metric selector now, add a second metric: % New Visits. This will show you how many returning visitors you had. A great sign of reader retention is when people come back to your site. With a new site, I don't expect a whole lot of repeat business yet. But I'd like to see people become fans, subscribe, and keep coming back every week.
And there, I can see that the percent of new visitors was close to 100% in March, but had declined slightly in April. In other words, people are starting to stick around! Over time, I expect to see this trend to continue, even as the total visitor count increases.
So there you have it. Probably not the best way to do it, probably there are far more accurate tools, but if you're just starting out and want to see a quick snapshot of how your words or images are getting out there, this does the job. If you've got any questions or suggestions for me about this, please leave a comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.