April 30, 2008

Should Bloggers Open Up Their Statistics?

The Web makes it incredibly easy to be measured, and to be measured publicly. There are many metrics out there, be they Technorati Authority, based on unique external hyperlinks, total RSS subscribers (via FeedBurner), total Twitter followers, and friends of all types, from FriendFeed to Facebook and back. But while most of us are more than eager to share that data, when it comes to actually sharing the traffic we receive on our blogs, it can be a closely-guarded secret. Talking about visit counts can be seen as off-limits as one's salary.

As today is April 30th, wrapping up another month, today offers yet another opportunity to sum up the month's statistics, show trends, and compare to the past. (You'll see a "State of the Blog" post from me on this early tomorrow, as we do each month) But while, to date, I've shown graphs, I usually hide the total number of visitors, page views, etc. And now, I ask openly, why?

I think there are two major reasons that bloggers as a whole don't open up their statistics for others to view:

1) The Inferiority Complex
By sharing my statistics openly, it will now be obvious to the world how little real traffic I get, opening me to ridicule. The emperor has no clothes, it could be said. Also, maybe the traffic I receive isn't seen as "quality" traffic? I still get a lot of visitors from Google image searches looking for R-rated material in vain. Maybe I don't want everybody to see that, and, therefore, take the site less seriously?
But yet, the reverse problem also holds true.

2) The Big Head Complex
By sharing my statistics openly, it could be shown we're bragging, highlighting traffic, growth, and the trends. Smaller bloggers just getting started might see the data as unattainable and could throw potshots.
It all depends on perspective.

So why open up? We've come a long way since free hit counters were the rage back in the mid to late 1990s, and one could up the number just by refreshing a page in the browser. Now, whether your stat package of choice is SiteMeter or Google Analytics, your site traffic has likely been made invisible to your readers, making actual, true, traffic a mystery. But in the interest of openness, data sharing, and collaboration, I think it's time to consider making our blog traffic 100% available and visible.


1) Making traffic details public establishes a data point
Just as it makes sense to visit Salary.com and determine what other people with your title in your geography are commanding, viewing other's statistics can give you a reference point for how you are performing against your peers.
2) Making traffic sources public enables new sites' discovery
One of the most interesting things I find from my statistics are where people are coming from, in the referral logs. It's likely that those people caring enough to send a link my way might be interested in the same topics I am, and, using the transitive property, my readers would be interested in what they are as well.
3) Making content details public shows popularity of topics
Despite one's best efforts, not every single story gets the same amount of solid traffic. There are peaks and valleys. Making this data public could better give guidance to other writers as to what topics are most interesting, might get the most engagement, or views.

1) Establishing that data point puts you on a chart somewhere
Whether the total number of unique visitors, page views, referrals is in the hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands, by establishing that data publicly, your traffic now becomes part of the conversation, relative to yourself and relative to others, so you'll need to come to terms with this in advance.
2) Exposing traffic details could lead to others' snooping
A good blogger who knows their statistics can get used to specific readers. With a good combination of MyBlogLog, and location-based visits, I have a good idea of who the most frequent visitors are, and I think I know what stories they read, if I get the time to look it up. Maybe others could be as aggressive and figure out the same information. Some visitors might not like having this potential to be snooped expanded to the masses.
3) Your statistics could actually go down
It's one thing to post data at your peak when things are going well. But if you have a slow week or months, and your numbers collapse, there's no hiding it. You can't undo a number once it's out, so that too would be a risk.
So here's what I'm thinking. I have nothing to hide. Tomorrow, when we do our statistical summary for the prior month, I'll use the statistics I have on hand, and expose the sources of the data. We'll see what happens. And maybe, as you go about your efforts, you'll consider opening up. This isn't a question of who's bigger than anybody else or what's good traffic versus bad. I feel that as bloggers, the more data we have available, the more empowered we are. Let me know if this is something you would be eager to participate in, and what your thoughts are.