Understanding Site Statistics: Page Views and Visitors


Published on March 8, 2006 at 9:45 AM EST
In the Discussions category.

Some people want a sandwich, some want soup, and others want a lasagna. Learn to give the people what they want!

For most of us, logging in to view our web site’s latest statistics is nothing more than a way to stroke our ego: “Numbers are going up!” If you dig a little and think about what you’re seeing, though, you’ll find that you’ve got some valuable data, telling you exactly what you need to know to make a super-site!

Understanding Site Statistics is a short series to help you learn how to pick out some great details about your visitors and your web site’s health. Try answering some of the following questions about your web site.

Any statistics tool should be able to give you good data, but I’m mostly using SlimStat and Mint, as I wrote in Monitoring Site Statistics.

In this series:

Page Views and Visitors

Most of us are primarily interested in the big numbers: page views, unique visitors, hits, and things like that. Knowing exactly what each of those terms means is essential to understanding what the numbers mean. For example: is a unique visitor somebody who has never been on your site before, or is a unique visitor unique to this day? Different software packages use different terminology, so it’s important to know what they mean. That’s the first step to a better understanding.

Publishing Times

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What time do you publish your new entries? What day? Does it make a difference in the amount of traffic you attract?

How often do you post? Do you see a surge of page views after a post goes live? A surge of visitors? Nothing at all?

  • Be sure to use a good tool to notify sites about newly-published content. In your weblog’s New Entry Default Settings screen, try specifying Ping-o-matic (http://rpc.pingomatic.com) as the only notifier, which pings many sites about your new entry.
  • By simply monitoring traffic levels you can track which days (and hours) bring in the most visitors and creates the most page views. If you normally publish on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, try publishing on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday. If you normally publish in the evening, try publishing in the morning. Try each several times to try and spot any trends (that very popular 4 pm Tuesday post could just be a fluke).
  • As your readership grows and changes, be sure to re-evaluate your publishing schedule.

Page Content

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After you’ve published something new, what kind of reaction does it get? Is there a flood of visitors who view only that page, or do they surf around your site?

To keep things simple, let’s say there are two types of posts you can make: large and small. Does a large post create the same visitor spike as a small post? Different kinds of content will attract different kinds of readers. Identifying what your audience reacts best to lets you know how to focus your entries. Some sites will work better with short entries; others with long.

  • “Pages per visitor” can be an intersting metric. Simply divide visitors by page views to find an average. Example: with 200 page views and 50 visitors, on average each person is visiting 4 pages; with 200 page views and 150 visitors, on average each person is visiting 1.3 pages.
  • Try comparing this metric after a large post, after a small post, and—if you publish new content irregularly—after a few days of no new content. Does a large post bring more visitors? Are people more likely to visit other pages after coming in from a large post? How does that compare to a small post?
  • Compare this metric during morning, afternoon and evening hours, too. Example: do the people who visit from 8 am-noon view an average of more pages than those who visit in the 7 pm-11 pm time? In other words—what is the best time to publish an entry? Do different days attract different traffic?

Other (Older) Pages

It’s likely that you’ve got a fair-sized archive of older pages on your site. Perhaps your most popular pages are a few months or even years old. Popular older content can help guide you to what works best. Are the more popular pages large, small, photo galleries, just links, etc?

Do visitors to those pages visit other pages? Which ones? Can you see any trends: do they visit similar pages (like those in the same category), or do they visit those from the same time period? Are several pages in the same category most popular? Why?

Archive pages can help you to see what your site’s visitors want to read. This also means that publishing more on that same topic will likely increase your readership and make existing readers happy.

  • A path-tracking tool—like the one found in SlimStat—will make it easier to see the pages that are being visited by each visitor.
  • Don’t put too much stock in the published time of archived entries. Visitors most likely came in from a search engine or other site’s link, which doesn’t much care about publishing times.

Summary

Seeing your stats go up is good, but evaluating why they’re going up is helpful. Page views and visitors are a common and basic metric, but when you begin evaluating how those stats interact with what you’re doing with your site, you’ll start to realize how much more information they contain!