This is a continuation of a post I wrote in August about reader stats and attention, Ignore the Stats Connect with Your Authentic Audience. I firmly believe the real value in social media is in connecting with your authentic audience. A 1000 people read my blog last month, 9000 people didn't like the font and left.
Some Shifts In View Since August
1) With the release of lists I was able to keep track of groups of people on Twitter while at the same time shrinking my follow list to under a hundred people. Hooray for empowering super human filters (or mortal portals, another shiny nickel Louis Gray!).
2) Not all stats are to be ignored. Google Analytics is every blogger's or site host's friend. There's a Wordpress plugin, or you can copy a script to the footer of your page. An alternative analytics tool Clicky keeps track of real time visitor information.
How to Determine Actual Readers from Google Analytics
First off, if you're serious about measuring how well a particular post resonates with readers, you have to know how many people took the time to read the article. I mentioned before that the "views" and "page view" stats are pretty meaningless by themselves, but are fine if you believe ignorance is bliss.
Self delusion doesn't fill hungry bellies or minds.
While logged into your analytics site you want to pay careful attention to the visitor stats. The important measure is visitor duration or time on page. In Google Analytics this is under visitor stats, visitor loyalty, length of visit. You can and should add this to your dashboard (why Google Analytics defaults to views is beyond me). Its important to look past the average time onpage, because a few very interested readers (tail statistics) can have a significant effect on a small sample.
As an example for every 100 or so views, one reader will spend 20+ minutes or more (thanks) catching up on my blog posts. I'd say they're really interested, or happened to go afk for breakfast while on my site. I'm happy with either result. If their afk eating I've helped satisfy their hunger for food, and if they're entranced by my posts I've helped satisfy their curiousity.
Crowd Sourced Referral Readers Don't Read
It was a startling realization, but all the amazing "views" I get from sites like HackerNews, Reddit, Digg or StumbleUpon are 80-90% meaningless. Not only do very few of them revisit my site, but the vast majority of folks that find my blog posts from social sites leave in under 10seconds. That's an obvious signal to me that they aren't even reading the first paragraph. How can anyone really judge the value of an article in under 10 seconds without reading any of it? The obvious answer, they can't.
A couple of key lessons I take away from this:
1) Most online browsers don't consume information like I do. I prefer to read an entire post or article. I dig into any reference links I'm unsure of to completely understand the message the writer thought was important enough to share. If the post doesn't resonate with me I'm less likely to return to that site.
2) Maybe social media is really 90% hype? I wonder how many referral readers from Facebook, Twitter, or a news site actually read a post they open up. Dave Winer, one of the guys I've grown to trust in the blogosphere, mentioned something along these lines. He wrote that some folks see a title he shares, then proceed to blindly comment. That activity isn't very meaningful, or respectful of Dave's blog.
There's still Hope in Social Sharing
Even if only ten (or one) out of a 100 viewers takes the time to read one of our posts there's value in the exchange. What we need to do is develop better filters so that we can respect the attention of the other 90 who aren't interested in our topic.
I thought about adding a simple true or false, or addition problem as a gate on the outside of my site the first time a visitor finds it.
1) It would serve as a quick signal, now those 10 second visitors can bounce in 1-2 seconds. I do care about their attention.
2) Only the really interested readers will stick around
3) Either way visitors will learn something about me and the type of blog I write. If you don't feel like thinking, come back later.