Friday, April 4, 2008

Who Cares How Many Subscribers You’ve Got?

Problogger Tips

Image-Thumb13The following guest post on measuring a blog's success has been submitted by Mark Seall.
A guide to systematically troubleshooting your blog's performance by focusing on the measures that make a difference.

Apparently it's really easy to get zillions of subscribers to your blog - Just follow a few simple steps, work hard and write good stuff. I know this, because I read it every week on various pro-blogging sites which are keen to dispense the wisdom of their own success whilst making you feel inferior for having less than 20,000 RSS subscribers.

Unfortunately for many of us, the promise of multiple thousands of subscribers is unrealistic no matter how hard we try - sometimes because we work in less popular niches, sometimes because we just don't have the available time, and sometimes because we just don't have that magic mix of talent and luck.

Ultimately this leads to frequent disappointment among bloggers. Many of the bloggers I speak with are at a loss as to how to increase traffic, enviously regarding the multi-thousand subscriber club. Blogging is not a hobby or a profession for those without perseverance.

The reason that we obsess over our statistics

The only reason so many of us obsess over our statistics is because page views and subscriber numbers are the most obvious ways to measure our success. But are they really?
A business that only measures itself by its profits is unlikely to be successful in the long term. Profits are obviously important, but profit is only one measurement of success, and crucially, it is an outcome not a determiner. Outcomes are the things that ultimately we are judged by, but they don't tell you anything about the underlying factors which will make future success possible, and which are making current success difficult.
For example, a firm which is making roaring profits today is a poor investment if their products are so bad that few of their customers return tomorrow. A blog might have 10,000 hits today from social media, but that's hardly a success if visitors don't find any reason to return the next day.

So how can we measure ourselves

To truly understand and address what's driving your success it is necessary to understand the web of relationships between the different determiners which lead to the outcomes that you are looking for. The diagram below shows the network of measurable items which make up these relationships, showing how each is interconnected.
Some of these measures can be determined by statistics and some require a little more subjective judgement. What's important to grasp initially are the actual outcomes in which you are interested. Measures marked in red represent these outcomes. If you blog for money, then obviously ad-revenue is the most important outcome for you. But if you blog only for pleasure then perhaps your level of reader engagement (which can be determined largely by comments) is more important to you? If your blog is part of a longer term plan, then perhaps generating kudos within the blogging community is your best measure of success?
Next, consider (or don't consider) the things which you can't influence directly - such as page views. There is nothing you can do to directly influence these, so to a large extent you shouldn't waste time worrying about them. However, don't ignore them completely. These determiners can provide you with useful information as to why your blog is not performing as expected. For example, if you have few new visitors each month (often the case after the first few months) then perhaps you are getting poor search engine placement, or you are lacking in inbound links? If a quick check on Google shows that you are lacking in links, then perhaps it is time to re-focus on community interaction again? It is important to troubleshoot poor results in a systematic way to avoid firing random shots in the dark.
Finally, put all of your energy into the green items - the things that you can influence. Time and energy are always at a premium among bloggers, and it is usually unrealistic to expect that anybody can focus on everything. However, properly understanding all of the current performance measurements of your blog, and how they interact, will allow you to choose where to focus for the best results. It's worth noting that things which have multiple connections have a greater influence on downstream results - hence the constant emphasis on quality content.

Final thoughts

In reality, most bloggers (myself included) will continue to obsess over page views and find it difficult to walk past the computer without stopping to check on stats. However, putting a bit more focus on the wider measures of success can often delay the onset of the 'blogging blues' and give you the motivation to create that great content that we all love reading.

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