Today I’m answering a question from a reader who asked: How do you use Google Analytics to grow your blog?
Google Analytics is a FREE tool that helps you analyze traffic to your website. Know the “Site Stats” option you have on the back end of your WordPress blog? Or the “Stats” option in Blogger? Google Analytics gives you the same type of information, but in greater detail.
It can tell you where your readers are coming from (which you can use to write more targeted posts), what types of browsers they’re using to read your blog (which gives you hints about how tech-savvy they are), which pages and posts they click on (which tells you which of your efforts are successful and which need more work), how long they’re staying on your site, and much more.
You can only use Google Analytics if your blog or website is self-hosted. For WordPress, that means you’re using WordPress.org, not WordPress.com. Here are directions for installing Google Analytics on a WordPress blog. If this sounds the slightest bit intimidating, just stick with your WordPress or Blogger stats. Unless you’re really digging deep into your readership or trying to answer specific questions about traffic, those basic stats are probably all you need anyhow.
Now for my favorite feature on Google Analytics: the “network” function, which shows you how many hits you got from various service providers.
Service providers don’t sound that interesting, until you realize that lots of companies name their network after the company. That means while you’ll see plenty of Comcasts, Verizons and Road Runners on your list (which are often people reading via their home connection), you’ll also recognize networks belonging to companies, universities and organizations.
By checking these stats regularly, I’ve learned that I have regular readers at Colby College (my alma mater) and Hearst (the parent company of my former employer, the Houston Chronicle). I also see consistent traffic from The New York Times (who are you?), The Brookings Institution and a handful of universities. I can even see visits from publishing houses, which lets me know when people at Random House and HarperCollins click on one of my posts. Of course, you can’t tell why they’re there, and that could range from checking out my book to clicking on someone’s tweet about a post I wrote that’s interesting to them for a reason that has nothing to do with me.
That means this information is only useful to a point. But it’s still fascinating, especially if you want to see whether a certain someone has their eyes on your work.
To find service provider details, log into your Google Analytics account, then click on Technology, then Network. Don’t forget to specify the time frame you’re interested in at the top right corner of your screen.
If you use Google Analytics, what’s your favorite feature?