So, you’ve taken the advice and started blogging. You’ve put your music up on Bandcamp for ‘pay what you want’ download. You’re chatting to your audience, friends and fellow musicians on Twitter and Facebook. Now you want to be able to measure how much impact all this stuff is having, right?
Almost all web-hosting comes with some kind of statistics option for tracking how many people are visiting your website, and what they are doing. The most widely used 3rd party option is Google Analytics, which is available to be added to any website (and particularly easily integrates with publishing packages like WordPress and Moveable Type).
But two things seem to confuse people with stats – one is the language used and the other is what they mean.
The most confusing generic term seems to be ‘hits’ – used by many to mean any number relating to web traffic.
Hits is actually a specific term relating to the number of independent actions on your site – so if someone opens your front page, and your site has 4 pictures and a self-hosted embedded audio file on it, that’s 6 hits – 1 for the page, 4 for pictures and 1 for music.
Hits counts can fairly soon reach the millions-per-year stage if your site has a lot of images per page (E.G. .gif buttons for clickable links) even with a modest number of visitors. If someone else has embedded the pictures hosted on your server elsewhere, that’s also a ‘hit’, without the person even having visited your site.
Below hits, the next biggest stat will be ‘page views’ – that’s the number of times your pages have been accessed. So if someone visits and reads the front page, your blog and the MP3s page, that’s 3 page views.
Next stat is ‘visits’ – how many times have people been to your site? if someone comes in, looks at 20 pages without leaving, that’s only 1 visit.
Last meaningful big number is ‘vistors’ – how many people in any given period have visited your site – so one of your friends comes to your site every day to see if there’s anything new, or to listen to the music – they are still only one visitor per month (assuming they visit on the same machine, via the same IP) – if they visit via their phone, laptop and desktop, they’ll register as three visitors – Google’s not run by wizards, whatever they try and make us believe 😉
So what does all this mean to us? how do we use them? And how do we avoid chasing meaningless stats?
One thing worth noting is that most of what you read about online stats is written with the assumption that your primary concern is masses of page views.
The reason for this is that a large number of bloggers/website owners are still labouring under the (patently absurd) delusion that the future of ‘website monetisation’ (itself a stupid term) is through advertising revenue.
If you are paid per click, or paid per ‘impression’ by the ads placed on your site, then the stat that will mean most to you is page views. Cos that is what translates into money.
However, in simple terms, the kind of traffic required – and the kind of web activity needed to get it – to make even a modest income from ad revenue is so insanely high that pursuing it will almost certainly render your website useless as a resource for people looking for your music. You’ll end up writing ‘link bait’ articles – inflammatory nonsense designed to get people to share it (the blogging bits of most national newspaper sites are full of this kind of sensationalist bullshit) – it’s also why so many articles on ad-funded sites involve you clicking on about 6 different links to actually read the whole thing. A total pain in the arse.
No, to us as musicians, the useful metrics are actually a mash-up of the stats above – page views per visit and the number of times that people return to our site, both of which are easy to find in Google Analytics.
Being interesting is way more important than being popular. Because being interesting is likely to make you popular, while being popular doesn’t make you interesting. It’s simple cause and effect. So any stat that helps you measure your interestingness is useful, while any one that gives you some arbitrary measure of popularity is pretty much pointless.
That’s not to say that it’s not good to watch and see how your site traffic is growing month to month, just don’t be side-tracked by the occasional spike in traffic due to a particular article. Sustained growth isn’t just through one-off blogging home-runs. It’s through the building of an interactive community who care about what you do.
The biggest thing to know about stats for a musician is that all the most important stuff can be seen and measured without looking at statistics.
- Are people commenting?
- Are the people who visit your site talking to you?
- Are people sharing the information you put out there with their friends?
This is stuff that doesn’t require analytics, it requires you being conversationally involved with the community around your music, not aloof and firmly fixed in broadcast mode.
The stats relevant to Ad revenue – and the SEO (search engine optimisation) voodoo that follows it round the web – are a massive distraction from the task of creating a site that’s meaningful and useful to the people who are part of your community of listeners. So keep an eye on your stats, but don’t be controlled by them.by