Web Stats for musicians: Lies, Damned Lies and Google Analytics.

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.

14 Replies to “Web Stats for musicians: Lies, Damned Lies and Google Analytics.”

  1. Brilliant post Steve.

    As usual it all about the conversations because this leads to genuine word of mouth recommendations which is the only credible way of finding out about new music.

  2. Good post… and as someone who’s had to try and explain to my managers that usage has gone down because the site is now easier to use (one click to find something instead of four) I agree that the best insight doesn’t come from graphs but from satisfied and involved users…

  3. Gold once again. Particularly:

    ‘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.’

    As much as a wonder it is to see someone from Guam (I know….Guam!) checking me out, the thrill evaporates quickly if there isn’t the opportunity to get talking about what’s drawn people in, how life is in their part of the world, book & film recommendations and all the other stuff a million miles from ‘check out my latest track’.

    Whilst the stats do unearth some interesting trends that are useful in a business sense, to me it’s not the most interesting part of the experience.

    Then again, I could just be going soft in my old age 😉

    1. Inky,

      I don’t think you’re going soft – the desire for ‘an edge’ over the competition makes people look for whatever scraps of arcane knowledge they can gather to put them ahead. So it’s easy to sell musicians on the value of looking at which countries their visitors come from in order to plan gig dates or whatever…

      The value in that is FAR lower than targeting those places where someone has actually offered to organise a show – web visitors that visit your site and never ever get involved (assuming your site has some kind of interactive element) are a pretty risky bet as a target audience. They may well be the kind of passive web consumers who just wouldn’t turn up to a show.

      Seth Horan wrote on his email news thing the other day about people who email him saying ‘come and play near me!!’ then don’t even show up to the gig… it’s a two edged sword. You encourage people to be encouraging, but they don’t think about the follow up required to make that interaction meaningful. Which is why I ignore most of those kinds of messages (flattering though they are to get) unless the person is willing to get active in helping me sort out a gig that’s logistically water-tight. I’m too old for speculation – my days of turning up hoping the gig’s not going to be terrible are long gone, and with the web, you can do that speculative stuff in a way that costs nothing – use your digital recordings as the risk-taking part, not your shows! Build the relationship about your web interactions and media, and then go where the support is, not where your stats say your readers are from 🙂

  4. i’m a total wh0re for my blog stats, but i only track page views, and i’m aware that its mostly my dad and whoever’s on twitter when i publish. I think i got 40 views in one day, it was proud day lol…

    1. on a slightly more serious note, cheers for the analytics explination! i’m sure that’ll come in handy some day

  5. As you have explored, stats are a minefield. In my professional life I advise organisations on the true interpretation of their web traffic. It doesn’t help that Google’s own statistic services do present inaccurate data. My interest is in RSS feed subscriptions rather than website traffic – the former having greater value, the latter is more prone to false google-induced visits because, let’s face it, people can’t use search engines accurately.

    Google Reader tells me that website ‘A’ currently has 125,000 feed subscribers, but Feedburner (which has now been assimilated in to Google Corp) tells me that the same website has 182,000 feed subscribers. This is a massive variance.

    I trust Feedburner because they take the root RSS feed that is generated by the website and aggregate all aliased feed subscriptions in to the total. Google reader seems not to do this – and that’s a significant failing.

    1. Hi Brennig. Subscriptions are an interesting stat, though the back-end feedburner stats of how many people did anything with the sub is the *real* one, cos there are so many people with dormant Google Reader accounts… Interactions, responses and active sharing are still more useful measures of the kind of activity that matters 🙂

  6. You’re right Steve, that’s how it is – or should be – for websites. I was bringing my own angle which is slightly different. Our music podcast – but any podcast, no matter what the content – lives and breathes on its subscriptions; website transactions for a podcast are always going to be very small beer.

    Our stats tell us how many subscribers are using iTunes on Windows, how many are using iTunes on Apple OS and how many other podcatchers are used on a variety of operating systems.

    Your point on interaction as a performance indicator is valid though – and one which we’re constantly seeking to enhance.

  7. Hi, i just found your site searching google for ‘feedburner analytics’ – I, too am a stats junkie =)

    ill be subscribing to your feed so look for the extra stat!!

  8. Thanks again Steve for another very helpful post, and more to the point, for reassuring me (as have quite a few “industry types”) that “I’m doing everything right – just keep doing what I’m doing” (and try not to get bogged down in all the swirling chaos and bullshit). However I believe it more coming from you.

    I just got started with all this online promo stuff you describe a few months ago, driving myself completely insane in the process, of which part of the insanity can be attributed to the addiction one soon acquires to all those nifty stats. So happy and relieved to hear that I can pretty much ignore them and continue my tack that somehow ended up being in the direction you indicate even before I found this post!

    Oh, and for what it’s worth, after a two-year learning curve in L.A. with its incessantly erupting volcano of steaming bullshit, the lesson about those “speculation gigs” is well and truly learnt! These days I’m all about private concerts hosted by enthusiastic fans who invite all their friends and buy our CDs, subscribe to our newsletter, engage in ongoing dialog, etc.!

    Rock on,

    Brenda K, Fiddlerchick of The Panache Orchestra

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