Lies, damned lies and WordPress statistics

As Mark Twain wrote famously, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” When politicians and special-interest groups grab hold of a report that supports their own positions, the statistical fur is sure to fly. Statistics may be generated by rigorous scientific inquiry or cobbled together by math-challenged partisans and unscientific online polls. While Twain’s healthy skepticism remains relevant today, however, it would be a huge mistake for any blog owner to overlook the power and utility of WordPress statistics.

That’s because WordPress statistics offer you critical insights into how well your website or blog is performing. For new blog owners, especially, WordPress statistics can offer guidance and encouragement based upon reliable and empirical evidence. The same is true of Google Analytics, Facebook Insights and statistics generated in pay-per-click and per-impression ad campaigns served by Google AdWords or OpenX. Digital publishing offers rich data that traditional media like newspapers and TV simply can’t provide.

Where to start? Put aside your hatred of all things statistical, for starters. For some, it will be love at first sight; others will come to love their WordPress stats over time. Here are some ideas to get you started:

How to enable WordPress statistics on your blog

If you have an account on WordPress.com, Blogger or another blogging platform, you already have easy access to your stats. (Indeed, a “Stats” tab appears on WP.com after you log in; this is not rocket science.) The real fun begins when you start tracking stats on your self-hosted WordPress blog, and the easiest way to do this is by installing the Jetpack plug-in.

A few caveats are in order: Jetpack requires the user to have an active WordPress.com account, and it includes a ton of other features beyond tracking your site stats. These are not bad things to have, even if you don’t fully utilize all the tools. Because some Jetpack features may conflict with other plug-ins on your website, my advice is to activate its other features one-by-one or just save those tasks for later. Activating the Jetpack stats module by itself shouldn’t cause any problems.

With Jetpack installed, checking your stats within WordPress is as simple as going to Jetpack/Site stats. There won’t be much to see for a day or so because the tracking begins from the time you activate the plug-in. After that first awkward pause, you’ll be able to break down your traffic by day, week or month whenever you log into your site. You’ll also see:

  • Your top posts and pages.
  • “Referrers” or incoming links.
  • Search-engine terms people used to find your site.
  • Clicks on outbound links.
  • Handy “summaries” links for each statistical category.
These statistics are visible under Jetpack/Site stats when logged into your self-hosted WordPress site.
These statistics are visible under Jetpack/Site stats when logged into your self-hosted WordPress site.

If you want just a little more data and a more visually appealing display, log into your WP.com account. Your site stats are broken down by pageviews, visitors and pageviews per visitor.

These statistics are visible under Stats when logged into your WordPress.com account.
These statistics are visible under Stats when logged into your WordPress.com account.

Check your site traffic frequently, even daily

Your statistical journey as a WordPress blog owner starts with your daily site traffic. Although that’s not the sole measure of your blog’s performance, it’s certainly one of the biggest. With more site traffic come more sales leads, form contacts and click-throughs to your featured products or services.

If you extend this concept — and you should, someday soon if not today — you’ll understand why it’s best practice to install a Google Analytics tracking code on your self-hosted WordPress blog or website. You’ll need to sign up for a Google account, if you don’t already have one, then install and verify the tracking code to ensure it’s working properly. It’s not a difficult task, but it is detail-oriented so don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it done on the first try. The rewards for your patience will be plentiful, including more statistical data than most people can grasp, along with the ability to utilize Google’s Webmaster Tools.

Check your WordPress statistics, yes — but don’t obsess over them

Mark Twain’s famous words still apply, so make sure you don’t lie to yourself (or worse, to others) by overstating the importance of isolated statistics. WordPress statistics can help you set a traffic baseline for an underperforming site, highlight your most popular pages and posts, and gauge your success in building the number of incoming links. Even so, that information is useless by itself; there’s no upside to being a bean-counter of mouse clicks. Here’s a particularly painful example from January:

In January, I promised to start writing blog posts more often. Look at what happens when you don't post regularly.
In January, I promised to start writing blog posts more often. Look at what happens when you don’t post regularly.

That’s right, in January I wrote that blogs are most effective when you post at least weekly. Then I promptly ignored my own blog for nearly six months as I focused on other projects. The snapshot above shows just a smattering of traffic in January, with zero pageviews on some days, and it hasn’t improved in the months since. In Google Analytics, the news is even worse, because GreenBlogDesign.com has a sky-high “bounce rate” that shows many people are jumping ship as soon as they land on the site. Ouch.

Still, it’s not a total loss. I have stats enabled for this blog in both WordPress.com and Google Analytics, and I have a solid baseline to measure its future growth. When I spread the link to this post around on social media, I’ll see a little bump in site traffic, and the more often I post, the more traffic I’ll see. In that respect, the flat-lined stats shown above aren’t bad news at all, just motivation for positive change.

2 Comments on Lies, damned lies and WordPress statistics

  1. Thanks Mike,

    When I am done preserving a mountain of apricots, completing a coyote proof chicken yard, preparing for July planting, etc I will have to give that a try. So far my word press statistics show visits the day after I post something new. Weird part, although the blog is on gardening, most of the responses come from artists. Perhaps I should put more effort into the photography.

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