Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bloggers, Do the Analysis First

Where my readers are
Nov 19–23, 2014
I know now that I got the sequence backwards. Ironically, when I was looking into blogging with the hope of monetizing my writing that way,[1] nothing I read told me what I’m about to say, that you should start the analysis early. I got the sequence wrong, finally adding the analytics to the blog.

Blogger provides some analytics, but (as I’ve later learned), their hit counts includes every time your page gets accessed, even when there’s no human on the other end. I want my stuff to be read, and let’s face it, a web spider indexing my site isn’t actually reading anything.[2]

There, on the AdSense page was the link suggesting that I integrate my site with Google Analytics. Note to new bloggers: Sign up for Google Analytics on day 1. Because I demurred for so long, I have tracking data only from November 19, 2014 (despite that this blog launched on May 1, 2014). Just from those few days, I see that some fairly old posts are still getting traffic, which is good to know. One worry I had was that once posts were written, they would be quickly forgotten and no one would visit them again. But in these last five days, I see that people have visited pages written in every month of this blog’s existence.[3]

In the interests of disclosure, I should note that Google Analytics gives me a slightly more specific view than what i have listed above. I can see down to the level of the city the blog where the person reading the blog is. Beyond that, if you don't speak up, I have no idea. And, unless you're the only person in your area with Internet access, this is not personally identifiable data. Since I am collecting data on my readers, I aim to be fully transparent about the data people are disclosing on visiting my site. On that note, hello Morocco! I was stoked to see that someone from Morocco had visited my site. (Note that I cannot match reading matter to a specific site visit, so I have no idea what he or she was reading.)

I know from Blogger that over the last six months, I’ve had visits from countries from which I haven’t had any traffic in the last five days. In both cases, the bulk of my traffic is from the United States (not terribly surprising, given that I blog largely about U.S. issues and history and in English)[4] If only I had six months of that data now.

If you’ve come to this page because you’re starting a blog and want to monetize your content, first let me offer my sincere wishes of good luck. Everything I’ve read says that you can’t expect rapid success. But so much of what I’ve read focuses on getting into AdSense or some similar advertising program. The emphasis is fine, but I think they’re moving on to the sexy stuff and skipping that important step: get the analytics.

John’s Checklist for Starting a Blog
or, how I would do it if I were starting all over again
  1. Create your blog. Write quality posts (this part is a continuous process).
  2. Sign up for Google Analytics.
  3. Keep blogging (I said it was a continuous process).

A brief digression: After you sign up for Google Analytics, you get a bit of tracking code, which you stash in the HTML of your site. In Blogger, you have to go to Template in the left-hand navigation bar of your blog’s dashboard, then click the Edit HTML button. Scripts need to go before the
tag; I put mine just before it. Even if you’re not terribly accustomed to editing HTML, it’s fairly easy to find the tag and paste in some code ahead of it.

When I looked at my template some sections of code were collapsed (indicated by a black triangle in the list of line numbers). You can ignore these parts. Google is saving you from scrolling through a lot of stuff you probably shouldn’t touch. I instead the tracking script at line 654, but the template is showing me only 16 lines above it (lines 1–13, 588, 589, and 653). It’s better that way.

Honestly, on Day 1 of your blog, signing up for AdSense isn’t an option. Had I been on Google Analytics from the beginning, I would have seen that many of the “hits” my blog was getting was due to my posting links on social media (and so when Blogger immediately tells me that my new post has six hits, that’s just me promoting my blog).

So, new blogger, don’t make my mistake and worry about AdSense when you start your blog. Worry about where your readers are coming from. You want readers. If you didn’t, there are a number of excellent programs you can use to keep a journal.[5] I’m a big fan of keeping a journal, and I’ve done it since I was fifteen.[6] But I want to get my writing out there, and (if you’re reading this), you do too.

Step 4 (applying for AdSense) ends up being a long way away from steps 1 and 2. But get them in the right order. Content, data, and only then can you tell if you’re appropriate for advertising (and my honest assessment of my own blog is that I needn’t have bothered, though that could change).[7]

  1. I’m well aware that in writing about early members of the Esperanto movement in the United States or early twentieth-century gay men, I’m not exactly writing clickbait. I remain convinced that I just need to find the right readers.  ↩
  2. If they were, they’d probably be leaving comments about how my documents would be so much nicer with internal structuring, preferably indicating some sort of hierarchy.  ↩
  3. And, let me reiterate that these are actual people, not programs running on a computer somewhere.  ↩
  4. Though I am delighted to have non-US readers, including those whose native language is not English. Feel free to comment. Comments can be left in English, Esperanto, French, or any language I can get a good fix on in Google Translate.  ↩
  5. I use Day One, myself. It’s an excellent program that syncs between my Mac and my iPad.  ↩
  6. The first few volumes are in composition books. It would be a while until I started keeping a journal on a computer. After all, if my phone dropped though a tear in the spacetime continuum to the day when I started my journal, it would be the most sophisticated computing device on the planet.  ↩
  7. Though the probability seems low.  ↩

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