Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Measuring the Immeasurable: The Who, What, Why Edition

When I first heard about Internet Explorer's new Incognito Mode, I reaked out. Immediately I emailed all my techie friends with questions like "What does this mean?" and more importantly, "How will I ever get an accurate viewer number from my Google Analytics program now?"

Reactionary? Very much so. Not only was I not posting with any regularity at this moment (nor had I been for some time), but I wasn't looking at the big reader picture. Why should I care whether or not someone is using a version of the Incognito mode to read my blog when there are already many other possible readers I can't quantify?

Google Analytics, as well as any other analytics programs, can only measure hits to my actual web page and therefore cannot measure any syndicated content or people reading via RSS feeds. This means that not only can I not measure any possible readers on JacketFlap or LiveJournal (where this site is syndicated), but I can't "see" anyone using bloglines, Feed Burner, Google Reader or another program. Since I've authorized a full content feed the only reason someone would need to visit my actual URL would be to comment or to view content that doesn't transfer (e.g. Flash content like Sprout is not viewable in Google Reader), and even then the information I receive is negligable as you can see below.

So is there anyway to measure your RSS feed readers?

You can always look on the blog reader sites. A quick search of Google Reader the following information regarding my blog and others.

But whether people are actually reading the content, skimming, or even using the Google Reader account anymore remains to be seen.

You can set up a web bug (a concept I don't really understand in practice) or a bounce page to measure anyone who signs up for you blog through a certain reading device. Still this tells you nothing about who is reading your content and what they would be interested in reading next. Are they readers? Your family? That creepy person who won't leave you alone on Facebook?

In the end, unless you are really looking to make money from your blog (via click throughs on ad content, etc) numbers won't matter as much to you. Instead you should keep the following in mind:

If you are referencing something in the side bar, that side bar will not be visible to anyone using sydicated content, so you'll need to be specific so readers can decide if they want to click though to see it.

If you're just posting flash widgets, let people know, as with Google Reader at least, no one will see it.

If you're using a blog reading device yourself, I would suggest you sign up to follow your own RSS feed. This way you can see how long it takes scheduled content to actually hit your reader* and also to see what (if anything) does not transmit (that's how I found out about flash).

Analytics programs can be addicting if only for the randomness of why someone clicks on your blog,** I know I'm a recovering addict, but as an author don't let your readership drive your content unless it is something you are interested in writing about. Blogging shouldn't be something you dread.

*Edited to add: for example, this post didn't hit my Google Reader until three hours after its scheduled post:

** For the person who keeps searching with the term "the sale of this book without its cover" I can tell you that means the book was stripped and therefore cannot be sold legally.

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