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Monday, July 14, 2008

The 4 Big Problems With Blog Metrics And How To Solve Them

Like most bloggers, I struggle with true metrics for my blog. The problem isn't so much about technology as it is about understanding what is useful to know about my blog to make it better and attract more of an audience. I've got lots of metrics that I can look at today, from my Technorati ranking to where my blog is on the Power150 list. I can check the number of comments I get, or look at the number of daily or monthly impressions. There are several big problems with any of these approaches, though:

  1. RSS skews most metrics - When readers are consuming your posts through RSS, most of the time they don't need to visit your site. While this may reduce your page views and monthly visitors, it can often lead to a greater engagement and wider distribution. 
  2. Inbound links aren't all equal - Perhaps the greatest injustice of many metrics systems today is that they reward "linkbait listing" (the activity of listing a large number of blogs and links in the hopes those sites will also link back to you). As a result being part of some of these lists, some blogs can be propelled to higher numbers of links and authority without producing any quality content to earn it.
  3. Content expires though it may still be relevant - One of the most frustrating things about Technorati as a tool is that it expires older content. There is lots of good content that is getting ignored simply because it was written over six months ago.
  4. There are multiple ways to measure engagement - Looking only at links to a post or comments are incomplete measures. People use different sites and different ways to engage with content, from commenting to saving it.

In a sentence, the real challenge for blog metrics is to find a more comprehensive way to see if people are really connecting to the content on your blog. Melanie Baker, the community manager at yet another smart Canadian startup called AideRSS emailed me last week with a very interesting solution to this challenge of measuring "social engagement." They have created a system using what they call "PostRank" to measure the engagement of any individual blog post. Posts are ranked from 1.0 to 10.0 with the top score going to those posts that generate the most activity. Instead of just focusing on inbound links, their ranking system looks measures such as comments, number of saves on del.icio.us, number of Tweets mentioning the URL, and how many Diggs a particular post gets. Then an aggregated score for your blog is calculated based on the individual performance of your blog posts. This is brilliant for a number of reasons:

  1. It separates metrics into blog posts instead of one big number. This means that you can get a better sense for which blog posts are really working and driving engagement and which aren't.
  2. By allowing you to view your entire blog in terms of your top, best, great and good posts, you can start to spot trends in what content is the most viral.
  3. As the name suggests, the site can be used to make your RSS subscriptions more useful by helping you to filter all the posts you get into just the top posts which are the most discussed.

There are only two slight limitations in their model that I can see. The first is that it only looks at a small subset of sites where engagement can happen so some large sites (such as a social network on Ning, or a Facebook group) where there may be lots of discussion can get ignored. The sites AideRSS uses are also very US-centric, which means that significant international discussions could often get ignored. The second limitation is that some of the blog-wide metrics that could complete the picture of blog influence, such as number of RSS subscribers or affiliations of a blogger are missing - so it's not a complete picture of blog influence.

Still, the idea of using PostRank to filter posts and judge the quality of a blog overall is one worth taking a look at. Particularly if it could be easily combined with a tool like Alltop which pulls in RSS feeds by category to make reading blogs and finding the highest quality blogs in a particular category easier.  Any service that can give bloggers a better idea of how to produce higher quality content AND help readers to more effectively decide what content in their flood of RSS subscriptions is most worth reading http://gr.aiderss.com/ should be a big hit.

If you haven't visited this site yet, you need to check it out. A great place to start is with Melanie's blog post where she remixes Viral Garden's list of Top 25 marketing bloggers in order of "social engagement."  Also, in case you're curious, here's what AideRSS came up with as a list of my top ten posts from the last year:

My Top Ten Blog Posts:

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Comments

Hi Rohit,

Thanks for the article, an excellent summary.

I completely agree with your comments on limitations. As a result of the Top 25 list remix, I've had some really interesting discussions with those bloggers who've mentioned various apps/platforms where they get a lot of value. Some things as old school as email are still incredibly valuable and drive a LOT of engagement, but of course we can't touch anything non-public. Something to give some thought to. PostRank Desktop, maybe? :)

Ultimately, though, real value of these interactions is the actual transfer of knowledge and interpersonal connections -- often which evolve into "real life" relationships -- which of course are valuable far beyond metrics.

There are ways to track things like RSS subscribers -- FeedBurner does it -- though it's not a perfect science yet. At present we can track numbers of subscribers to our filtered feeds. Broader tracking than that is something we've been discussing.

The US-centric issue is one we're always working on, too. A lot of the best suggestions we get for additional metrics sources are from users, and it already amazes me how much international input we receive. So naturally we're always listening to where recommendations are coming from, and actively requesting info on non-North American demographics. We've got some great evangelists in Russia and Europe and are seeing more and more commentary out of Asia, which is really encouraging (language barrier issues aside...)

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very informative details thanks for that, nice article

thanks for sharing its very helpful for me


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it such a good idea, thanks shared to me, it is a very informative details
im hoping you always keep it touch

Thanks for sharing your knowledge to us..for sure evryone who reads it learned a lot..

I'm not aware of that problems but im sure it will help me to know more about blogging. thanks anyway

Thanks for sharing this one, I like it.

You have awesome blog and article is great.

That really, really makes my day

Nice idea dude it help me a lot in promoting my blog Secured Homeowner Loan.. Thanks a lot...

This is a nice article, nice you have share it.

Thanks for this one.

@ Melanie, nice one.

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