Lessons learned from website analytics

Analytics can be like crack. When I started my website last year, I was an analytics newbie. It was the first time that I ever ran an analytics package on any of my blogs. At work, I was only an occasional user of website stats, mostly looking for page popularity (or unpopularity). 

This blog, however, came with built-in web stats. And an app. I was addicted, checking page views daily and getting excited for every organic search query.

Squarespace iPhone App Analytics Screen

Eventually, Squarespace wasn't enough---I wanted more historical data. So I installed Google Analytics and waited for it to pick up. Here's what I learned. 

There is a lot of mystery surrounding Greek yogurt. 

My most popular post, and the one that generates the most organic traffic, is about Greek yogurt. Part of this is because there is genuine confusion out there---it's an emerging product in the United States and people don't really know what it is. However, this page is also popular because I wrote it that way. I experimented with keyword optimization and played a few neat SEO tricks. I titled the page "product vs. product" because people type "vs" into search engines when they are comparing products. I loaded up the first paragraph with brand names. I used actual nutrition info and ingredients in the post, etc. It worked. For no reason other than organic search, I get dozens of page views a week. I was able to see the cause and effect of writing copy with keywords in mind. 

Some of my most popular posts are how-to articles. 

Trailing the Greek yogurt post in organic search popularity (but not by much) are two posts: how to write a content outline and What are wireframes? Both of them are how-to articles, and in both, I worked to boil down basic user experience deliverables for someone unfamiliar, like a client or a copywriter who was just learning about the process. I also tried to write catchy headlines a la Copyblogger and followed the old adage "write what you know." 

It's odd to see your "brand" as search query. 

The good, the bad and the ugly of website stats. The good? You'll eventually see people Googling your brand. In my case, repeat visitors search "jmy says." This is totally awesome. The bad? Well, there is no bad. The ugly? Knowing how many times, and on what days, someone typed your name into Google and then clicked through. Theoretically, since my blog is hardly burning up the Internet with traffic, I could match the time of day of a keyword search to an visit from an IP address. Note I said "could." That's a tad creepy. But I do know certain IPs so I am able to roughly guesstimate page views that way (typically to eliminate myself).  

So what did I learn? 

  • If you have a strategy, you can search engine optimize a blog post rather easily. It's not rocket science. 
  • Slicing and dicing data is interesting, and you get to learn about search behavior. Making assumptions based off the data? Risky, but worth it to learn. 
  • If people weren't Googling you before, they may be Googling you now. You give up little shreds of privacy on a blog, but in return, your site visitors are giving up little shreds of their privacy when you track them with your analytics package.