Web Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

March 10, 2010
163 Views

In “Chapters from My Autobiography”, Mark Twain wrote, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”[1] While over one hundred years old, the maxim still applies today.

I have been thinking quite a bit about that quote. You see, I’ve been searching for a sponsor for my podcast and one of the first questions that potentially interested companies have is, “How many people listen to each episode?” This is a very understandable request but one not easily answered. Why is such a simple question so vexing?

Now, I know from my WordPress statistics that a certain number of unique visitors stop by blog every day. That number tends to be a little north of 100 on weekdays and, for some reason, wildly higher and lower on some days. Who knows why?

But what about total hits? Well…here’s where it gets more complicated. In this post, I look at some of the reasons that your site stats may not reflect your total readership and, ultimately, influence…

In “Chapters from My Autobiography”, Mark Twain wrote, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”[1] While over one hundred years old, the maxim still applies today.

I have been thinking quite a bit about that quote. You see, I’ve been searching for a sponsor for my podcast and one of the first questions that potentially interested companies have is, “How many people listen to each episode?” This is a very understandable request but one not easily answered. Why is such a simple question so vexing?

Now, I know from my WordPress statistics that a certain number of unique visitors stop by blog every day. That number tends to be a little north of 100 on weekdays and, for some reason, wildly higher and lower on some days. Who knows why?

But what about total hits? Well…here’s where it gets more complicated. In this post, I look at some of the reasons that your site stats may not reflect your total readership and, ultimately, influence.

Google Reader

Many people read blogs via Google Reader. I have recently converted the vast majority of my RSS feeds and email subscriptions into Google Reader because I like the “one stop shopping” that it provides. It’s just easier for me to stay in one place and not have to bounce around. I do enough of that by virtue of my DNA. I can only assume that at least a few people do the same for my blog, and my stats would suffer due to this.

Also, don’t forget about people who use Google Reader to share or email your posts. Those also wouldn’t show up in traditional “hits.”

Other Social Networks and Outposts

I sometimes will post my content on other social media sites, a technique advocated by Chris Brogan. People might read most or all of one of my posts without ever going to my home page.

Opt-In Content Aggregators

Some sites merely aggregate the content of other blogs, in effect producing no original content of their own. Consider a recent post of mine on social media reposted on Smart Data Collective. It has received at least ten times as many views as the original post has. A similar site, Social Media Today, also picks up my content, although for some reason their management deemed an ostensibly relevant post to be unworthy. They didn’t even want that content for free. Kind of like someone not accepting your free drink at a bar, no?

Limitations of iTunes

Before I posted Technology Today (my podcast series) on iTunes, I asked myself if there was an easy way to track the number of subscriptions or listens. The answer is “no.” As far as I know, there’s no way to do it. Period.

Simon Says

Here’s the bottom line: In all likelihood, more people that you know are reading your content. Statistics are much more art than science. Don’t obsess over statistics and Alexa rankings.

Link to original post.