Is Anybody Out There? Assessing a Blog’s Audience

auditorium6.jpgHello? Is anybody out there? Who are you? These are the questions that often go through a blogger’s mind. Hardly anybody wants to blog to nobody. As one blogger once wrote: “Maintaining a blog with no one visiting or commenting would be [as] sad as a clown doing a show with no one watching.”

I’ve often wondered who our readers are. That’s right – you. I’m writing this blog post to you . . . and I might not even know who you are. Some of you comment a lot, and we’re very grateful, since the comments on this blog have been absolutely wonderful. But we have many readers who don’t add comments. Who are the readers who lurk in the shadows? Is anybody reading? How does one find out?

The best answers thus far are supplied by Site Meter, which tracks IP addresses visiting the blog. I’ve become obsessed with Site Meter, seeing who is coming in, whether they’re from government or academia or somewhere else. We have visitors from over 70 countries, with the most coming from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, and Israel. We also have visitors from Qatar, Belarus, Papua New Guinea, Togo, Bangladesh, Nepal, Malta, and Tanzania.

Site Meter doesn’t do a great job of telling us much more about who is visiting, but it at least gives us a head count. The numbers, however, perplex me. Do blogs with thousands of visitors a day really have a readership of thousands? Site Meter doesn’t lie, right?

Repeat Visitors: Site Meter “defines a ‘visit’ as a series of page views by one person with no more than 30 minutes in between page views.” This means that if you visit Concurring Opinions and then visit again 10 minutes later, you only count as 1 visitor or “hit.” But if you visit again more than 30 minutes later, you count as a new visit. This gives us credit for drawing you back later on in the day to read us again, and it prevents gaming the system. But this means that many of our hits could be from repeat players who check our blog many times throughout the day . . . which you should do, by the way, as we’re constantly creating new content during the day and we love our readers who generate 10+ hits per day for us the most!

Bots: Then there are bots that regularly hit the website. Bots are software programs that explore the web gathering information. Search engine bots, for example, such as from Google, will register some hits.

Spammers: There are also hits from spammers who leave comment spam and trackback spam. Most of these hits are by bots too.

Google Search Hits: Then there are those who find the blog via Google searches (or those with other search engines). In our logs, for example, we can see the search terms people used to access our site.

These Google hits count as visitors, and we get a decent amount of Google search traffic. I think that these visitors to the site certainly count, but many are not the blog’s regular readership. Many are “one hit wonders” who visit once and never come back again.

Over at Conglomerate, they get a ton of hits from Europe for “Google’s Heart” because of one post with that title. Gordon Smith pointed this out in a post and expressed great puzzlement over it. But more importantly, does Google have a heart?

PrawfsBlawg got a visitor for the search term “self cannibalizing.” I’m not sure which is scarier: the visitor who would search for such a thing or the PrawfsBlawg bloggers who must have written something that pulled up the blog in the search results!

Should these count toward audience? After all, the people searching for these terms are visiting the blog. But many are not regular readers — they’re not part of the blog’s community.

RSS Feed Readers: RSS feeds take away hits to the blog. Many of our readers use RSS feeds. This means that they can read the full content of our blog without registering a hit on our website unless they click to read the comments to a post. If these readers would ordinarily check our blog a few times a day without the convenience of the RSS feed, it means hundreds of visits that are not being counted. [So RSS readers — if you like a post you read, click through to give us a hit — think of it like giving us a high five.]

Weekly Readers: Not everybody visits several times a day. Some people will visit once a week or even less frequently. In contrast, some readers check the blog multiple times per day, seven days per week. [Yes, we love these readers!] A multiple-hit reader might register 20 to 40 hits per week; a weekly reader registers 1 hit. Yet each might be reading our content equally.

I’m no expert in all of this, so I’m curious what more knowledgeable readers might have to add.

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18 Responses

  1. Cal says:

    Sorry, I’m one of the ones using an RSS aggregator: SharpReader to get my dose of your blog (I’m in Australia), and whilst I mainly ignore the Law posts, you have a lot of other stuff that makes it interesting.

    I use StatCounter for my blog and the free version is enough for my little world. The data you get is very good – entry and exit pages, where from, how long etc.

    Thanks for an entertaining read.

  2. John Armstrong says:

    A note about the RSS feed: For one reason or another I don’t get full content. For instance, on this entry I see up through “Site Meter doesn’t lie, right?”

    The upshot is, yes I get notification of new material as it hits the feed, but I do register hits pretty frequently since I’ve got to click through to read the full post.

  3. John — That’s odd. Try clicking our XML link on the side or the RSS Feed link at the top. It should take you to a Feedburner page and that should allow you to get the full content. I hate to tell you this, though, as it means lost hits. But I’m such a selfless guy. . .

  4. John Armstrong says:

    Oh, and in case this was a subtle request for a call-back, I’m a finishing Ph.D. student in mathematics at a little place in New Haven, CT that I believe you’re somewhat acquainted with. Law (particularly intellectual property and internet-related) is merely an avocation to me, so blogs like this one are an excellent way to keep tabs on what those more expert than I are thinking about these matters.

  5. John Armstrong says:

    Ah, the feedburner link is different than when the blog first went up. Don’t worry about your hit count, though. I’m nothing if not lazy; replacing the bookmark would take effort.

  6. BTD Venkat says:

    We’re here. I have nothing to contribute to your questions re measuring traffic but my impression is that sitemeter is generally not the most reliable. Nothing more than a gut feeling, but I’m often baffled at the blogosphere’s collective reliance on sitemeter.

    Also, I contribute to a group blog which I didn’t “found” so I’m much less obsessed about metrics. I used to have my own blog and there was an odd dissonance between the number of comments and the supposed number of visitors. (But I used sitemeter. Go figure.) I do think the traffic and number of visitors are more than you expect and more than is reflected in comments.

    As for who I am, I practise IP litigation at a boutique firm in sunny Seattle, Washington.

  7. Paul Caron says:

    I too was disappointed by the result of a search for “blog stud” — Google brings you to Volokh, not to me!

  8. Lee Blog says:

    why blog to “nobody”

    Daniel Solove of Concurring Opinions had a thoughtful post about blogging yesterday. He writes: “Hardly anybody wants to blog to nobody. As one blogger once wrote: ‘Maintaining a blog with no one visiting or commenting would be [as] sad as…

  9. Jessica says:

    Profile of one lurker: I’m a mom of three, being laid off from a job of 11 years at a major distribution company gone defunct, and a returning student to finish my accounting degree. Although I do not study law beyond the basics required for my degree, I can see how the subject draws a very large and diverse crowd. As I read several law blogs (Blawgs?) I join that group with just enough info to be a danger to myself! PS. The airline entry got me started.

  10. D Conrad says:

    One thing about any sort of www visitor tracking is that it’s very inaccurate. As part of my employment before law school, I was responsible for running log analysis. The numbers should always be taken as an estimation, and a high one at that. I personally hit your blog from several IP addresses a day. The only decently reliable way to get really good information is via authentication and cookies. Still, hits are a good tool for seeing what pages are popular, or getting a nice estimate of how popular you are. Not sure exactly how sitemeter works, but some of these difficulties are inherent in the web.

    (BTW, Speaking of blogging without an audience, I have some experience in that area…)

  11. Adam says:

    What about ? Do their trackers give you useful data?

  12. Alan Tauber says:

    Yeah, I know the feeling of blogging to (perhaps) no one, having just started a new blawg myself. I tend to rely on friends to give me links on their blogs. (This applies to former professors as well *cough cough*).

    I use site meter, but I pay attention to unique visits, which seems more helpful. But lord knows if I relied on comments, I’d be quite upset right now.

  13. Greg says:

    Another random profile: I’m a high school math and computer science teacher who randomly considered a law career briefly. I found your site from some Volokh cross-posts and added the XML feed. I don’t think I get full content feeds, though, so I end up clicking to read anything that interests me anyway. I’m not sure if this is interesting or not, but I stay current on 10-15 blogs and I NEVER read comments. Not for any particular reason, I just don’t think they’re interesting. Go figure…

  14. melanie says:

    I read your site almost every day – and usually more than once a day.

    I’m an assistant district attorney (in the appellate division) in Dallas, Texas. I have a little blog, and the only topics that are off-limits for me are issues related to the District Attorney’s office. I don’t have time any more to post to it every day, but I’m trying to get back to doing that. If I were allowed to post about the cases my office handles, I know I’d have material for posts. But, of course, I can’t.

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  16. What about ? Do their trackers give you useful data?

  17. Karakoçan says:

    Do their trackers give you useful data?

  18. tercume says:

    We’re here. I contribute to a group blog which I didn’t “found” so I’m much less obsessed about metrics.