Ask the Readers: What’s the Most Important Measure of a Site’s Growth?

  • April 29, 2010 by Corbett Barr
  • 16 Comments

I’d like to introduce a new semi-regular feature here at Think Traffic. To get the conversation flowing and find out where your collective thoughts are on different topics, I’ll occasionally ask a question so we can discuss in the comments. Sound good? Thanks to J.D. and Skellie for the idea.

This week’s question is about measuring a website’s growth. When thinking about your own site, or comparing to other sites, what is the most important measure of a site’s growth?

This isn’t just an intellectual exercise, either. As you are growing traffic to your site, undoubtedly you’ll spend countless hours pouring over stats. Many of those hours could be better spent creating content or promoting your site. Too much measurement is counter-productive and wasteful. Spending too much time measuring your site’s growth can cause you to worry about day-to-day or week-to-week fluctuations that don’t really matter.

By thinking about which measure is most important, you could decide to stop focusing on other measures to save time and become more productive where it really matters.

So, just which measure is most important? There are plenty that we all probably at least consider on a regular basis, including, subscribers, comments, Alexa/Compete ranking, visitors/Month, avg. time on site, page views, revenue/visitor, press mentions, tweets/followers, # of offsite links, etc. If you could just pay attention to one, which would it be? (don’t limit your answers to just this list)

Now it’s your turn. Comment below with your answer, and we’ll discuss as the comments come in. I’ll choose the most useful or interesting comment and credit the winner in the next “ask the readers” post when it goes up.

What’s the Most Important Measure of a Site’s Growth (and Why)?

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Baker April 29, 2010 at 11:07 pm

# of people willing to pay/support a blogger due to value received from content.

In the online culture, their is a big difference between getting a “subscriber” and having someone value your content enough to pay/donate/buy/whatever. Cultivating these type of “true fans” should be the highest metric.

Of the ones you’ve listed, I’d go with comments though. I really gauge how much a post resognated with my audience by the number of FIRST TIME COMMENTERS on the post. The great content has a way of bringing them our of the woodwork.

I know this doesn’t help you… ;-) , but it’s the two I most shoot for!

Corbett Barr April 29, 2010 at 11:15 pm

No, great answer. I didn’t intend for people to limit their answers to just the list above. I’m glad you started out the comments by suggesting something new.

Adam (AKA "Dad") April 30, 2010 at 5:47 am

As a new blogger who hasn’t even launched yet (site’s up but targeting May 10 for first published post), I can only offer a rookie perspective. However, I’d argue though that it’s number of comments. Even for my own blog I’ve kept my first goal simple – to have at least one outsider’s comment on a post by June 15. I was pleased to see Baker agree that number of comments is an important statistic. (Baker – I’ve recently started enjoying MVD).

I think comments are key because it’s all about building a community and not a recurring monologue. If people take the time to comment, they’re engaged with your site. They may not comment on every post but they will from time to time when something strikes a chord. If they don’t, I’d argue that you still haven’t (yet) won them over. Over time, I believe that you will have a subset of your commentors who are passionate enough to support your site in some more tangible way. As an afterthought, another interesting stat would be average number of comments per unique reader. I would view keeping that ratio high as a very good sign.

To make a counter-argument for my own claim, it’s interesting to note that ZenHabits has removed all comments. I don’t know Leo and my thoughts here are purely speculative. However, I would suspect that ZH wouldn’t be as popular today had he begun with that “no comments” philosophy. He built a huge community before removing comments. Also, he still gives his readers the option of conversing using another established tool – Twitter. For me, ZH has become less appealing without the comments. I enjoyed reading a few of the comments following each post. I wanted to hear opposing sides, thought expansions, and even simple praise on each post. It creates a conversation which is always more interesting than a speech if you ask me. Reading others comments also made me more likely to add a comment myself. This again would keep me better engaged.

Again, just my two cents as a newbie. I suppose you could even consider my comment as the audience perspective at this point.

Adam

Corbett Barr May 2, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Hey Adam, I definitely agree that comments are important. Although, it definitely depends on your goals, the topic your site is about and how often you post. Some topics will naturally get more comments than others (especially topics where other bloggers are the audience). The important thing to remember is to measure against your own sites, and other sites on related topics, not necessarily directly against every blog out there.

Regarding Zen Habits and other blogs without comments, I think that comment moderation just becomes too burdensome for the really big blogs. Also, Zen Habits is partly about minimalism, and removing comments definitely added to the minimalist vibe there.

Cherie @Technomadia April 30, 2010 at 6:02 am

As our site isn’t intended to be monetized – we measure the growth of our site by the number of quality contacts we get from putting ourselves ‘out there’. That can come in terms of our people contacting us for rendezvouses during our full time travels, folks asking us for more information about something we wrote, quality comments, folks sharing their story with us too, etc.

For us, it’s not about quantity of traffic .. but quality of traffic.

Annie Stith (Gr8fulAnnie) April 30, 2010 at 7:39 am

Hey, Corbett!

My site’s not up (yet – I’m an “Empress-in-Training” in Chris Guillebeau’s Empire Building program), so I’ll be guessing here.

My site will (eventually) be monetized, but will also have a community forum. And while income is important, it’s not more important than reaching out and helping people.

I would imagine some kind of comparison between visitors and active participation (subscribers, comments, forum activity) will be best for me.

Annie

yaniv April 30, 2010 at 7:47 am

for us it’s probably the # of returning user which is in correlation to # of subscribers.

Tola April 30, 2010 at 7:54 am

To be honest, at the moment I’m just interested in my # of visitor. If I were to break that down, I’ll look further into how they found me and if they actually interact with me. That’s how I measure my growth. It feels so good to get an email from someone talking about your work and being interested in a service your offering and things like that. Sometimes I actually prefer emails to comments, although comments are great…

Gary Arndt April 30, 2010 at 9:05 am

What is your goal? Most people want other human beings to read their content. If so, then you want to measure people.

The end.

The stats I’d pay attention to are unique visitors and subscribers.

There are other lesser stats that you can get a lot of information from, but in the end, you want people.

Corbett Barr May 2, 2010 at 10:17 pm

What else can read besides people?

Fitz April 30, 2010 at 9:46 am

I like to look at pageviews and bounce rate from various referring sites. It allows me to look at which referring sites to put more effort in.

This is a good post from Tim Ferris on metrics: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/05/19/vanity-metrics-vs-actionable-metrics/.

Corbett Barr May 2, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Thanks for the link. That’s a good one!

Lisa Zahran April 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Not sure if I’m qualified (yet) to answer this, but seeing that I’m about to launch my blog soon, I’ll sure be keeping my eye on # of subscribers as the main indicator of growth.

However, I think everything has a life cycle and different phases of life. So at each stage, you’d look for different indicators, no? During introduction phase, I’d look at # of subscribers.

But as it enters growth phase, I’ll probably find how much people are talking about you as an indicator. Like # of retweets.

And when it enters maturity, a good indicator would probably # of comments / depth of interaction as the main indicator. You know, like when commenters aren’t just familiar with the writer, but are also familiar with the other commenters and converse with other commenters too.

How do you know what “life stage” your site is in? I dunno… maybe that’s conversation for a different blog post :)

Corbett Barr May 2, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Great idea for another post, Lisa! I’ll see what I can come up with regarding different “life stages” for a site.

Maren Kate May 2, 2010 at 9:10 pm

One on one interaction – my best days are when i get lots of emails directly from readers asking questions, wanting to partner up or just saying hi.

nate pennington August 11, 2010 at 5:06 pm

As a brand new blogger and professional marathoner a website designed to assist others in your field I personally value. Others at high levels of achievement, regardless of career field, is of high interest to me so building a site where folks can come to learn from me is important to me. Page views mean little to me unless I can really impact someone by what I have learned.

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