Statistically obsessed

Aug 01, 2015 · 6 min read

Measure, analyze, check your stats, take a look at the insights. Whether you are running a business website, a personal blog, a Twitter account or a Facebook page, there is someone breathing down your neck asking about the numbers. How's the traffic? Is there enough engagement? Are you sharing and getting your content shared enough? Different analytics services are going hot collecting data for you, and most of all, for advertisers. Everyone is hot and bothered about the statistics. Even your readers are judging your blog by how many comments and how many shares your posts are getting. The worth of an article or a Tweet depends on the numbers. Your worth is depending on how much you share, how many shares you gain, how many followers you have, how often you are mentioned.

Statistically obsessed -- Mervi Emilia

Website owners, advertisers, users, bloggers and followers are staring at the numbers, without really understanding what they mean or if they mean anything. High bounce rate is the most terrible thing that can happen to your site, even though it means the visitors got what they came for. More the followers and fans the better, no matter how they were collected. Gaming the numbers is a daily task for you. You read all the articles telling you how to get more comments, how to grow your traffic, how to become more popular over at Twitter and then some. You flood your followers by sharing links after links, in hopes of getting noticed, but instead get muted or unfollowed. You are a like a child who yells louder and louder in order to get the attention.

Quantity goes over quality. All is good, as long as an article gets tons of shares and comments, a Tweet is favorited and ReTweeted, and a Facebook page gains tons of fans. Numbers must be played constantly. I watch, in at least weekly basis, how Twitter accounts with high follows try to get me to follow for their follow. They aren't interested in communicating with me, sharing my blog posts, ReTweeting or even faving my Tweets. They just want my follow. After a little while, week or two, they unfollow as quietly as they followed in the first place. I have for years called their kind as hit-and-run followers. Such a needy bunch.

This kind of playing the numbers shows how obsessed about the statistics you and I have become. The obsession is understandable, the right numbers can lead to revenue, job opportunities, success. We are all teens again, trying to be the most popular kid in the class. Statistics are the proof of popularity and you must shout them out loud. Unless your statistics aren't too impressive. Then keep them to yourself. You are deep within vanity metrics, the plain numbers of followers, likes and faves. That's what your statistics are, vain and empty.

Most number obsessed ones don't have a clue what the statistics mean. I mentioned bounce rate earlier. The common misconception is bounce rate measures the amount of visitors who come to the site and leave it immediately. It doesn't. In case you aren't confused with the terminology, then you stare at the numbers as is. There's that saying about not seeing forest from trees and it applies here. You don't see the whole, but only fractions, individual sets of percentages or other amounts. No comments on a blog post suggests that nobody read the post, which tells it wasn't worth reading in the first place. You'll forget that most of website visitors are silent and many don't feel a need to engage every time they get the information they need. Do you always comment or share an article you found informative, helpful or otherwise good? I doubt it. There are many reasons to comment and share, many of them quite selfish. Lots of bloggers comment other blogs, because they believe it will help their blog to gain more traffic and comments. In a similar way sharing content around Twitter or Facebook is about much more than "this was useful and/or great". It can be to attract attention, to appear useful yourself, or even to just fill the void.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and others who are selling ads thrive on vanity metrics. Clicks and traffic are easy proof of something. You are getting your money's worth as long as someone likes your page, follows you, visits your website. You don't stop to think about it, to see if you really are getting what you paid for. Those who want you to pay for ads are happy when you are obsessed with the statistics. When your numbers aren't impressive, they will say you should buy ads to improve them. When you numbers are mind-blowing, they will assure you they are because you bought the ads, and tell you how you should buy more ads. Many, if not most, ad clicks are reported to happen accidentally, but the ad sellers don't want to talk about it. For them a click is important, even when it's not a fruitful click.

Statistics aren't necessarily accurate either. For one, many web users don't want to be tracked and they go to lengths to make sure their visits leave no trace. Additionally the accuracy of different analytics depends on the way they track the visits, engagement etc. I have tested various website statistics services and systems and they show huge gaps. Thousands of visits are recorded or missed. Some time ago Twitter rolled out their own analytics, which only tracks the engagement and views you gain through their official site and apps. So anyone using Tweetbot, Hootsuite or any other third-party app to view and write Tweets is out of the data. There are lots of us. Over 11% of Twitter users access their accounts via third party apps. It depends on what sort of people follow you, but what if most of your followers belong to this 11%? Facebook has multiple times been blamed for falsifying the page engagement data, and creating fake likes and such. While I take these stories with a healthy dosage of suspicion, there are still questions of how accurate is this data. Technically Facebook could tell you whatever they want.

I'm myself hooked with statistics. Metrics are alluring. I use several ways to measure the impact of my blog posts, Tweets and Facebook updates. My good, steady amount of blog visitors makes me happy, while it is irrelevant if they don't become my paying clients. I stare at my follower counts, like amounts, traffic and other straight forward vanity metrics. Knowing their importance to everyone else doesn't subdue my obsession. I get upset when someone unfollows me or my Facebook page loses a like. I become preoccupied about how many followers I have, or how many comments my blog posts gain.

Unfortunately those numbers don't really matter. So you have thousands or tens of thousands of Twitter followers. How many of them ever @mention you, ReTweet, favourite your updates, click your links? How many of them followed you for a follow and then forgot you ever existed? I recently stumbled upon a Twitter user with over 14 000 followers. Not bad! When I looked closer, I noticed a pattern: Her followers were following multiple times more than being followed. This user happened to have Tweeted only 8 times, all of them ReTweets of one person. No @replies, no own Tweets, not much anything. Most of the @mentions she'd received were thanks for a follow and telling they'd followed her back. The reason she was brought to my attention was that she unfollowed me a day after she had followed me. So, another hit-and-runner, fixated on the numbers. Nope, I didn't follow her. I didn't see why I would, she hadn't even posted anything that would interest me.

The numbers themselves are good for nothing but vanity purposes. Metrics alone don't matter without conversions. Your 14 000 followers aren't really doing any good for you when they followed you for the same reason you followed them – to gain more followers. Traffic perhaps makes you feel better about yourself and your blog for a short while, but isn't going to pay your bills. Comments are nice to get, but are they contributing to the conversation, or are the commenters just trying to use your blog to gain more readers? Don't become blinded by quantities. When you do, you'll forget the reasons why you are doing any of it. The metrics become the reason and that's not much of a reason at all. You start to blog for numbers, follow for follows, share for likes, comment for the traffic.

You can make the metrics work for you. It takes more analysing, than staring at the numbers. Ask why you are getting the new followers, rather than how many you are getting. Look deeper in what made all those people to visit your blog, over the number of visitors. Test different types of content and different messages. Look beyond the numbers. Your traffic, followers, likes, amount of comments and other metrics are a part of deeper analytics. Things get interesting when you begin to really analyse the reasons behind the statistics. How do you get more engagement, how can you convert the traffic to sales, how will you get people to respond your email newsletters, what is a share worth, who are you helping, what are you accomplishing? Try varied methods of changing the passive numbers to something more meaningful. Stop being obsessed with the vanity metrics. They are nothing, only plain numbers.

What do you think about vanity metrics? Do you find yourself obsessed with statistics without meaning? Is analysing the stats easy for you, or are the numbers to you only numbers? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments section.

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