Okay, so posting about blog stats clearly stirred up a whole can of worms (and quite a lot of emails asking how to go about checking them). Now the internet is stuffed full with tutorials and tech websites discussing the merits of different site trackers, how to install them and how to interpret the information they give you. I thought I could just refer you to a some. But then I tried to sift through to find the best and quickly realized that they are not so relevant to us crafty and family bloggers. So here - a non-tech take on why you might want to keep an eye on your stats and how to do it. Just don't ask me too many tricky questions, okay?
What should I use?
You can get basic stats from Typepad, Blogger and Wordpress or you can install something like Sitemeter or Google Analytics on your blog (I have both). They are free and relatively straightforward to set up - to find out how to install them, Google is your friend - there are a bilion tutorials out there to talk you through the specifics for the platform you blog on.
Okay, I see stats. What should I check?
As a first thing, keep an eye on your visitor numbers. You'll get a feel for what is a normal amount of traffic for your blog. If you typically get 100 visitors per day, and one day you get 400, then you'll realize something has influenced your traffic and you can check what.
Where are readers coming from?
I don't mean geographically (although you can check where in the world your visitors are). Are they arriving as direct traffic (a bookmark or typing your url in), as a referral (usually a link from another blog) or via search engine. In my case the vast majority of visitors come direct or as a referral and that's the way I am comfortable with. It means that my visitors either know my blog already as regular readers, or they read the blog of someone who links to me and in my mind that makes them likely to be friendly visitors. The search engine traffic I like to keep a closer eye on.
Search engine traffic
Google Analytics is great for this. It gives me a list of all the keywords that people have typed into their search box and ended up on my blog with. Predictably, domesticali is my most common search term, but origami wreath, haramaki and toffee apple bites have also shown up there this week. All of which are understandable and don't give me any cause for alarm. If some dodgy search terms begin to show up, you can think why and perhaps change the post which might be causing problems.
What pages do they visit?
Typically with our sort of blog, people turn up on the home page or the most recent post. If you have a great tutorial, people might land on that page, because lots of other blogs link to it. Keeping an eye on your entry pages lets you know which of your posts are popular and linked to - unusual pages appearing here might need to be investigated.
A word about images
When I began blogging, Google Image Search didn't exist, but it's incredibly powerful now. I really don't know how best to keep track of my images on the web. But if you want to scare yourself witless and have a distinctive blog name, do a Google Image Search on it and see how your photos have travelled. On Flickr, you can choose to opt out of image searches and you can also block them on your blog, but I haven't. It's not been a big enough issue for me to warrant getting my head round the tech stuff, but feel free to investigate if it's important to you.
Speaking of Flickr, you have an inbuilt stat meter there too, under the 'You' tab where you can check visitors and search words too. Call your photos something enigmatic and watch out for anything that could give rise to unwanted attention (there are a LOT of strange folks searching Flickr, believe me and they are extraordinarily keen on feet).
I also recently discovered a site called TinEye - you can put in the url of one of the images on your blog and it will show you where else on the web it appears. It's in the early days of development, but I think it could turn out to be a very powerful tool. It's also good if you have an image and you want to know where it came from so you can attribute it correctly.
Stats are your friend - I certainly didn't post about them to give everyone an attack of the stranger dangers. But in the same way as you'd keep track of visitors to your home, it's good to know who's been to your blog.