There are two basic ways to deal with tracking people who follow you on the internet: don’t do it or overdo it.
In a recent post, Brian Gardner talked about embracing his unsubscribers, as he noticed a number of people un-subbing after he posted a personal post on his personal site. Since then, my friends and followers have asked me about how I feel, and I’ve had to explain that my basic philosophy of ‘tracking’ followers is this: I don’t.
Now this doesn’t mean I don’t keep tabs on metrics and browsers and the like, to know how to appeal to my readers, but it means the raw numbers, like how many people read a post, are by in large ignored. Except sometimes they’re not. At that point, I agreed that my methodology was complicated, and needed a blog post. So here’s when I do and when I don’t and why I do or don’t as needed.
For the most part, I don’t track visitors on personal sites. I don’t track metrics. I couldn’t tell you who follows my blog on ipstenu.org, and I don’t really care. It’s my personal blog where I’ve decided to write for me, so if I track anything at all, it’s what browsers. A lot of people read the site on an iPhone? Okay, better have a good theme for that! One person is still using Netscape? Forget about ’em.(Sorry Mr. Netscape. It’s 2013, the Internet called and wants you to upgrade.) I never pay attention to the number of my followers on my personal social media accounts. Facebook, Twitter, whatever. I know who I’m following. When you stop being entertaining/interesting/enjoyable, I unfollow. It’s all just me being me for me. You’re welcome to read along, but it’s a personal site for personal people.
Okay, so what about my professional sites? Well, I do and I don’t follow along, depending on how professional the site is. Take this site, for example. While this is certainly my more professional site (I initially split it out because my family reads the main blog and didn’t care about tech babble), I don’t have a dedicated Twitter account for it, or a Facebook fan page. It’s just another aspect of me. I do track metrics here, though. It matters a little more when I’m presenting content for education. I want to make sure everyone can read the site, get the data they need, and move on. And I do keep tabs on my subscription numbers a little, but I don’t actively watch who signs up and who leaves. The way I figure it, if you find the information valuable, you read.
The only times I’ve ever actually noticed traffic here was when Matt Mullenweg linked here and I got a massive uptick of rabid folks pissed off that I’d used the naming of Constantinople as a metaphor (you’re welcome for the earworm), and when Ars Technica linked to my posts about stopping the botnets with mod_security or with .htaccess.
This does not mean I haven’t noticed the increase in visitors from tens a day to a hundred and beyond. It just means that since I’m not trying to making a living from this site, it’s not something I dwell on very much. Every time I have to write an article about stats, that means I have to sit and study them here, because I’m just not tracking.
But that really wasn’t me being ‘professional.’ What about my site where I have a custom Facebook page, a Tumblr, a dedicated Twitter account, and the whole nine yards? Oh yes, I track. I check analytics to see entry and exit pages, and I even have conversion goals. I notice my bounce rate, traffic flow, and all of those things. For work, yes, I monitor all these things, talk to marketing and sales about how to improve those things, write code to make things serve up faster and better. How did our campaigns go? What should be targeting?
Most importantly here, I try to understand the data I’m getting. We’re really good at collecting data these days, but we’re pretty crap at understanding it and using it to our benefit. How often have you seen A/B testing result in flawed assumptions? It’s not easy understanding what to do with the data. It’s not something you can do quickly, and most of us can use metrics and analysis to prove the point we want to make.
This is hard. It’s really hard and worst of all, how much weight you put in everything depends on who your audience is. How hard? Well there is a science in the testing but not many people use it right.
It all depends
And that’s really my point here. It all depends on what your goal is. Who are your readers and who are you writing for (they may not be the same)? Also who do you want to write for?
Everything comes down to having a goal, knowing what you want to do, and doing it. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with just writing for yourself.