Keeping track of which articles are being read (and why) is a vital element of running any blog. Whether you publish your thoughts for fun or you have a more profit-driven attitude to blogging, there are various tools available that can be used individually or in conjunction with others that will allow you to see which posts are being read, when they are being viewed, how many visitors your blog receives, how they arrived at your website and much more.
Whether you just want to spend a few minutes checking which of your affiliate links your visitors clicked or if you’re more interested in the search terms that send a reader to your blog, the following selection should give you all the data you need.
The default option (available from http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/stats) has become less popular over the years as other solutions have become available, but if you want to keep things simple or are running a WordPress.com hosted blog (for example you might be taking your first tentative steps into blogging) then this is probably your best option.
Offering a line graph of visits to your blog over the course of a week, month or year with plenty of page view information for each article, the WordPress Stats plugin will also display information about search terms and referrers, as well as the links clicked by readers (useful for gauging the success or otherwise of affiliate links).
One drawback with this solution is the complicated situation concerning the addition of the API key that is required to run the plugin. Even if you are using a self-hosted WordPress installation you will need to register at WordPress.com to acquire the key.
A popular alternative to the standard WordPress statistics plugin is Statcounter, which reports a much deeper collection of data.
In addition to highlighting the currently popular articles and locations where visitors have originated, Statcounter will also email you on a weekly basis with a summary of your blog’s performance, with daily totals.
The downside with this plugin is that it is a little difficult to for newcomers to website visitor statistics to understand. Although the initial Summary screen has an easy to understand bar chart, the subsequent breakdowns can quickly become confusing, partly due to information being poorly presented but also because it attempts to display too much at once without the advantage of a graphical representation. A few additional bar charts or pie charts would make all the difference.
If you can see beyond the numbers, however, this is a useful option. Find out more at http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/official-statcounter-plugin-for-wordpress.
Currently one of the most popular stats packages for WordPress, WassUp has a simple drop-down menu driven interface making it easy for you to select options such as time periods and the type of visitor chart to display. By default it will display all hits and page views, but bots and spam hits can be filtered out to provide a realistic view of your actual visitor count.
The end result is something that looks a lot more attractive than Statcounter, thanks to well organized lists and an easy-to-read line graph that presents visits and page views as separate totals, allowing you to easily see how your readers are engaging with your content. The more page views per visit, the better, and this ratio is also displayed prominently at the top of the page.
WassUp looks great, is easy to use, and can be downloaded from http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wassup.
Probably the closest thing to a plugin that mirrors the functions of Google Analytics, NewStatPress (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/newstatpress/) offers a wealth of features.
The main bar chart displays the total readers on your blog each day, incorporating different color tones to represent visitors, page views, spiders and feeds. Meanwhile an overview is provided that presents data such as time of visit, IP address, operating system and browser, and information about referrers, search terms and spiders is also available.
Surprisingly given the quality of the presentation, this is a free stat plugin, and perhaps the one you’re really looking for if none of the others listed here have grabbed your enthusiasm.
If you’re reluctant to add a new plugin to your blog specifically for stats, the obvious choice is to use Google Analytics, particularly if you already employ the service on another website and have everything you need setup and ready to use.
Although the manual placement of code in your blog footer is required with this solution, the results are comprehensive and the depth of options speaks for itself.
For instance, you can profile your users based on the browser and operating system they use, while other options will provide information on which parts of your blog are clicked the most – a useful way of seeing how the layout is being interpreted by the end user. Are they using the links you want them to use? Are advertising links being ignored?
To use Google Analytics you will require a Google account. Head to http://www.google.com/analytics/ to sign up.
The Choice Is Yours
These plugins are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more are available but this selection represents the cream of the crop.
By understanding your readers you can get a better idea of what type of article they find most interesting, and by doing this you can begin to enhance your relationship with readers.
One last thing: it should be noted that you may receive slightly different results with each of these plugins. There are various reasons for this; some don’t include spam hits and spiders be default, others do, and some will count your own visits to your blog. No stats plugin can provide a 100% accurate figure, but the level of precision is such that each of those listed here is ideal for strategic planning on your blog’s direction.