Something odd happened about ten days ago, and it got me thinking about hidden blog traffic. As many of you who read this content directly on my blog might have noticed, I publish my Feedburner RSS subscriber count on the right hand sidebar of my blog. For those of you reading this on one of the sites that syndicates my writing or through an RSS reader, you might not have seen it but for months the count typically hovered between 700 and 900 readers. Then all of a sudden, just over a week ago, the figures had more than doubled and at one point I was pushing close to 2000. At first I thought it was a reporting error, but like many other bloggers I soon realized the spike was due to Googles recent move to publish RSS reader counts from the popular Google Reader. After that launched on February 16th, almost immediately I had visibility of about 1000 more readers that I might not have known about or been measuring otherwise. The experience got me thinking about the nature of blog traffic and how much more of mine might be hidden or not measured.
Unrelated to this RSS surge, at the end of January I subscribed to use Statcounter to record stats on my blog, aiming to give myself a more sophisticated understanding of my blog traffic beyond the very basic reporting Typepad provides. Over the last month, I have learned a few things about my blog traffic that may be helpful to others - and in particular, how to understand where the hidden sources of blog traffic are. Towards this end, in looking over my stats and referring links here are the top ten types of links that are currently driving traffic to my blog (in order from most traffic to least):
- Blog Post Link: This is by far my most common source of traffic and changes everyday depending on which site is linking to mine and where a post gets mentioned. Not every post results in this type of traffic, but getting a post linked on a high visibility blog or talked about on a site elsewhere is still the top traffic driver for me. This doesn't include any blogs where articles are consistently republished or any permanent links on other blogs, such as listings in a blogroll.
- Search Engine Link: The fact that this is high on the list will come as no surprise to most bloggers. Google is by far the dominant engine in terms of driving traffic to my site, but I also get a fair bit from Yahoo. Not as much from MSN or Ask at the moment, but that may change in the future. The interesting thing about this is for my first year of blogging, it was by far my #1 driver of traffic. Only recently have direct links taken over the top spot and dropped this to #2.
- Social News Link: These are links that come from social news sites such as Digg, Icerocket, Netscape, Marktd, or New PR (those are my top five). They are usually either from a post that someone has added to one of these sites, or from a link I have added myself to a particularly relevant post - which I do from time to time for content that I think may be of particular interest to users of any of those sites.
- Tags or Social Bookmarking Link: These differ from social news sites as they are usually based on specific keyword tags versus user votes. Links in this category come from sources like tags on Technorati or del.icio.us. The interesting thing about these types of links is that they often drive readers to enter my blog through one of the category pages rather than a page for a particular post. When this happens, they are far more likely to click around and read a few posts rather than just read one (which is what visitors from search engines often seem to do).
- Republishing Link: As I stated earlier in this post, my content is republished in several other locations (9 Rules, Digital Media Wire and WebProNews being the main three) and consumed in different ways in each place. Some drive content back to my blog, while others offer a post in it's entireity and don't tend to drive much traffic back to my site. This is lower on the list as most of my republishing arrangements fall into the latter category where readers can get the entire text elsewhere. I may reevaluate this in the future, but for the time being, I am happy for my content to travel further regardless of whether it brings someone back to my blog or not (particularly because I don't have advertising on my blog anyway).
- RSS Link: Slightly rarer than a link from a republished post is receiving traffic from the RSS feed for my blog. I have elected to include my full articles in my RSS feed - mainly because I have experienced the frustration of being a reader of other blogs where I only get a short version and still need to visit a site to read the rest of an article. To me, that defeats the purpose of RSS as a reader. I want my feed to make consuming my content as easy as possible for readers that elect to subscribe to it. If that means RSS links are not huge blog traffic drivers, so be it.
- Email Forward Link: If there was one category of links I would wish to move higher on this list, this would be it. These are the referral URLs that come through with very strange configurations, but take you back to a secure network or webmail service, meaning that a URL for a post or my blog was emailed from one person to another and they clicked directly on the link in the email to get to my blog. This is the type of link I strive for - to be viral enough to have a reader send a post to another reader. Obviously, it's not fool proof as many folks might cut and paste the URL instead of clicking directly ... but this is emblematic of the type of hidden blog traffic that only becomes clear once you delve into your stats.
- Comment Link: These come from comments that I have left on other blog posts or news articles. Obviously, this fluctuates based on how active I am with posting comments or participating. For this reason, this is probably far lower on the list as it could be ... as regular workload and blogging leave little time to do more than keep up with the 100 or so blogs that I read and only allow me to post comments relatively infrequently. One of my big new years resolutions is to try and comment online more consistently. I'm working on it ...
- Forum Link: On occasion, a post of mine will get mentioned for positive or negative reasons in an online community of enthusiasts about something in particular. This happened with my post several weeks ago about the new Rembrandt ad, and it has driven a decent amount of traffic to my blog and hasn't slowed down in nearly 3 weeks. It's certainly evidence of the importance of connecting posts about specific topics to enthusiasts in online communities most likely to care about it.
- Quote/Endorsement Link: There are several quotes or endorsements that I have provided for services and sites like Addthis.com or ScriptThis.com. These have been used on their sites and in email communications and driven traffic to my blog in spurts, depending on activities they are undertaking or marketing they are conducting. In particular, having a quote of mine included in an AddThis email newsletter drove a decent amount of traffic several months ago.
- Directory Link: These are links from directory or wiki listings. The top driver for me in this category is the Wikipedia entry on Social Media Optimization, which drives a consistent level of readers to my original post about the 5 Rules of SMO. I am also listed in many other blog directories, but they drive a negligible amount of traffic so far.
- Blogroll Link: There was a time when this was probably higher on the list, but now getting a link from a Blogroll is fairly rare. Probably due to the fact that blogrolls today are far longer than they used to be, the only times when this does manage to drive some traffic is when it is first added to a blog or when my blog happens to be at the top of a list due to alphabetic good luck or just by chance.
This is a starting list of 12 - but I am sure there are other key sources of blog traffic that I might have missed. My aim was to start the discussion, as it would be very interesting to see if services like Feedburner, Statcounter could develop a way to let bloggers categorize their traffic into categories like this. The ability to measure the quality of inbound links is the next logical step for analytics that can already offer great detail on things like clickstreams and userpaths. In the meantime, we will all need share data and insights so we can all help build a more complete picture of blog traffic.
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