Blog stats can easily drive you crazy, and numbers themselves don’t really mean all that much. What can be interesting, though, is looking at patterns over longer frames of time, like the last quarter or the last year. Changes in ratios can also be far more enlightening than changes in absolute numbers, and they don’t fluctuate as randomly as the numbers themselves appear to.
The WordPress.com premium plan and higher can use Google Analytics, which can give more details, but it’s also a lot more complicated than WordPress’s stats. For this post, I’ll be talking only about the stats that WordPress gives you access to.
The referrers section of your WordPress stats tells you how people arrived at your blog.
For me, the WordPress Reader is by far the biggest referrer of traffic to my site. Over the last quarter, let’s pretend I got 100 visitors from WP, just for the sake of easy numbers for comparison purposes. Coming in at #2 was search engines, which brought in about 60 visitors. Number 3 was Pinterest, which brought in 24 visitors. Facebook, which I don’t even have an account on, is #4, coming in at just shy of 2 people in relation to the 100 visitors from WP.
WordPress lumps together most search engines, but Ecosia (an eco-friendly search engine) appears separately. If you have traffic from Google, that’s broken down further into the different countries’ versions of Google that sent people to your site.
Search engine info is kind of fun to have a closer look at. The vast majority of Google traffic I get is from the U.S. site, but I’ve had some come from more interesting places, like Turkey and Romania. My traffic from Bing is about 1/3 of the traffic I get from Google. That surprises me, in the sense that I didn’t realize anyone actually used Bing. For details on which search terms are bringing people to your site, you can get that info from the webmaster tools available from Google and Bing.
Your referrer stats can also give you some idea of who’s linking to your page. You may learn that people are arriving at your site by clicking a link on another person’s blog that you hadn’t realized was there.
If you see a strange-looking referrer that looks something like https://mentalhealthathome-org.cdn.ampproject.org/, that comes from Google. AMP (accelerated mobile pages) is a format that lets Google serve up an AMP-enabled page really quickly, without leaving Google. WordPress.com posts (but not pages) are AMP compatible.
Most popular posts/pages
Your most popular posts that are shown in your stats will probably reflect, at least to some extent, how readers are arriving at your blog. If you don’t get much traffic from places other than WordPress, you may already have some sense of what posts have been viewed the most, even without looking at your stats.
If you’re getting a fair bit of traffic from elsewhere, though, some of your most popular posts may surprise you. A random Pinterest pin or other social media share might happen to get spread far and wide and bring in a lot of visitors to the post that it links to. Or maybe some of your posts use great long-tail keywords in the title, so they end up ranking really high in search results and getting more clicks.
For my blog, the most popular posts that are those that get a lot of search engine, and to a lesser extent Pinterest, traffic. WordPress traffic tends to be more diffuse, spread out over a lot of different posts.
The most popular is my home page, and coming in not too far behind is “home page/archives”. My blog page (which isn’t my home page) is also up there near the top.
In the last quarter, my top 5 posts are:
- A glossary of psychiatric terms (published April 2018)
- Online mental health workbooks (published June 2018)
- COVID-19 coping toolkit (published 2020)
- Applying spoon theory to mental illness (published January 2019)
- Cell phones on psych wards – yea or nay? (published April 2019)
Looking at all-time stats, my top 5 are:
- Identifying emotions (published September 2018)
- Online mental health workbooks
- Applying spoon theory to mental illness
- A glossary of psychiatric terms
- Cell phones on psych wards – yea or nay?
The link between popular posts and referral sources
None of those top 5 are particularly stellar posts, and certainly not what I would pick out as my favourites. With the exception of the COVID coping toolkit, they’re all older posts. They were published when my blog had fewer followers and was getting a lot less visitors from WordPress than I do now. What these posts really reflect is my search engine traffic. Sure, there’s variability in how how many people are reading each post around the time it’s published, but that’s not what these top 5 are reflecting.
The identifying emotions post that’s #1 all-time was all because of Pinterest. A blogger with a popular site (not on WordPress) included one of my pins linked to identifying emotions in their post. I don’t get a lot of traffic to that post anymore, but for a long time there was a steady stream of visitors every day
The traffic to the COVID coping toolkit (which is actually a page rather than a post) is also in large part because of Pinterest.
The mental health workbooks post is a mix of Pinterest and search engines. I’m actually really surprised by just how much traffic it gets. The rest of the top 5 posts are largely from search engines.
I find it very interesting that none of my most viewed posts are in that position because of WordPress. And non-Wordpress visitors interact differently with posts. They don’t like, and they’re far less likely to comment.
Does any of this matter?
Probably not, at least for most bloggers. But it can be interesting to get a clearer picture of what’s happening on your blog, especially if you’re interested in growing your blog, whatever the reason. The key thing, though, is to try to avoid getting caught up in absolute numbers. It’s the patterns that will give you insights. Absolute numbers are an extremely poor indicator of the quality of both a blog itself and the interactions on it.
Do you pay attention to these kinds of patterns in your stats?