Website Stats 101 for Authors

Getting traffic to your website is important, but so is understanding what and who that traffic is. While 2,000 hits a month might sound good, just what does it mean? A few pointers for understanding and monitoring your website traffic will help you understand how to get more visitors to your website.

Anyone who has a website should have the ability to view a statistics report, usually generated to show statistics by day, week, and month. Many beginners are under the impression they should look at how many “hits” the website generates, but “hits” are not actually human visits to your website but a somewhat arbitrary number generated from a number of factors determined by information on the website that assigns points or “hits” to the page based on such items being on a page as images, stylesheets, and javascript files. For the beginner, this can be confusing and isn’t that important.

What you want to know is how many live people are looking at your website and why. Even this isn’t easy to determine since many visits are from search engines surfing the web to get information for their listings. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll just assume below that visitors are people.

Most reports will show the number of unique visitors and number of visits. For example, you may have 500 unique visitors but 800 visits. What that tells you is that maybe 300 of your visitors came twice or one visitor came 301 times or any other combination. The number of unique visits you are attracting is good, but so are return visits.

The number of pages visited should be a higher number, perhaps 2,000 in this case, so you can estimate that each of your 500 visitors looked at four of your website pages. You should also get specific statistics for each page of your website. For example, we’ll say you have four pages on your website named “Home,” “About the Author,” “Author Events,” and “Buy the Book.” Your statistics may show you had 1,000 visits to “Home,” 600 to “About the Author,” 300 to “Author Events,” and 100 to “Buy the Book.” This tells you most people are not buying your book, although you probably already knew that from your book sales. The point is that these statistics can help you determine what information on your website is interesting to visitors. If your book is about Domestic Violence, and you have a “Help for Domestic Violence” page that is getting 500 views while your “About the Author” page is only getting 100 views, you know you want to keep your “Help for Domestic Violence” page updated and relevant because it’s attracting more views while at the same time you should figure out how that page can be used to generate more book sales.

Visit duration is also very significant. You may think it’s great you had 500 unique visitors this month, but how long did they stay? Most of them only stay a few seconds. For example, a breakdown of time statistics on your site might look like this:

Time Number of visits Percent

0s-30s                          533                              91.4 %

30s-2mn                       23                                3.9 %

2mn-5mn                      13                                2.2 %

5mn-15mn                    7                                  1.2 %

15mn-30mn                  2                                  0.3 %

30mn-1h                      3                                  0.5 %

1h+                              2                                  0.3 %

Total Number of visits: 583

Average visit time: 59 seconds

If 91% of your visitors stayed less than 30 seconds, they might as well not even have bothered coming by. Don’t be discouraged, though, because such percentages are typical for websites. Work on putting content on your site that interests your visitors so they will stay longer. Worry less about the percentage leaving in 30 seconds and focus more on trying to increase the percentage staying five or more minutes.

Content is what makes your website valuable and a place worth visiting. You can find out what content your viewers want to see by looking at the statistics for the “keyword” or “key phrases” search. For example, we’ll say your name is John Smith and you’ve written a Civil War novel named “Sherman’s March.” Your keyword or key phrases statistics might look like this:

Key Phrase Searches

Civil War                      500

Abraham Lincoln          400

General Sherman          350

Robert E. Lee               300

Atlanta Burning             50

Sherman’s March         20

John Smith                    10

What this tells you is that most people are not online trying to find you or your book. Even though you got 20 searches for “Sherman’s March” because the historical event of Sherman’s March is so well known, people probably weren’t searching for your book title but the subject itself. But they did come to your website looking for information about General Sherman. Abraham Lincoln also attracted them, so you may want to add more information about Lincoln because that’s what your visitors are interested in. If you have an entire page on Atlanta burning but it’s obviously not something your visitors are searching for, while you may choose to keep it, a page on Lincoln and his relationship with Sherman might attract more attention.

Statistics on Links from an external page can be more confusing information. Sometimes the other pages listed seem to have nothing to do with your website, but if you’ve been interviewed at www.ReaderViews.com for example and Reader Views linked to your website, you may see some of your traffic came from that site. You might also find traffic coming to your site from a link on your MySpace page or other places you have posted your website link. You might be posting your website link across the Internet to generate traffic to your site. Now you see that you got almost no traffic to your site from leaving comments on 100 different blogs, but you got 500 visits from the 50 links you posted on MySpace. As a result, you can see which links are working for you and which ones aren’t and structure your online marketing efforts accordingly.

This simple overview of your website statistics can be the start to understanding how visitors are responding to your website, what information they like, and what information they are ignoring. Until you become famous, chances are you won’t see your name or book title in the search statistics very often, but the information you find in the statistics will help you understand how people are finding your site and what information they are seeking. By providing more of that information on your site, you are more likely to convince them your book is also information worth purchasing.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.