Over the years of writing here, I have tried just about every analytics package I could get my hands on. WordPress analytics, Google analytics, Reinvigorate, Clicky, Gaug.es, Mint, Piwik — the list goes on. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what the list is — I think most people assume that if you run a website, you need analytics on it. You need analytics to negotiate with advertisers, or because everyone else does it. I’ve never seen any other concrete reasons why.
I am now in the camp that analytics are detrimental to most new writers, and many long time writers as well. We are better off without them.
1. The Truth
I’ve spent far too much time diving into analytics in search of the golden bit of info, which once obtained will unlock the secret of building a big audience. The truth is: analytics don’t tell you anything about what really matters. What really matters is: did your readers enjoy what they read, what you wrote?
Whether people enjoyed your writing is all that really matters, and all that really should matter. Analytics can’t tell you any of this. You can try to infer it, but people hate-read as much as they read something because they love it so anything you infer is likely wrong.
Page views, unique views, time on site — they tell you nothing about how enjoyable your site is to people. They only tell you how many people made it to the point of loading your analytics scripts. And that really tells you nothing — those people could have landed on your site by pure accident for all you know.
None of these metrics matter, because analytics are only a tool for proving “value” to advertisers, and for feeding ones ego. Nothing more.
2. The Bad Spot
When you have analytics on your site, you naturally become competitive with yourself. You want to beat yesterday’s traffic — or last month’s high, when you got all those links from people. You want to drive that number up. Way up. There is never too big of a number.
You start to analyze which posts get the most traffic. You begin to wonder why: was it the style, the topic, the humor, the images. What was it that made that post so popular?
And since you do that, you start to think you should keep writing on the topics which were popular in the past.
This puts you in the bad spot. You will soon feel cornered into a particular type of post, a particular style. You’ll feel stuck.
If I had done this I would have never stopped writing about OmniFocus vs. Things — my first popular post. Or I would have continued to relentlessly write about weather apps, content blockers, backpacks, Steve Ballmer — you name it. Sure, I write about some of those topics still and went on stress writing about them at times, but they are part of the larger topic, which is simply: what interests me. I only talk about what I love, but more on that in a bit.
Because I never figured the topic was the golden ticket, I never felt stuck in any one category.
2.1 The Shawn Blanc Example
Shawn is a good buddy of mine, and I have been reading his site for a good long time now. Most of you probably have been too. These days Shawn tends to write about productivity, creativity, focus, and topics related to that. He clearly has a passion for it.
The Shawn I remember from years ago though, wrote about design and software. He wrote lengthy posts about NetNewsWire. He was known for it.
But he doesn’t write those posts anymore, and as such I have no clue which RSS reader he uses now. (I couldn’t stand not knowing. I texted him to find out. He uses Reeder on the Mac, kind of. ) Yes, I miss him writing about those things, but he created The Focus Course — which is amazing and literally changed my life for the better.
Had Shawn followed what his analytics told him though, he would still be writing about Reeder. And I am sure that would have been great writing, but he would have never changed my life with The Focus Course — nor the lives of many others he has touched through his writing of late.
We are all better off because Shawn didn’t do what the numbers would lead him to believe he should do.
This is the bad spot. The spot where you can get pigeoned holed into writing about something until everyone stops and says: “Still? You’re still writing about that?”. Analytics can’t tell you when people are getting bored with you topics, they can only tell you when they are long since bored (because they don’t read your site anymore). And then, when you get there — when everyone is bored — you will be lost. Having no clue what topic to pursue next, because you never tried anything else on your site, and your analytics literally are of no help now.
3. For the Love
If you can stand to bring yourself to keeping all analytics off of your sites, then you stand a real chance at writing about what you truly love to write about.
And that’s really the dream, not millions of readers.
I didn’t choose weather apps, OmniFocus, backpacks, content blockers, pocket knifes — or any of the other things I write about because of analytics. I chose them because I wanted to find the best one of those things, and why not share that research. I chose these topics because they were on my mind and I wanted to write about them.
And that shows.
It shows in people’s writing when they are writing about stuff which they love. Stuff they care about. Stuff they are thinking a lot about.
I choose my topics because I could write for days about them and not be bored. And I think readers get a sense when a writer has a lot more to say on something. When they are not done. And I think that draws people back to the site.
I choose to write only what I want to write — analytics be damned.
You should do the same.
4. Which is Why
Why bother with analytics at all?
I turned all of mine off, and removed the code from the sites.1 I don’t need that shit pulling at me. I don’t need that artificial stress.
No one needs that stress.
That stress of only reaching 20 people, or the even worse stress of reaching thousands of people. Knowing how many people read your site will affect what you say, and what you write about. You’ll hold back because your audience is too large, or not edit enough because you audience is too small.
But if you don’t know the size of your audience great things can happen.
If you are starting a new blog, or have one already, the best thing you can do is turn off all analytics. If you are worried about knowing when your site is “big” then worry no more. Trust me when I tell you: you will know when you site is big, with or without analytics, I promise that you will know.
Or you can check Alexa, that works too…
Just turn them off now. Then, write about whatever the fuck you want to write about.
People will notice the difference.
You will notice the difference.
Everyone will like you better for it, but most importantly you will like you better for it. And if people don’t like you better for it, then know two things:
- You won’t know, because you’ll have no analytics to know.
- Fuck ‘em.
Enjoy your life.
I technically still have analytics in the form of RSS analytics and server logs. I don’t know how to stop the server logging, but if you do: I am all ears.
As for RSS analytics, that’s tricky for me. Tricky because it might mess up people who have subscribed to the feed if I remove them, so I need to look into that more.
That said, RSS analytics are fairly healthy, since they can’t tell you much. You don’t know who is reading what, only how many people have deemed your site worthy as being a “can’t miss”. And in that vein they are actually telling you if people enjoy what you write or not — which is closer to ideal.
Even if you don’t agree, that is the metric RSS measures, then know that RSS numbers grow so slowly that it should be of little impact for most people. But I still recommend turning them off — it’s next on my task list — as they can still push you to hold back, or be too loose with your writing. ↩