Blogging about blogging alert!

This post is a bit off-topic, but I thought it was interesting. Since many of you have asked me metablogging questions, I thought you might be interested too.

An overwhelming majority of people who end up on my site only view a single page per visit. In fact, you’ll probably do the same. As I’ve come to realize: that’s okay.

I didn’t always think it was okay though. Throughout most of 2007, that caused me a great deal of concern. I’d been reading too many blogs about blogging, was convinced that persuading you to click through multiple pages was essential to the site’s success, but wasn’t able to make that happen here

Ultimately, the number of pageviews wasn’t very worrisome, because the site continued to grow. What did frustrate me was the impact that single-view visits have on a more important metric.


My site, the trampoline

What really does make single-view visits irritating is their impact on how bounce rates are calculated. Bounce rates are a measure of how many visitors hit your site and immediately leave; a bad thing. Almost every stats package, whether server-side (e.g. AWStats) or JavaScript-driven (e.g. Google Analytics), counts a visit with only one pageview as a bounce.

For example, if you spend five minutes reading this single post and then leave the site, Google Analytics will report your visit the same as if you left instantly. It will imply that you immediately left the site, even if you read every sentence. Without a second request to calculate how long you actually spent on the page, the worst is assumed.

Who cares?

The fundamental problem is that the difference between those interpretations is profound; especially for traffic coming from search engines. Worrying about bounce rates could easily be dismissed as pointless obsessing, but I think it’s one of my most important stats.

If someone finds the site during a search and gets everything they need from a single post and its comments, I see that as a win. However, if they read for a few seconds and decide my post was a bad result for their search, something needs fixing.

Lacking an accurate metric, I’ve always hoped that the former scenario was the prevalent one. I do try to write comprehensive posts and have been fortunate to have comments that are often better than the posts themselves, so that wasn’t completely far-fetched.

It was hard not to worry about the other scenario though.

If it’s good enough for Hanselman…

Luckily, I happened to read this post by Scott Hanselman, and realized that I’d been focusing on the wrong things. The entire post is great, but this was specifically relevant to my worries:

Given that realization, I look at my stats maybe twice a month, and I’m most interested in seeing what posts folks really liked that month. I used to (maybe 3 years ago) look at every referrer and stats daily, but then I realized that my personal litmus test for my blog’s success or failure is comments and other folks’ blog posts, and nothing else.

While that was good advice by itself, the most important bit of information (to me) was that he had also revealed his site’s bounce rate: 77.71%.

An image showing Scott Hanselman's bounce rate (77.71%)

At that point, I immediately stopped worrying about my bounce rate. If 77.71% was good enough for Hanselman, my 78.41% was clearly not something to fixate on.

The amazing difference 30 seconds can make

Having put those insecurities behind me a couple years ago, I was interested to recently learn that my stats provider, Clicky, was about to improve how they measure bounces. Rather than rely solely on a second pageview to calculate bounce rates, Clicky’s client-side tracking code now “pings” back periodically to confirm that you’re still viewing the page.

At a 30 second interval between pings, the resolution is still imperfect, but I’m finally able to gain a better understanding of how many single pageview visits actually are bounces. As it turns out, after a week of the new tracking method, not many:

new-bounce-rate

What a difference 30 seconds makes!

Now I know that most of those single pageview visits actually did represent the best-case scenario. It’s not that the content was bounce-inducingly irrelevant/bad, but relevant/good enough that a second pageview often wasn’t necessary.