huge haystacks

Somewhere in there is your blog’s most important metric…

We’re drowning in an ocean of data, but pulling useful insights out of it, and knowing which metrics to focus on is getting harder by the day. Don’t believe me? Answer this question in less than 10 words: how’s your blog doing, and how do you know?

mal_no words

…Yeah, I thought so–and I sympathize! After all, how do you answer concisely when someone asks how the blog is doing? Do you tell them traffic is up? Or that bounce rates are stable? Or that social shares are slowly declining? All of these things could be true, and yet taken together they provide a fuzzy, confusing view of how your blog is performing overall.

Fret not, friend. In this post I’m going to walk you through a simple process for choosing which metrics matter most for your blog, and how to choose which to focus on. Next time someone asks about your blog, you’re gonna answer like the crack of a whip. Wha-KISSHHHHH!

Understanding the Web Analytics Stack

The key to identifying the focused, meaningful metrics you crave is to get familiar with the Web Analytics Stack. All of the elements of web analytics can be ‘stacked’ into four layers: Objectives, Engagement, Metrics, and Data. At the top of the stack, there are really only a handful of common Objectives for any website, while conversely at the bottom of the stack, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of different data points that you can collect.

How to Measure Web Analytics

By starting at the top and working your way down the Web Analytics Stack, you can easily identify which metrics are truly the most important ones to watch for your blog.

Objectives: where do you want to be?

As Simon Sinek says, always start with “Why?” – why does your blog exist? Every blog has an objective of some kind–and by and large, virtually all of these objectives fall into one of the following categories:

  • Sales or Revenue
  • Leads
  • Subscribers
  • Downloads or Signups
  • Pageviews

Surprised there aren’t more? Frankly I was too, but the pyramid shape of the Web Analytics Stack reflects the reality on the web that there are many paths you can take to get to the same objective. Some examples of blog objectives:

-» [OBJECTIVE] Grow my mailing list

-» [OBJECTIVE] Get more users for my product

-» [OBJECTIVE] Sell my ebook

Get clear on your blog’s objective–every post you publish should support it.

Engagement: the wind in your blog’s sails

An engaged reader is one that does something you want them to do, so ask yourself: what are the desirable actions your readers can take that benefit your objective? When it comes down to it, there are less than a dozen actions a visitor to your blog can actually take to indicate their interest:

  • View the page
  • Share it on a social network
  • Comment
  • Sign up
  • Subscribe/follow
  • Send a message via contact form
  • Scroll
  • Bookmark
  • Click to another post
  • Interact with a page element (e.g. play video)
  • Purchase something

Each of these actions can be tied to your chosen objective as indicators that your blog is doing its job. For example:

[OBJECTIVE] Grow my mailing list

-» [ENGAGEMENT] Subscribe

[OBJECTIVE] Get users for my product

-» [ENGAGEMENT] Sign up

[OBJECTIVE] Sell my ebook

-» [ENGAGEMENT] Purchase

Decide which Engagement indicators are the best fit for your objective – bear in mind that there may be more than one that’s appropriate.

Metrics tell you which way you’re going


If your Objective is a destination, and Engagement is like the wind, your metrics are like a windsock–they tell you which way the wind is blowing, and whether you’re doing better or worse by measuring the level of meaningful engagement with your blog’s objective. You’ll likely have multiple metrics that are suited to measuring your engagement. This is where the total list of all metrics out there gets too long to show in its entirety, but here are a few examples to give you the idea:

[OBJECTIVE] Grow my mailing list

[ENGAGEMENT] Subscribe

-» [METRICS] Subscriber Conversion Rate or Average # of Subscribers/day

[OBJECTIVE] Get users for my product


-» [METRICS] Signup Conversion Rate or Average # of Signups/day

[OBJECTIVE] Sell my ebook


-» [METRICS] Average # of Sales/day or Average Revenue/day or Purchase Conversion Rate

The conversion rates are typically calculated by dividing the number of actions by the number of visitors who could have taken that action–so:

Subscriber Conversion Rate = # of Subscribers / # of Pageviews 

A quick note about why conversion rates rock
Conversion rates are handy because they allow you to objectively compare the performance of different posts, regardless of their age. Simply comparing the raw number of subscribers across two posts of significantly different ages isn’t fair to the younger post, and will give you a false understanding of which one is truly doing a better job of netting you new subscribers.

Just remember that the more directly tied to the objective your metrics are, the greater the impact you’ll actually make by focusing on them. Ignore the vanity metrics that have lots of zeroes and sound impressive, but don’t meaningfully impact your objective.

Data: The air your metrics breathe

And at the very bottom of the Web Analytics stack, we have the data – the raw numbers generated by your readers’ activity. Knowing what metrics you want to move tells you what data you need to track. Por ejemplo:

[OBJECTIVE] Grow my mailing list

[ENGAGEMENT] Subscribe

[METRICS] Subscriber Conversion Rate or Average # of Subscribers/day

-» [DATA] # of Subscribers and pageviews and duration

[OBJECTIVE] Get users for my product


[METRICS] Signup Conversion Rate or Average # of Signups/day

-» [DATA] # of Signups and pageviews and duration

[OBJECTIVE] Sell my ebook


[METRICS] Average # of Sales/day or Average Revenue/day or Purchase Conversion Rate

-» [DATA] # of Sales and Revenue and duration and pageviews

Make sure to start with data you can track easily & reliably – it’s no good choosing to focus on a metric that you’re constantly doubting, or which takes forever to collect data for, resulting in your decisions lagging behind. Everything is connected – if one of your posts blows up, you’ll likely see the change reflected across multiple metrics, so you don’t have to perfectly nail it.

In Summary: have Analytics Stack, will travel


Using the Web Analytics Stack to back out from your objective into a focused, meaningful set of metrics helps counter the growing info overload of many analytics tools, and allows you to chart a course for your efforts, instead of chasing vanity metrics that do nothing for the overall growth of your blog.

What metrics are you focusing on for your blog? Tell me in the comments!