Website Analytics

Manton Reece, in his post, Happier without analytics, describes why doesn’t have page-view statistics built in.

We don’t have page-view stats on because they are incomplete without counting the timeline and feed readers, and I’d hate for someone to be discouraged when just getting started.

This makes total sense.

In the post, he links to Quitting Analytics by Garret Dimon. Garret writes,

…analytics aren’t always all that important. Hits. Visits. Likes. Followers. These are easy to measure, but that didn’t make them important.

I’m more interested in the things I can’t easily quantify. Did I write something that resonated with people enough for them to write me an email?

I get it, analytics aren’t required in order to provide visitors with a quality experience1. But why is it that many posts like this seem to imply that one must either continually obsess over the numbers or rip out analytics entirely? Are those really my only choices? I also pick up just a whiff of “I don’t even HAVE a television!” but I do that a lot.

Garret again…

after spending some time without analytics, I’m happier. I’m writing more. Stats don’t even cross my mind. It’s really nice.

That’s awesome. Whatever it takes to write more, I say!

I do wonder why we can’t have both. Is it really a zero-sum proposition? I agree with Garret that “trying to juice the numbers almost invariably divorces you from thinking about customers and understanding people,” but I’m not as quick to believe that optimising for the numbers is inevitable once analytics are installed.

Let’s use me as an example :).

I use Plausible analytics for keeping an eye on visits to my site(s). I “check the numbers” once or twice a day to see what people are reading. I don’t really watch for trends, and I don’t pay attention to visit duration or retention or “funnels”. Plausible doesn’t offer those numbers, but I’m not interested in them anyway. I just like to see that stuff I write is being read, and how often. It’s interesting to me. I don’t change what I write based on the stats. I don’t write for the “likes”, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t matter at all if anyone reads it. Does it matter if I know exactly how many? No, but knowing the exact numbers doesn’t mean I worry about them. I simply enjoy knowing.

Analytics will sometimes surface old posts I’d forgotten about, by showing a sudden surge2 of visits. This can spark new conversations and is quite fun when it happens.

Server-side analytics (I use GoAccess) can be useful for analyzing missing content (404s) or other issues.

So, if you’re truly not interested in the data, don’t use analytics. As Garret suggests, don’t waste time “swimming through numbers”.

I believe one can get a fair amount value out of knowing what people are reading without obsessing over the numbers or changing their own behavior because of them.

  1. I’m thinking of small business or personal websites here. ↩︎

  2. And by “surge” I mean more than one or two ↩︎