Analytics such as number of views, number of new viewers, length on site, etc. can give great insights into how your content is being consumed. Are you being found? Are you retaining your audience after they find you? These can help you plan your content strategy and grow your audience.
But there is a catch. Analytics can be addictive. You can end up waking up each morning and looking at your numbers. How did that new post go? Are your views up from yesterday or down? Why? Treating your analytics like scores on a video game can end up creating stress and anxiety. Following a number of VTubers on twitter, there seems to be an increasing number of people not enjoying what they do as much as before. I worry that they are measuring their “success” in the wrong way.
I am not a high profile content creator, but a number of my roles have dealt with the use of analytics, so wanted to share a few tips I have picked up over the years. (I currently work at Google.)
Make sure you are measuring the right metrics. It might be easy to measure the number of views of a post, but what matters more? Single views? Or returning viewers? Are you after a loyal core, or size of audience? Make sure you understand your goals, then pick the best metrics to measure success based on your goals.
Daily fluctuations are normal. When I was at ebay, one lesson was on seasonality. Many things can impact traffic levels that are out of your control. The day of the week, is it mothers day, is today good weather during winter, is there a big sporting event on, and so on. At ebay we watched for variations day-over-day, week-over-week, year-over-year. But we also looked to look at trends over time. One weekend of poor numbers was not necessarily an indication we were doing anything wrong – looking at data over a longer period of time can help filter out noise.
Set realistic targets. Goals can help drive you to action. Video games know this well, giving frequent feedback of small and large successes. Winning is fun! But setting yourself unrealistic goals can be disheartening. Do you really think you can double your viewers each month? Or is a 10% improvement per quarter actually a great outcome? Sure, set yourself a stretch goal, but your personal goal should be achievable.
Track your goals over time. Over time may come to understand what level of growth is reasonable, which can help when setting new goals. For this, it is really useful to keep track of your previous goals and progress. For example, you might set yourself quarterly growth goals. But that means you need to be disciplined to keep your old goals and results around. For example, write a short quarterly report with screenshots of data so you can refer back easily even if the original data is lost.
Start collecting early. Analyzing long term trends means you need to work out the right metrics early. Each time you change your metrics, you may need to start data collection again from scratch. So it is worth tracking some metrics early, even if you get it wrong, so you can learn and course correct. Don’t think “I will start tracking my metrics when I am successful”. Allow time for mistakes. Also you may never realize that you are already being “successful” if you are not collecting metrics!
Schedule review time. With longer term goals, you may need to be more organized when to review your goals. For example, maybe review your progress at the start of each month. If you are not very disciplined (a real weakness for myself!), try setting up a calendar in advance to remind you of tasks.
Understand your metrics. Sometimes metrics you collect don’t mean what you think they do. I added metrics to capture the number of logins on my website. I logged in once, and the metric immediately jumped to 6. It turned out the metric was not the number of people logging on, but rather than number of web server requests that needed authentication. Don’t be fooled into thinking metrics data is a pure and perfect field. Make sure you really understand the numbers you have access to.
Sometimes your data will be wrong. It is an unfortunate reality that systems go wrong at times. Beware of relying too much on your data. The truth is systems fail, so you may see blips in your analytics data at times that may simply be bad data.
Some data is better than no data. It is often the case that the real data you want is something you cannot measure. In such cases some bad data may still be better than no data. For example, number of page views does not indicate how many people love your content. But it can still be helpful as an indication.
Do you want to lead or follow? Analytics and trends data can be useful to spot where your audience is heading. You may then decide to create more content that is of interest to your audience. That can be a really great way to improve your retainership of followers. Just beware of the trap of becoming a follower instead of a leader. Doing something you don’t enjoy because it will please your audience can drain your energy and passion. Long term persistence may be more important for success than your current audience size. It is worthwhile understanding what interests your audience. Just be watchful to make sure you don’t lose your passion in the process.
Develop a thick skin. You really appreciate your audience, your followers, your community. You enjoy spending time with them. That is great! But be aware the closer you get to them, the easier it is to get hurt by them. This is how relationships work. So understand that people have bad days. An there are trolls. Some people just enjoy annoying other people. It’s sad, but the truth. Decide how much you want to look at feedback people give you. I have come across a few online celebrities recently that said they purposely do not look at feedback or analytics much. It can be depressing, feedback can be hurtful. They purposely pick what they want to do, and do it well.
It’s not forever. Being realistic, nothing is forever. Especially for entertainment. Sure, some top flyers last longer. But many go through a season of growth and success, and then people move on to something new. Be realistic and don’t feel a failure if your numbers start to drop off. It will almost certainly happen at some stage. That does not mean you were not successful.
So are analytics bad? No! But think about what success looks like first, then find analytics that measure true success, then set a schedule to look at the numbers. Understand that looking at your numbers since yesterday might be fun, but usually it is longer term trends that really matter. A 20% daily fluctuation (especially when smaller number of views) might be scary but normal, with 10% growth over a quarter a fantastic result! Analytics can be a useful tool to help you shape your future. Just don’t let them define your future.
So what am I planning to do? I am going to collect some metrics, but one measure of success for me is seeing others create content they would not have succeeded with otherwise. One or two people doing that a month would be a fantastic result! I also enjoy learning new technologies. That means analytics from my website, at least for now, is not that important to me. I am going to collect them as it might become more important in the future. But for now, I am instead starting a journal of people saying “Thanks! That helped me!” That is my personal measure of success. It’s also a lot more fun to go back and review in my personal monthly reviews.