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Monday, October 20, 2008

Measuring Success: Cheerleader or Nerd?

Ca Phe Sua Da 12
Ca Phe Sua Da (Vietnamese Iced Milk Coffee).

Technorati recently released their "State of the Blogosphere" report, analyzing the trends and themes of blogging. Part of the report also included the fact that several of the top bloggers make six digits a year. And, of course, there are the bloggers who've gotten book deals such as Adam of The Amateur Gourmet, Clothilde of Chocolate and Zucchini, and Molly of Orangette.

Any agents or publishers reading this? I'd like a book deal too please. Pretty please? :)

The reality is that most bloggers don't make that kind of money, nor do we all have book deals, but that doesn't mean your blog can't be successful. Success is relative right? Do you judge it based upon how many comments you get? Or do you judge it based upon how many hits you get?

Two months ago when I started my "How to Start a Food Blog" series, I mentioned my Alexa, Technorati, and Wikio Food and Wine rankings as ways to gauge success. Just to give you an idea of how much difference just two months, and even a year makes, I'll compare the numbers. I said that in July 2007, I had 19,694 hits. By July 2008, I had 72,819 hits. In August 2007, there were 24,964 hits and in 2008, that rose to 75,298 hits. In September 2007, I had 29,183 hits. Last month, my hits were 90,598. I'm only discussing hits, or pageviews, because you can easily set your stat counter to show a higher number of visitors. I'm always excited when my number of pageviews increases each month. So for me, one way I judge my blog's continued "success" is if the numbers continue upward. Simple enough right?

Two months ago, Wandering Chopsticks' Alexa ranking was 206,189. Now, it's 189,676. I consider this the most important number because Alexa, which is owned by Amazon, measures total website traffic. Alexa doesn't care about how many people comment on your blog. It doesn't care about how many blogs link to you. Alexa simply ranks your blog based upon how much traffic you get. Some people have wondered why I'm so open about my numbers, because there are bloggers who are incredibly secretive about theirs. And the simple fact of the matter is, those numbers are already public. While you may not get exact figures, it's pretty easy to estimate how much traffic a blog gets based upon its ranking. Of course, no program is perfect. The results aren't entirely reliable if your traffic is less than 1,000 visitors a month or your ranking is lower than 100,000, but it does give you a pretty good general idea of where you stand. In fact, public relations companies use Alexa to determine which blogs to pitch.

Technorati, which only rates blogs, ranked Wandering Chopsticks at 32,417 in August. It's now 22,917. If you care about how many blogs link to you, or your blog's popularity, this is the number to watch. The more blogs that link to you, the higher your ranking. I sporadically check to see my blog reactions to find out who linked to me, but don't find it very useful beyond that. Also, it's rather inconsistent, sometimes adding in Spam sites and sometimes missing links entirely.

Wikio Food and Wine is a relative newcomer, and I'm a little iffy on whether I care about this number. There are popular blogs that didn't make it onto their top 100 list, and blogs that get significantly less traffic than mine that did. That's because rankings are based upon incoming links from top blogs. Unlike Technorati, which ranks your blog based upon any link, Wikio gives weight to links from top blogs. So then, isn't that ranking inflated since Wikio only counts those same links, when the numbers don't bear that out? Anyway, two months ago I said I wasn't in their top 100 at all. Then this month, I entered the list at #33. *Shrug.*

In all honesty, while I appreciate having a decent ranking with Technorati and Wikio, the only ranking I really care about is Alexa.

Day 23 Yong Tau Foo
Yong Tau Foo (Chinese Stuffed Tofu)

Other counters I should mention include BlogFlux Food and Drink Blogs, which I use to gauge how traffic is going for me each week. You have to register and include the badge on your blog in order for them to rank you. The numbers get wiped out each Sunday so you start all over again. It's useful for me to figure out how I'm doing from week to week, but it's not as inclusive as the others because BlogFlux only counts the blogs that are registered with them.

And lastly, there's Feedburner, which consolidates all your RSS readers. You'll notice that bloggers who use this often display the badge with the number of subscribers. It's now owned by Google, so you can consolidate it with the rest of your Google accounts instead of registering a separate Feedburner account. Last December when I started using Feedburner, I had 147 subscribers. I now have 538 readers. Clara of I (Heart) Food 4 Thought recently asked whether people preferred summaries or full feeds. Reading the blog on a reader doesn't count in number of pageviews which, if you have ads, affects how much you eventually get paid. Check her post for some comments on where people stand on this issue, or drop a comment here. I couldn't find the original post to link it to this one, but I remember signing up after reading a Feedburner post about how full feeds actually encouraged people to comment more. There's no way to find out how much switching to full feeds last year helped increased my readership, but I do think it played a role. I've said before, in relation to blog navigation, that people are lazy. Throw up obstacles such as additional clicking to get to the information and you may lose them as a reader. Unless you're one of the top blogs and will get readers regardless, or your blog has been scrapped repeatedly, it's best to go with full feeds.

Based upon my blogging interactions and emails, I separate readers in three categories. The lowest level of reader is the lurker. The lurker reads your blog, perhaps even on a regular basis, but they never comment. Now, there's nothing wrong with being a lurker, most of my family and friends who read my blog fall into this category, it's just they have minimal to non-existent contact with you online. Occasionally, they'll email to ask a question or thank me, then retreat back to lurkdom. If you go to partial feeds, the lurkers who read your blog through a reader will most likely unsubscribe. After all, they don't interact with you anyway and if you make reading your blog inconvenient for them, they'll move on to another blog that's more accessible. If they lurk by reading your blog directly, this isn't an issue.

The mid-level is the sporadic reader. These are the people who only check in for the specific information they want from your blog. For instance, I have readers who don't cook and are only interested in whether I have a new restaurant post up. Or they don't read the blog and only check in to see if there's a new Vietnamese recipe. It's when the specific post that they're interested in comes up that they'll comment or click over from the reader in order to comment. If you switch to partial feeds, this reader probably won't change. They're just scanning headlines anyway, so they'll only click over for the posts that are of interest to them. If they're reading on your blog directly, it'll still be sporadic.

And finally, the top level of readers are the truly dedicated. They read your blog on a regular basis, even if they don't necessarily comment every time. They use readers to make sure they don't miss a single post, and then click over to comment when they feel like it. For the blogs that update on a regular basis, I tend to read their blogs directly so they can get the few pennies of ad money from my visit. If you switch to partial feeds, you may lose some of them, but on the whole, they're going to read you regardless.

Don't get bogged down in all this talk of rankings and number of readers. There's always going to be someone who does better or worse than you. I use the rankings to get a general sense of how I'm doing. I recently mentioned to lil' sis about some of the emails I've received that were particularly poignant -- the reader who's using my Vietnamese recipes to cook for her dad after her mom passed away, the reader who never learned to cook Vietnamese food until now because her mom passed away when she was young, and the reader who's learning about and how to cook Vietnamese food to get closer to her boyfriend. These are my measures of success, not the numbers, but the people I've touched.

How do you measure success? Do you care about being popular or do you care about your ranking? Do you count it by how many comments or how many hits you get? Do you pay attention to Alexa, Technorati, and Wikio rankings? Did you even know about them until I said so? :P Do you use full or partial feeds and why? What are your blog reading habits?

Also, Diana of Appetite for China suggested I make my "How to Start a Food Series" more prominent. So there's now a link on top at my navigation bar. Or if you want to access a specific chapter directly, there's a breakout list on the sidebar.
  1. How to Start a Food Blog
  2. On Blogging and Food Blogging
  3. Choosing a Blog Host
  4. Picking a Name: Be Clever, Original, and Memorable
  5. Posting: Frequency, Topics, and Accuracy
  6. Giving Credit: The Right Way to Link, Copyright, and "By," "Inspired," and "Adapted"
  7. Your Online Identity: Blogging Interactions and Comment Policies
  8. Photos: Photography Tips, Storage, and Watermarking
  9. Design: Layout, Navigation, and "Above the Fold"
  10. Blogrolling: Will You Be My Friend?
  11. Building Traffic: Participate in the Community and Respond to Your Stats
  12. Measuring Success: Cheerleader or Nerd?
  13. Public Relations: Handling the Freebies and the People
  14. Monetizing Your Hobby: To Ad or Not to Ad
  15. Bottomline: Have Fun, but Protect Your Work
Did you find this series useful? I'd appreciate credit if you use any of the information. Thanks!

1 year ago today, a long rambling story that ended at Uzbekistan - Los Angeles (Closed).


  1. Out of all the measuring tools you mention, the only one I've ever heard of is Technorati, and I'm still not completely sure what it is or how to use it. And because I don't really understand any of my numbers or measurements, I don't really pay much attention to them. Ignorance is bliss, I say! Sure, I'd like to have a gazillion readers, though it's not something I really strive for. I blindly add technorati tags, stumble thingies, and digg whatchamacallits to my posts, but really haven't the faintest clue of what they do and if they work (I doubt it)--I'm just hoping to expose more people to filipino food. I guess I'm just happy if one person besides myself enjoys what I write.

  2. Another wonderful read in your series. I guess I'm medium to dedicated...as you're in my reader?

    I think the greatest measurement of success is to have fun and right now, I'm lovin' it.

  3. I think this has been a great series and appreciate your info. It's made me take my own blogging more seriously, although keeping it a fun, non-burnout frame of mind. I think we all care about how many people read our blogs, but I the ones I read (and the one I write) hopefully give off the sense that it is about the enjoyment, and that the authors are doing it for themselves and hoping to share some of the love for whatever subject they're writing about with others. Thanks...and keep the ideas coming!

  4. Interesting read! It is amazing how the numbers increase that quickly and how they can vary from place to place. 206189 to 189676 on Alexa in just one month is very amazing! Going up by almost 20000!
    My RSS feed just leads me to your page and not a dedicated special page that the feed makes (Firefox?). Gives me updates but sometimes out of date.

  5. Another great post, WC. You are my blogging inspiration--I've learned so much from you and now it makes me want to make my blog better.
    I don't know about any of those ranking services or any of that other stuff--I'm happy if I can get the picture to post correctly! I do have a site meter and I get a little jump of joy when I see I've had a few hits. I'm in it for the fun and I really wish I could devote more time because I have lots of ideas.
    Wishing you continued success and I hope that book deal comes soon! =)

  6. WC - I must admit that I never checked out Alexa until I read your manifesto. Numbers make me self-conscious and I hate that.

  7. I am definitely a nerd. I look at my WP stats practically everyday but I don't think too much about it more than a number. Its more about achieving a personal best that make me giddy but if its a lower number I don't beat myself up over it. Sometimes it depends on the day. I find Tuesdays and Wednesdays my hits are consistently higher but Friday and Saturdays are usually lower which makes sense considering ppl's work schedules. I have sitemeter on my blog but I don't really look as often anymore. I've been on Tchnorati before but to be honest I didn't understand their formula so the numbers didn't mean much to me. I recently signed up at Feedburner but I am confused about their stats. When I compare it to my GR subscriber numbers, it is way off? *shrugs. Question: I went to Alexa per your suggestion and looked up my numbers. I am guessing that the lower the number the better? Can you explain why?
    One thing that really interests me is WP's referral list. It tells you what blog/URL readers came from to get to your blog. Its very flattering to read that ppl appreciated something you wrote so much they wanna link to their own blog like you did :)
    I'd say I measure success by a little of everything. I love interacting with my readers. I love comments. I love the numbers.
    I'd say I range from lurker to dedicated reader depending on the blog. Your blog I read all entries but can't comment as I wish I could. Would that make me a dedicated reader/sporadic commenter? HAHA
    Love your how-to blog series. Thanks for the linkage! Keep it up :)
    PS. Eek! Sorry for the insanely long comment!

  8. I usually use Google Analytics to check stats. Never used Alexa or any of the other ranking systems until I started reading your series...Alexa seems like a good one, although it either doesn't get as detailed as I'd like or I'm not using it correctly.

    When I lived in the US I used RSS feeds to keep up on blogs...now it's harder since Feedburner feeds are blocked in China. :P There are about 15 blogs I regularly read, then use Tastespotting and Twitter to keep up on what other people are doing.

  9. I honestly didn't know about Alexa and Technorati until I read your posts. I tried using Technorati after reading one of your previous posts, and couldn't figure it out. I do use Google Analytics. I check it every few days, normally the day after I put up a new post. Mostly I like to see where people are coming from. If anything, I gauge the appeal of a post by the comments. Even then, I realize not everyone who reads will comment.

    I use full feeds because I think it is more convenient for people. Like you said, I don't bother to click over unless the title is something that piques my interest, but I usually do read full feeds because I all I have to do is scroll down :-)

  10. Wow - very interesting - I had never heard of Alexa and Technorati before.

  11. WC, those are crazy numbers you've got. I've just started reading on page ranks and the likes and they give me a headache. So I just look at statcounter periodically and see what people find interesting, but I'm nowhere even close to a midlevel blog. I am a bonafide dedicated reader of your blog as you know, your stuff are always interesting to read. I wish I had more time to go back and read the tons of past postings you got.

  12. This is so interesting. It's kind of fun checking stats. Of course, my numbers are nothing compared to yours, but I can get excited over an increase of one or two readers!

  13. I guess I'm one of your lurkers. This in fact, is my first time posting a comment. I go to your site every other day. I don't cook or go out much, but all those restaurants are in my area. And I like looking at the yummy food even though I wont probably get a chance to eat most of them -_-; Hmm lets see I started reading your blog when I lived in Rosemead so that was around 2006 maybe 2007? Now I live in South Central LA, too far from Alhambra were your most of your restaurants reviews are based. I probably wont ever comment again. So I'll take this time to say thanks for enlightening me with food. :)

  14. oh this is interesting.. hmm., I didnt know much abt ratings and stuff till I read this..

    and i still love the taste of Vietnamese coffee-inspired by reading your blog.i did order some! =)

  15. Marvin,
    If I can figure that out, you can! Well, if you want to anyway, but it's far more important to put out quality posts than to play around with other stuff.

    You're in my reader too, but yeah, I'm guilty of hardly ever commenting either. :P

    Glad you're still enjoying the series! I think we all strive to balance the admin stuff with the fun side. Afterall, most of us got into this because we enjoy it and wanted to share.

    The numbers go down just as easily too, so no sense in getting too worked up about it.

    I'm just happy you're still reading after all this time. New readers are nice, but I like that you're still finding the blog of interest. :)

    Nah. Don't sweat the numbers. As I said, there's always gonna be someone better and someone worse.

    My traffic has the same pattern. I think too many people are reading blogs at work! :P Feedburner consolidates all of the reader programs so it counts not only Google reader but Bloglines, Yahoo, and whatever other subscription service people use to read your blog. That way, you can analyze the stats of everyone who reads you through a reader, not just the Google readers. Alexa ranks according to traffic. The top 3 spots always seem to rotate between Google, Yahoo, and YouTube, meaning those three websites get the most hits of any website in the world. So the lower the number, the higher your traffic. I don't expect, nor do I have anyone who comments on every single post. Thanks for reading every post! I don't even expect that! :)

    I wish Alexa would get more detailed as well, but I think you have to break the 100,000 barrier before that happens. Makes sense, otherwise it'd be impossible to track every website in the world.

    I'm always excited when I see new countries pop up too. Boggles the mind that I get hits from Africa and South America.

    It's OK. Rankings and numbers can sometimes take the enjoyment out of blogging.

    I think you're being too hard on yourself. You just started a month ago! Starting off a whole lot nicer than my early posts too, I might add.

    I get excited adding one or two readers too!

    Don't go back to lurkdom! I'm nice. Mostly. ;)

    Ah, another VNese coffee convert. Good deal.

  16. I really liked this post, very informative, specially for a new blogger like me. Thank you!

  17. My husband and I are just in the early part of starting our own website/blog relating to both food and travel (we are going to be traveling around the world for a year mostly focusing on food). This is incredibly helpful and the best description of the logistics of blog/site maintenance I have seen. Thanks for putting so much effort into this!

  18. I'm not quite sure how and why I came across your blog but I sat and read through your series. It was very informative and just as you stressed content, the content was great. Thanks for putting things like this up. I've technically had my blog for a little more than a year but I've only started frequently updating it for a few months. Information like this helps a newb food blogger like me. Thank you.

  19. Akila,
    Thanks! I hope it helps when you set up your blog. Traveling around the world? Oh! I'm so jealous! Send me a link when you set up your blog. I will definitely track to see where you go.

    Thanks for your nice words. I'm glad it's useful.

  20. Man! I'm sure these sets of "how to start a food blog" helped to create that additional traffic but I give you props for putting together such thoughtful, content-rich and useful set of info for newbie food blogger like me. I must have spent at least 5 hrs reading and learning. Thank you so much for sharing it with other bloggers. (I also have to say that your blog's made me a little less afraid of Vietnamese dishes:)...)

  21. Wandering Chopsticks: We started up our blog about 3 months ago -- it's at www.theroadforks.com I posted recently on how I have been spending so much time researching "how to blog" because there is such a steep learning curve. Even with all the research I have done, this still is my favorite description on managing blogging statistics.

    I'm probably not the only one out there who wants you to finish up this series, but, in case you haven't heard it before, please, please consider finishing it up. I would love to hear your thoughts on monetizing your blog because it is something that we haven't done yet and aren't planning on doing until we hit 1000 pageviews per day. But, hopefully, that day will come and then I would love to have info on monetization.

  22. Chef Kelly,
    Actually, these posts take a lot more work and don't do much for traffic. If all I cared about was traffic, I'd just crank out only Vietnamese recipes.

    I've been checking in. So jealous of your travels. You've done a lot of research in getting everything together. I do plan to finish up the series, just gotta get the momentum to write it all up.

  23. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to write such a well thought out piece on getting a food blog started. This is something I procrastinated over for months, but I think it was your approach that both inspired me and kicked me in the pants.

    In my very first post, I attempted to give you proper credit, but I likely fell short simply because I was thinking faster than I could type in just cranking out my first Best Ever Recipe.

    Ultimately I intend to try out a few of your recipes and hope I can point to your work as some of the what I judge to be the Best Recipes Ever. They were so good in review that I went out for Vietnamese food day before yesterday.

    Keep in mind that for the 300 or 500 people who you've helped through your series, they have all gone on to launch their blogs and putting out even more food thoughts and recipes. It's like a virus we all want to get!

  24. ISO Best Recipes Ever,
    Why thank you! I hope you do try some of my recipes. Haha! I don't think hundreds of people have read this series, but I'm glad you found it useful just the same.

  25. I am so glad I found your posts! I've been wanting to start a 2nd blog about food for a while and this will be super helpful. I was wondering do you have the last 3 tips written up as posts I noticed they are missing links:

    Public Relations: Handling the Freebies and the People
    Monetizing Your Hobby: To Ad or Not to Ad
    Bottomline: Have Fun, but Protect Your Work

    Thank you for such great posts!

  26. Anabella,
    Haven't gotten around to finishing those last posts yet. Just lost momentum and they take so much work to write. I do hope to finish them some day though!


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