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Metrics that matter: what we're tracking on the Ghost blog and why

Metrics that matter: what we're tracking on the Ghost blog and why

Since joining Ghost my focus has been on developing and improving our content marketing strategy. Or, as I like to think of it, writing cool stuff and sharing it with the right people.

There are two main ways I measure whether what I'm doing is working:

  1. Am I enjoying it?
  2. Are my metrics improving?

I usually focus on just one "main" metric at a time to keep things simple. But I need to choose the right metric—i.e. one that matters and has the right meaning behind it. After all, a number doesn't always tell you what's really happening. You need to dig deeper to figure out what it means when a number goes up or down.

This will be a continual work in progress, but I thought it would be useful to share my thought process on metrics so far. Just as I do in my monthly blog reports, I'll continue to share anything I've tested, learned, or failed at, here on the Ghost blog to help you with your own content.

In this case, it's still early but I've been trying to question every metric I focus on, rather than just tracking what everyone else does. Absolute traffic numbers are one of the most common metrics around (and you'll find these in my monthly blog reports), but they don't necessarily align with everyone's content goals.

In the case of the Ghost blog, I want it to become a hub for discussion between myself and you, the readers. I want to share content that's so useful you'll actually use it and maybe tell your friends, too. And I want it to be so good that you keep coming back, sharing your own ideas in the comments, and we can turn this whole thing into a conversation.

I want you to feel part of the Ghost blog. Whether that's because you comment regularly, or you read our content often enough that you get to know me and trust me to deliver something useful and interesting every time you arrive.

So that's what I have in mind when I think about the metrics I can use to tell me whether or not I'm doing my job well.

Returning visitors

I love seeing the same faces pop up in our blog comments or sharing our content on Twitter. It's awesome to know there are people who enjoy what I'm doing enough to keep coming back. And it helps me get to know the blog's readers better when I see the same names and faces often.

Measuring how many returning visitors we're getting gives me an idea of whether more people are deciding the content I'm creating is useful and consistent enough to come back. If the number of returning visitors is increasing, it means more people are coming back for return visits lately.

If the percentage of return visitors is getting higher compared to the percentage of new visitors (which is the case in the pie graphs above from August and September), that could mean that more of our readers are joining us regularly to see what's new, rather than visiting once and bouncing. This is my biggest aim, and one of the reasons I've been focusing on improving our newsletter recently, and getting to know what you like to read about.

As you can see in the graphs above, however, in September we've had fewer visits overall compared to August. The absolute number of returning visitors is about the same, but the percentage is much higher in September because we had fewer new visitors.

So in this case the percentage growth of returning visitors is simply an indicator of the decrease in new visitors.

New visitors

Tracking new visitors isn't unimportant just because I want readers to keep coming back. Every returning visitor has to have a first-time visit at some point. If our number of new visitors is increasing, that means more people are discovering the Ghost blog for the first time. This is great! I want more people to hear about it so they can use the content I'm sharing.

More first-time visitors means we're increasing our reach. We're bringing more people into the Ghost audience, who might come back again in the future and join the "returning visitors" group.

We tend to get a lot of new visitors on posts about big changes at Ghost, like our recent UI redesign, or our company updates. This traffic comes from places like Hacker News, which is useful for driving huge spikes of one-off visitors, but not for increasing repeat visitors or sending targeted traffic. The majority of these visitors bounce after just visiting one page, so we have to work hard to get in front of them again in the future. In this case, using new visitors as a measure of success probably isn't the best option.

One of our future plans is to break out this type of content into a separate, "behind the scenes" blog. This should help me separate the types of traffic we're getting better, so I can focus on the right audience for the Ghost blog itself.

On the "normal" Ghost blog content, however, which revolves around topics like improving your writing and promoting your content, new visitors would likely be a good sign.

What might work best until we split out the new blog is to remove any company announcements and reports from my measurements so the new visitors metric more accurately reflects the kind of new visitors I really want.

Newsletter signups: buying into the Ghost content club

Newsletter signups have been my main focus for the past couple of months. We send out a weekly newsletter including all the latest content on the Ghost blog (You can sign up at the top of this page).

This is currently the only metric I have a goal for. Having a single metric to focus on helps me evaluate my efforts to make sure everything I'm doing has the potential to increase that number. And it gives me the freedom to experiment with new ideas.

My goal is to grow newsletter signups by 10% every month. Before I joined the Ghost team our newsletter growth was around 5.5% per month, on average.

Newsletter signups represent people who are firmly entrenched in our audience, or confident enough to join it. They're giving us permission to send our content to them every week because they're convinced that we consistently produce quality content that's useful or interesting to them.

These people trust us, and they've given us a direct line of communication.

Ultimately I want more of these readers, because they have the strongest connection to myself and to Ghost as a brand. They're the most likely to return to the blog and read more of our content, and to share it with others.

Increasing newsletter signups works in two parts: converting more blog visitors to signups, and getting more blog visitors in the first place.

So my funnel looks a bit like this:

  • New visitors come to the blog for the first time. My job is to encourage them to come back in the future.
  • A new visitor becomes a returning visitor when they come back. My job is to keep them coming back over time.
  • A returning visitor becomes a newsletter signup after spending enough time on the blog to trust us to keep providing great content. My job is to deliver on that promise.

There are plenty of other metrics I could be focusing on. Time on page could indicate how many people are actually reading the content I publish. Bounce rate (the number of people who leave after only looking at one page) could help me work out if I need to find better ways to surface related content.

For now I want to focus on getting to know the Ghost blog's readers and writing what you love to read. These three metrics seem to be the most useful to help me reach those goals, but I'll continue to experiment and question my choices in the future.

Which metrics do you focus on? If you think I've missed one that could be useful, let me know in the comments.

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