I've worked with all sorts of people - those who love data mining and those who abhor it. Honestly, I find statistics intriguing and, while I won't determine what I write based on traffic[ref]Well, I might use traffic as an indicator, but I won't let it rule my editorial calendar.[/ref], I do find traffic stats exciting.

Google's real time visitor tracking is incredible. I can see exactly how many people interact with my content as they interact with it. WordPress stats are incredible because I can track overall site impressions from within the tool I use to produce content.

Site Traffic

Yesterday, I wrote (what I thought) was a great article about seoslides. Imagine my surprise when I saw my traffic almost triple before the end of the day!

Know your numbers

Unfortunately, these statistics were a bit deceiving. It turns out, the WordPress stats widget displays overall views, not overall visitors. During Thursday's hackathon at the 10up summit, a few of my coworkers decided to use my live site as a testbed for some new code.

They're building a browser-based extension to a plugin I have on my site and wanted to test it against my site in real-time. I don't fault them for the traffic; I just got a little excited when I thought the Internet really loved my post.

As it turns out, my real visitor count was somewhere around 250 - about a quarter of the total views of the site.

Traffic Statistics

Having a few developers site and click "refresh" several times throughout the day can really throw off your statistics.

What do your analytics really say?

I like to tell a story about a place I used to work. It was a startup struggling for new customers that had managed to recruit a total of 2 paying customers - consumers, not businesses.

By the time of our annual investor meeting, we'd increased this to 5 paying customers. The company CEO proceeded to stand in front of a room of investors and brag about our overwhelming product success: "we've increased our customer base by over 200%!"

He wasn't trying to mislead our investors - he was a numbers guy and, after putting all of our company information into Excel, ran a percentage to track our conversion rate. Nothing nefarious, just a failure to look deeper into what the raw percentage represented.

If you're not careful, it's easy to look at a single metric and, while excited, shift business objectives or strategies based on the result. Understanding what metrics you're tracking and what they actually mean is vital to preventing catastrophic business mistakes.