Blogging Tip # 12: Use Google Analytics

This one might seem like a no-brainer to many readers, but time and time again I ask bloggers what their traffic analytics look like and they ask me how they would go about seeing something like that – making it obvious that they are not using any kind of web traffic analysis software.

Analyzing your traffic is an absolutely essential to building a successful blog. After all, how else are you going to know if you are building a solid targeted audience of readers?

The good thing is that the solution to this problem is free and really easy to use. The best analytics package on the market is by far Google Analytics and all you need to do is set up a free account, walk through the easy steps, embed a bit of code in your blog and you are off to the races.

If you are using WordPress it is even easier because you can just load a Google Analytics plug-in.

With Google Analytics, you will be able to track how many unique visitors are coming to your blog, where they are coming from, where they live, how long they stay on your site and on and on and on – it is a very deep program for those who want to really get into it.

You can also see what content is most read on your blog,  which is important because a lot of the time we are so caught up in our own worlds that what we think is important and interesting is not necessarily what others may find of interest.  This can help shape future blog post content.

The best way to learn more about how to use Google Analytics and how it can help you blog better and gain a more targeted readership is to check out Google’s Analytic Video Channel tutorials. I took an afternoon and watched all of them and it was time very well spent.

Written by Kevin Grandia

[This is part of an ongoing series of articles on 50 Simple Tips to Better Blogging and you can check out all the previous tips there]

Monday’s Social Media Caffeine Buzz

Here’s what’s hot in social media and online marketing that has us buzzing here at Hoggan this week.

How to use government website information to create sticky linkbait
This is a great column on Search Engine Land about driving valuable traffic that stays on your website by providing government information related to your service and/or product. It is something we do on our blogs and a recommended strategy for our clients. This article has some interesting polling data by Pew to back up this tactic.

Yahoo acquired location-based social network
The battle continues to heat up around location-based social networking channels, with Yahoo buying an Indonesian network called Korpol. This is a sector we’re watching very closely as it continues to grow with the most popular location-based networks in North America being Gowalla and Foursquare.

Design entry pages, not homepages
This article nails it. With the way people share links (i.e. twitter),  seek information (i.e. Google) and filter the information they receive (i.e. RSS feeds), there is less and less traffic visiting your homepage in comparison to the individuals sub-pages on your website.  This is a very important shift that is happening and will have many people reconsidering the traditional models of web design and information architecture.

Murdoch’s next step: hiding the UK Times articles from search engines
I wish Murdoch all the luck in the world with this idea and I am sure he’s thought through the idea that information in the form of news has become a very cheap commodity online. Maybe he has a trick up his sleeve?

Wendy’s frosty gets a social media infusion
Good on Wendy’s, this looks like a very comprehensive summer social media marketing program. Lots of ideas here for any business wondering how social media can be used to promote their product or service.

(p.s. I know this “monday” buzz is coming out on Tuesday, but it was a long weekend here in Canada)

Monday’s Social Media Caffeine Buzz

Let’s get right into what our Social Media team here at Hoggan is reading/thinking/talking about right now.

Foursquare Mayors now get discounts at Starbucks
Why not start of this week’s Buzz with a caffeinated story about my favorite coffee shop. The geo-location social media game/sharing platform Foursquare gets some serious profile after Starbucks announced the Foursquare ‘Mayor” of any location in the US will get $1 off frappacinos until the end of June. The “Mayor” in Foursquare is the person who has updated their status the most times at any given location indexed on the Foursquare platform. Very nice marketing for Starbucks as well, who will definitely reap the benefits of showing how social media savvy they are.

While many remain cynical about the long-term viability of Foursquare and other geo-location social media platforms, they continue to gain headlines. Kind of reminds me of when Twitter first got going.

50 Simple Tips to Better Blogging
My long-awaited blogging guide is now in production. I am rolling it out here on the Hoggan blog as a series of 50 posts that will then indexed into a downloadable e-book. You can follow the series easily by subscribing to our RSS feed or you can check back in a month or so for the entire guide.

Hosting With GoDaddy? Might Want To Rethink That Decision
Do you use Godaddy for any of your web hosting?  A lot of people do, including me. I run a few smaller blogs on the platform while I use a much larger private server that runs on the Amazon cloud for any commercial projects.  Apparently blogs using wordpress on the Godaddy servers are vulnerable to being hacked.  This in-depth article has all you need to know about fixing the issue.

The 8-Step SEO Strategy
I have been following this series over on SEOmoz who I think are the best when it comes to the world of search engine optimization. The series by Laura Lippay provides a good starter kit to anyone looking to build up their companies presence in search engines.

Facebook’s latest privacy woes
Privacy continues to be a huge issue over at Facebook and last week saw the company again making headlines. Last week the company released new privacy guidelines in a handy 5,830 page document and people are not too happy. Like Google, much of the value of Facebook lies in it’s massive database of personal information offered up by its members and the social media giant has never been too good at getting the balance right when it comes to defining what information it does and doesn’t own.

That’s it for this edition of the Buzz. What did we miss? Leave your comment or question below.

The biggest threat to Google might be your friends

This article was co-authored with Tim Kolke at Kolke Design and cross-posted on Huffington Post Tech Channel.

Finding good information on the web can be pretty frustrating.

Google, of course, has made this a lot easier but even then you regularly find that searches can go completely wonky.

Wonkiness aside, for the vast majority us Google is our first search.

With Google relevance is determined by a machine, directed by a long and complicated algorithm that takes into account all sorts of things like website meta-data, back-links, geographic location and so on. While the search results are usually pretty good it is clear that there is no conscious being on the other end sorting the nonsense from the relevant. It would be inconceivable that there ever would be anyone on the other end of a Google search given the fact that over a million searches are executed a day on the platform.

Microsoft and their Google-alternative, Bing are trying to capitalize on this, but quite frankly Bing just isn’t that much different – it’s still using a machine, directed by a complicated algorithm to find what we’re looking for online. Bing does have some pretty funny ad campaigns, but it’s going to take more than howling monkey people to unseat Google from its search dominance.

So what’s a better source of online information than these search machines? Who do we trust? Our friends of course, but looking to them to somehow offer up the best information on any given topic has its own set of challenges.

For instance, not all of our friends are online and those who are online and offering thoughts, opinions, recommendations and information are not all doing it in the same place. Some might be on Twitter, others on their own blog, instant messaging, forums or whatever else. And last time we checked, our collective group of friends are definitely not experts in everything we seek information on.

Information may be a little more scarce and hard to gather from our online friends, but at least the information we do receive from our friends has a certain level of built-in accountability.

So is this idea of social search the way to go when it comes to finding the best information on a given subject? Can we trust “the crowd” more than the machine?

We did a bit of poking around on the state of social search as it stands today.

The test case for our experiment was to find the best Lasik clinic in Vancouver, Canada.

First up, the machine.

Googling: “lasik clinic vancouver”, not surprisingly, spits out a list of Lasik eye clinics in Vancouver. Helpful, for sure, but the decision by Google as to which clinic is listed first does not necessarily translate into it being the best Lasik clinic in Vancouver.

We used a great tool called SEO Quake, to provide some insight into why Google chose the sites it did. Turns out that the top results are the Lasik clinics websites that have most links.

The ‘Google assumption’ is that the most relevant sites are those most linked to and therefore the most talked about. Links into a site kind of work like votes for Google. The Google machine, however, has a very limited ability to judge the nature of these votes. Why are people talking about these clinics more than others? Are they impressed or are they ticked? Are the voters employed by these companies and put up to it? We simply can’t tell by Google results alone.

Next we tried Aardvark, an online service calling itself a “social search service.” to get an opinion from our online network of friends. Aardvark attempts to get an answer to your question from a person(s) in your network who has ‘interests’ in the topic. In our case, Aardvark failed to find such an person. But even if Aardvark had succeeded, why would we trust that person? Exactly what is the person’s ‘interest’ in the topic ?

Next, Tim seeded the question on Facebook and received a reply from a friend who had Lasik surgery done and was very happy with the results and service she received. While he highly values her input, at the same time it is only a single opinion. If there was only a way to tap all your friends’ collective thoughts on a given subject.

There will always be a place for machine-based searches, unless of course your friends can answer questions like: “What is the significance of black body radition in the field of Quantum Mechanics. But an effective automated system that can gather up all your friends opinions, thoughts and recommendations and index them in a way that can answer your questions, would be a very powerful threat to Google.

Just how much of threat comes down to the fundamental question of whether you trust your friends more than the machine when it comes to finding the best information online.

If enough people trust friends more than the machine, then Facebook is probably the online platform best positioned to develop such a robust social search service, given that it has the critical mass, the connectivity within it’s own platform, as well as across other platforms via Facebook Connect.

Easier said than done, but if you’re looking for the real competition when it comes to multi-billion dollar online search market (and you trust your friends), then forget the company building the better machine and look out for the genius who figures out to embrace the collective wisdom of the crowd.

Social Media Midweek Round Up

Here’s what the Hoggan Social Media team is keeping an eye on this week:

MySpace is talking about it’s future. This one is interesting because we’ve been watching Facebook really eat into MySpace’s audience over the last few years and this has left a lot of people scratching their heads when it comes to figuring out where MySpace fits in the social media sphere.

Bing – Microsoft’s answer to Google – has launched a funny new ad campaign in the UK. Not a big story in and of itself, but it’s always interesting to see where Microsoft will go next in this rather hopeless attempt to reign in the search engine supreme master.

Here’s the ad:

SXSW Interactive gets underway this Friday in Austen, Texas. Pretty jealous of all those who found the time to go down. Watch for a whole bunch of “cool new social media tech” announcements coming out at SXSW.

Over the last two weeks I’ve been test driving the location-based local “Twitter-like” sensation, FourSquare. While I do see how this could be a very cool and engaging tool for specific campaigns and events (like SXSW Interactive), I am finding it pretty uninteresting as a day-to-day tool.

And finally, I am working on a lengthy column for Huffington Post Technology looking at the idea of social search and how Facebook might just be the next Google. I will cross-post it here.