To understand the success of your blog content and site design, you need actionable data on your visitors and how they are interacting with your site. Whether to use WordPress Stats or Google Analytics (or both) to obtain this data depends on your goals.
WordPress Stats plugin
If your goals are relatively basic in terms of understanding your blog’s success, then there’s no better place to get started than installing the WordPress Stats plugin. This plugin is part of the default “Jetpack” plugins installed with every version of WordPress…to activate it, go to the left-navigation menu under “Jetpack” and follow the instructions for activation. You’ll need an API key from WordPress.com, but they are free and easy to obtain.
Once installed, this plugin will let you know how many page views your content has generated on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. It will also allow you to view which blog posts specifically are the most popular, which is great for understanding what your readers are interested in reading.
This plugin will also tell you what search terms readers are using to find your site in search engines, and any other blogs or websites that are linking to your site (known as “referrers”). Like page views, knowing these search terms and referring sites will let you know the type of content visitors to your site are most interested in reading, because either a visitor was interested in learning more about a topic (search terms) or read an article on your site and wanted to share it with others (referring link).
As a casual blogger, you can do much worse than just monitoring these simple data points. But if you want to really analyze what’s happening when visitors come to your site, you’re going to need a bit more data collection.
Have you ever thought, “I wonder where my readers are located geographically” or “Is my blog design compatible with different browsers, including mobile devices”? If so, then stepping up to Google Analytics might be worth your while. While the amount of data provided by Google Analytics can be overwhelming in the beginning, once you start using the reporting interface for a few weeks, you’ll gain a ton of insights.
For example, in a prior post I posted the geographical distribution of visitors to this blog after only 3 days. By tagging my blog post link with Google campaign tracking, then posting that link to Twitter, I got amazing insight into how geographically diverse the contributors to the #measure hashtag are. There were visitors from 17 countries that read my first blog post, something that would not have been possible to know without the extra horsepower that Google Analytics provides. Sure, there’s not a whole lot of intent I can ascertain from the geographic distribution after 3 days, but the geographical distribution is something I can monitor over time to see what trends might be present.
WordPress Stats or Google Analytics? Yes!
Up to this point, I haven’t been very precise about what constitutes a “simple” metric such as page views, or how to know when you need the extra “horsepower” that installing Google Analytics provides. The reason for my imprecision is that the decision to install either tracking code shouldn’t be an “either/or” decision, but rather an “and”. If you’re running a self-hosted WordPress blog, in my opinion you should be running both WordPress Stats and Google Analytics!
Yes, the data provided by Google Analytics is a superset of the information provided by WordPress Stats; thus, you don’t gain any additional insight from having WordPress Stats installed. What you do gain by having both installed is convenience, and as far as I can tell there is no performance degrade to a site having both running at the same time.
So when you need a quick snapshot of what your blog has done in the past several weeks, or you want to get an idea of your most popular content while in your WordPress admin panel, the WordPress Stats plugin will do just that. When you want to get a deeper insight of how several factors are interacting to create your successful blog, sign in to Google Analytics.
But above all else, remember: the data doesn’t do anything because it’s being recorded. You need to study it to unlock the value!