The Secret Stats Your Follower Numbers Hide

This guest post is by Courtney Mroch of Haunt Jaunts.

Statistics and their interpretation is often a popular topic on ProBlogger. One of my favorites about the subject was a guest post by Mark Seall called Who Cares How Many Subscribers You’ve Got?

I loved the way he pointed out that some, if not most, of us will never reach 20,000 subscribers, based purely on the nature of our niches. He created a color-coded diagram of measures we should analyze our success by instead. They included both things we bloggers can directly impact, as well as those we can’t. His point was to focus on what you can influence and not get hung up on, or weighed down by, the rest. Good advice.

On the other hand, Deb of [email protected] wrote a guest post called Do You Spend Enough Time Looking at Your Stats? in which she defended the importance of paying attention to them. Namely, she suggested using stats to see who’s visiting from where, and what topics tend to pique their interest most. Then you can cater your posts more to their liking to retain your audience.

I’ve adopted a bit of advice from both Mark and Deb into my stats analysis and blog post development. However, what I’m most concerned with these days is how wisely I’m spending my precious social networking time.

Which social networks are really driving readers to my blog?

When I first started tracking my blog’s stats and paying attention to referral sources, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, respectively, were always the top three referral sources. They drove in a significantly larger amount of traffic than any of the other top ten referrers.

However, at some point I decided I wanted more followers. That’s when I discovered StumbleUpon. Shortly after, my stats revealed something startling, something Marcello Arrambide of Wandering Trader touched on in his ProBlogger guest post A Blog Traffic Strategy: Quality vs Quantity: follower numbers can be deceptive.

Large follower numbers don’t necessarily translate into big visits

In no time flat, StumbleUpon blew Google, which had been Haunt Jaunts’ top referral source, out of the water traffic-wise. Not only that, it brought in more traffic than Google, Facebook, and Twitter combined. Where Google, FB, and Twitter brought in 1,200-1,500 views a month together, StumbleUpon was bringing in 7,000-8,000 all by itself.

But what was even more shocking was I had maybe 20 followers on StumbleUpon at that time. Haunt Jaunts’s Twitter followers were nearing 3,000, and its Facebook page had several hundred. You’d have thought that, together, they’d be bringing in the most traffic. Not even close.

Noticing trends, tracking down followers

These days StumbleUpon is still Haunt Jaunts’ top referral source. However, it’s dropped considerably. I noticed it after SU made some changes. People got mad and stopped using it as much.

Instead, I saw more people flocking to Tumblr, as well as Pinterest. The former seemed to appeal to many ex-Stumblers because it let them do a lot of what they used to be able to do on StumbleUpon, yet have a little more individuality. The latter seemed to appeal to those who especially liked Stumbling photos.

Facebook traffic also dropped. Coincidently, that happened around the same time Google+ became available.

And then there was Twitter. It dropped off my Top 10 Referrers list entirely. In fact, it wasn’t even in the top 50 anymore. It’s since dropped off as a referral source altogether.

Adapt or die

After analyzing my stats, it was time to re-evaluate my social networking strategy. I thought of Dona Colins’s guest post Is Twitter a Waste of Time?, since I found myself having to contemplate that question, not just for Twitter, but for all my social networks.

Where was I going to spend my time? How much effort should I continue putting into the old sources? Which new platforms should I take a gamble on?

I decided to stick with Twitter. It doesn’t bring in any hits, but I do continue to make valuable connections that lead to other projects. Facebook continues to hold strong in the Top 5, so I’ve also kept it.

I decided to expand into new-to-me social networks, including Google+, TBEX (a travel writer community), Pinterest, and Tumblr.

I’ve found a group of fellow TBEXers who also use StumbleUpon. We’ve sort of banded together. I’ve seen a slight increase in SU’s referrals thanks to this. Not like the results I was once getting, but it’s still my number one referral source.

I don’t know how much traffic Google+ is responsible for yet, but it didn’t even take Tumblr two weeks to climb into my Top 10 referrers once I started using it regularly. I’m curious to see if it will continue to climb.

And then there’s Pinterest. So far it’s generated zilch traffic. I have, however, found it’s a delightful way to spend time that could be better utilized researching, writing, or social networking elsewhere. It’s a dangerous one for me to linger on very long.

What about you? Does your biggest referral traffic come from your social network with the most followers or not?

Courtney Mroch is a writer who wears many blogging hats, among her favorite is being the Director of Paranormal Tourism for Haunt Jaunts, a travel blog for restless spirits.

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  1. That’s funny, as soon as I started using Pinterest it shot to the top and remains one of my top referral sources. I hardly get anything through Twitter though. Maybe it depends on the topic you’re blogging about. I write about lots of food + DIY beauty recipes which lend themselves to photos and Pinterest…

    • Actually the thing is twitter followers and busy tweeting more than reading what you are tweeting. Maximum users who have the above article as an interest most probably have their own blog to promote. So, maximum tweeter followers go in vain.

    • I have heard that food and weddings get TONS of Pinterest traffic. Crafts or items for sale too. I think it’s my niche. It’s not really Pinterest-able.

    • Pinterest works by pictures – so if it’s marketable and unique through “pictures” alone, the method is good for drawing in eyeballs. Yes, it does depend on what you’re blogging about – the more specialized your niche (and less related to everyday life), the attempts at marketing it has to be far more specialized.


  2. Hi ProBlogger,

    I enjoyed this guest post, as it covered a number of things that I am working with right now, including Twitter (great source of information and contacts, but not traffic) and Pinterest (great time waster). I agree about the difference between quantity and quality, as I work to increase meaningful traffic. I also had a massive increase in traffic from SU on first use (jumping to nearly 2000 in one day), but it was not traffic that stuck with me. SU now brings me steady traffic which is a little more sticky. I wrote a short post on the issue of my relationship with my online traffic compared with the ‘real live people’ who come into our (co-owner) little grocery store/coffee shop/community hangout, Johnny’s Gone Fishing in Carrboro NC, and the comparison was very enlightening. Here is the link for anyone who is interested.
    If you go to my site you will notice that I have the FeedJit feed off to the left, and this is a tool I really like. I tend to set it running along with the Google Analytics map simultaneously, then I get to see who is reading what, how they got there (networked blogs, etc), any keywords they used that are visible, and I see where they are on a map of the world (free Geography lesson). My traffic is clearly cyclic (high Tuesday, low Saturday).
    This process has made my readers much more real, almost as real as the people who come into our store. It seems that the real trick is to care about your readers, try to work out what they want to read (50% of my traffic comes from 4 posts = 1% of my effort; that has to be useful information, and modify your focus accordingly. I clearly have a great deal to learn about this process – I am 18 mths into my own three year plan (year 1 = gain web presence, now PR3; year 2 = gain credibility, guest posts and requests for exercise advice growing; year 3 = marketing and make some $$$, but continue to enjoy my blog, which I do a great deal).

    Thanks for all the great information and insights.

    -kevin aka FitOlddog

  3. Jessica says: 04/18/2012 at 12:47 am

    I’ve always wondered about Tumblr. I just see it as another blogging platform. How do you use it to generate traffic? Just cross-post your blog?

    • Yes. I’ve noticed people really like photos on Tumblr. I use it to post an intriguing photo, then there’s a feature to allow click-throughs to another link if people click on that photo.

  4. Hi Courtney,

    I pull in readers from twitter and Facebook, primarily.

    That being said, I see the importance of being on multiple social networks. My main goal is to drive leads to my site, and maintaining an active presence on multiple networks boosts my SEO, which helps me perform well in search engines. Excellent targeted marketing.

    I also know – as you note with twitter – that some networks which yield few readers might be awesome for engaging, or interacting, so I remain active on these sites, like G Plus, for instance.

    Thanks for sharing Courtney!

    Ryan Biddulph

    • Hey Ryan! Thanks for the comment. I wholeheartedly agree. I try to reach out across as many SM networks as I can. It’s kind of like books vs radio vs tv. You never know where you might reach a loyal follower on one platform because they don’t follow on another.

  5. This was a great overview of the sites that can drive the most traffic to a blog. I haven’t yet ventured into using StumbleUpon or Tumblr, but I am now considering both. Twitter, Facebook, and Google are currently my biggest referral sites, but I plan on experimenting with other sites to broaden my reach.

    Thanks for the article!

  6. The important thing is not how many visitors you’re getting, but what they are doing. How long are they on your website? Are they subscribing? Buying? Clicking Ads?

    I can easily get thousands of visitors that don’t care about my website, but would rather focus on the hundreds that do care, they are the people that keep coming back, that buy things that I recommend, and sometimes even care about me lol

    • Super excellent point, Jamie. And interesting you brought this up. I’m currently trying to figure out where my most devoted action-takers (product buyers) come from. You may have inspired another guest post idea. If I can flesh it out, I’ll be sure to refer to your comment as being the Muse!

  7. Great post Courtney. I like the comparison of different social mediums. I think I should probably give StumbleUpon a try. Haven’t done so quite yet. So much to look at these days with everything constantly changing. Thanks for the valuable information! I like your blog too :)

  8. Thanks Courtney! I believe that people need to monitor everything rather than doing what others say is going to work. As you say, we are all working in different niches. Although a web business site might get a ton of traffic from Twitter, that doesn’t mean that another niche will. Of course, most bloggers seem to be writing from the perspective of an Internet marketing site manager when they discuss the “best” strategies. I hear a ton of people talk using Pinterest. However, I think that it wouldn’t benefit my sites atm because the demographic is mostly women. I will definitely keep it in mind though later. I have definitely found some links haven’t worked much and scrapped them rather than wasting more time and money marketing. Anyone who doesn’t check Google Analytics when they do their marketing is making a HUGE mistake.

    • I agree, Kalen! I try not to obsess over my stats, but I do try to use them to see where my strengths and weaknesses lie. If you do anything wedding, jewelry, fashion or the like aimed at women…Pinterest might help you. Pinterest’s main demographic for sure is women, and definitely food and anything women/bridal seems to garner lots of Pinterest traffic.

  9. For me Facebook works very well, but I couldn’t say the same about Google+.
    In twitter you can have lots of followers, but it doesn’t work so well like other social networks. But I saw the fact that it can also belong from the niche you are in. For example IM niche works very well, but I couldn’t say the same thing about some type of sports niche…

  10. When it comes to pinterest I often find myself easily distracted when I could be doing better at optimizing my tasks and time.

    I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter. I find it useful for spreading the word but I really never have cared to much for the limitations.

    I’ll have to look into Tumblr.

    Awesome site by the way Courtney as the paranormal aspect is one of my favorite interests!

  11. Great post Courtney, I like how you’ve really gone in depth with some of the details. I agree with your statement on “Large follower numbers don’t necessarily translate into big visits”, however it can mean you do get more targeted visitors to your blog. I recently had a post go viral on StumbleUpon, sent over 1500 visitors in a week and it’s still going, but the quality of visitor that I get is no where near as good as the quality of visitors I get from my followers and likes on other social platforms, but I guess this can also depend heavily on the niche you are also blogging about.

    But yes definitely adapt and get on the platform where you can find traffic for your articles! Great read!

    • THX so much for such a great comment, Alex. One of my posts definitely hit a home run thx to SU and has remained my number one post to this day. (Over 2 years later.) It didn’t score quite the hits/day yours did, but I definitely can relate to what you’re saying.

  12. You bring up a lot of good points here, Courtney. The social media aspects of our blogs can really be so time-consuming. It’s important to try to focus where we see the most benefit. I’m in the process of trying to better analyze my situation. StumbleUpon has been a good source of traffic for me, but not as much as it used to be. I know a lot of people have been seeing that happen, too. What I need to work on more is SEO — although I’m improving there, I really need to drive more search traffic. Lots to think about — thanks!

    • THX for stopping by and leaving a comment, Cathy. I’m currently working to improve my SEO too. I read about a great WordPress plugin via Problogger and have started using it. It’s still too early I think to tell how it’s doing, but I will say it’s definitely making me more aware of keywords.

  13. Thanks for shaking me up, Courtney. I spned far more time on writing my posts and articles for other magazines that networking. Twitter, FB, TBX and stumble upon is just it, as quickly as possible, but I really need to do more.

    • Oh, Inka, I think those 4 are precious. If you’re getting good traffic, AND you’re doing all the writing you’re doing…well, the writing is so important. That’s what’s getting your name out there!

  14. Similar situation to Amanda, I hardly get traffic from Facebook or Twitter, but with Pinterest, I get a massive surge in traffic. If I had to hazard a guess, it would be because Pinterest has a much larger demographic. Anyway, very thought provoking, thanks!

  15. Stumbleupon is the best. But the thing is most of the traffic is not by choice.

  16. Some social networks do not apply to little Indiana–and StumbleUpon is one of them! In terms of my follower count versus analytics, though I have more followers on Twitter, Facebook always wins. Google+ will most likely not be adopted by the majority of my readers–I literally have a handful on there, but not like Facebook.

    My little Indiana Facebook Page is the hub of small town and generates a lot of interest. I spent the day at a travel writer’s conference yesterday (hosted by the state org. Visit Indiana) and heard from several readers and tourism pros that they love the Facebook Page and mentioned the things they particularly enjoy in more detail. That was really fun to hear!

    Twitter will most likely not ever be a contender for traffic no matter how many followers I get. I don’t use it specifically for my brand, so I seem to draw a diverse crowd. I wouldn’t ever quit Twitter. If I get just one new reader then it’s very worth it!

    • Oh wow, Jessica. I think I would be over the moon to hear from someone IN PERSON what they like about anything I’m doing online. I always like online comments, don’t get me wrong, but I never get to meet people face to face to hear what they’re thinking. That would be so cool!

  17. Great Post. I have to say I strongly agree with a couple of the points.

    1. Twitter, it seems to me, is a waste of time in terms of generating traffic. However, I am attempting a workaround by trying to engage/flatter. :-)
    2. Stumbleupon is by far my biggest source of traffic. It is a must for every blogger.

    Thanks, I like receiving your stuff. Keep up the good work!

  18. Haunt

    twitter is phenomenal, I know what you mean because I notice in some of my twitter accounts that they put the real number of followers I have

  19. Interesting to read where others are getting their visitors from. I’ve also seen a big drop in Stumbleupon hits, though my Google numbers remain high. I haven’t bothered with Pinterest, assuming it’s not worth the effort, so I’ll be curious to see how that translates for other bloggers.

  20. Me, I live outside the norm of realities. Twitter doesn’t do me any good… but it does provide some input. Facebook seems to rock… Pinterest rocks. But one of my most fascinating stats that I like looking at are my outbound links. Folks who are traveling off my site have their reasons and if I see trends of outgoing, I follow those trends to garner more traffic of the like. To me, it means I’ve given my readers something they find useful enough to follow the links. Simple as that… at least from that aspect.

    • That is super smart, Bruce, to notice where the outgoing traffic is going and to work off of it. Brilliant strategy. I’m going to add that to my list of things to initiate.

  21. Currently StumbleUpon is top referral to my blog as well but it’s because it’s very new and needs to gain credibility in Google. Once it will happen Google will surpass StumbleUpon as top referral like it have happened to all my blogs and websites. But still it’s important to pay attention to this social network and remember that people there loves pictures over good content.

  22. Great article and made me think, no doubt. I find most of my traffic from google but I do see some twitter followers coming on my blog for giveaways that I tweet. I have over 1000 twitter followers and I am slowly seeing some follow on google connect on the blog. I am on Pinterest and started just posting photos to tumblr to give it a try. Facebook is not really that big for me unless a company posts one of my posts on their from the blog, then I get traffic. I am on Google+ but not sure any traffic coming from there yet. There are so many places you have to be with this social media, it can get crazy. StumbleUpon for me did not bring much traffic, so I am kind of shocked to hear so many of you that have it your top traffic site.

  23. Courtney, thanks for an interesting topic.

    My social network w the most followers would be Twitter, and no, most of my traffic does not come from there! I guess I would have to say more comes from Facebook. And a considerable amount of my traffic also comes from different search engines (google, etc) and different backlinks to my blog from around the net (such as my blog being mentioned in other’s blogs, or getting a link on a fellow blogger’s blog — for doing a guest post).

    • Oh, I love that you mentioned backlinks. I get a decent amount of traffic from those too, but didn’t think to mention relationship with specific other blogs I have as a social media network…although in a way it is. You do have to leave comments on theirs and develop relationships. Really astute of you to notice that in your stats!

  24. That’s funny, as soon as I started using Pinterest it shot to the top and remains one of my top referral sources. I hardly get anything through Twitter though. Maybe it depends on the topic you’re blogging about. I write about lots of food + DIY beauty recipes which lend themselves to photos and Pinterest…

    • I think you hit the nail on the head, Andreas! I’ve heard time and again that food, weddings, fashion, jewelry…things like that do do VERY well on Pinterest. You lucky duck!!!!

  25. Interesting food for thought. I’ve seen some traffic coming from Pinterest as it complements the illustrations on my blog.

  26. I still haven’t figured out how StumbleUpon drives traffic to blogs/websites? Is it something you can control or does it just depend on who stumbles what?

  27. Great article, Thanks! I found that I got a lot of followers on my website from twitter and Facebook, especially the first 3 months. But as soon as I stopped twittering for a month due to personal stuff, the traffic declined significantly on my blog.