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June 27, 2003

Reader Hours

Been looking at the site stats. It's been at least 5 minutes since I looked last, so it was time for another glance.

I think there's another way to measure blog popularity other than incoming links and unique visitor numbers, not that the world is crying out for another way to enumerate blogdom. It's the amount of time readers spend at one's blog each day, a calculation I arrived at by multiplying the average number of readers per day times the average visit length. Call it Reader Hours, or Hours of Reader Time.

It's a variation on the idea that the rich get richer. The more interesting a site is, the longer a reader stays, and the easier it is to attract new ones. That quality, crossed with pure popularity, is reflected in the number of hours readers spend at a particular site each day.

Here's an example from our logs, because they are right there at hand, after all

Average # of visitors per day - 526
Average visit length - 2:14 (134 seconds)
(526 x 134)/60 = 1174.73 minutes
1174.73/60 = 19.578 hours

So, on average, posts at this blog are being read for 19 and a half hours each day. Not too shabby.

Now, compare with Instapundit.

Average # of visitors per day - 67742
Average visit length - 0:28

I'll skip showing the calculation this time. Basically 526.88 reader hours a day are spent reading Instapundit posts, dwarfing mine.

I can't say I'm surprised, but at least our readers hang around.

I can see the marketing campaign now

Silflay Hraka, stickier than Instapundit, and not just because we look at porn all day long!

Of course, Insty is a clearinghouse. People are meant to pop in and pop out, so visits may be short, but people make lots of them.

Bloggers spend a great deal of time obsessing over traffic, or so I am told. We would never do that here. But, unless one happens to be a clearinghouse site, what good is a hundred extra visitors a day if they're only hanging around for a handful of seconds? In the long run, aren't readers that come to a blog and hang out for a while more valuable than the temporary floods of the faceless masses?

Of course, it's not like anyone is going to turn away the faceless masses, but the longer regular readers stick around, the more likely it is that some of the faceless will as well, eventually becoming regulars themselves.

I surfed around for an hour or so looking for other sites to calculate this number for. Most are higher members of the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem, but not all. Each blog listed is running an open, i.e. not password protected, version of Sitemeter, as that makes the comparison easier and more accurate, as well as verifiable.

Average Hours of Reader Time per Day
Instapundit - 526.88
Daily Kos - 340.29
The Volokh Conspiracy - 152.12
Winds of Change - 129.72
The Command Post - 127.94
calpundit - 126.63
a small victory - 80.96
Amish Tech Support - 78.83
VodkaPundit - 61.72
Gut Rumbles - 58.96
Rachel Lucas - 52.54
This Modern World - 51.29
blog reduxit - 50.99
One Hand Clapping - 46.81
Brad DeLong - 35.61
Outside the Beltway - 19.99
Silflay Hraka - 19.58
Ipse Dixit - 17.11
Ken Layne - 13.61
Alas, a blog - 12.04
ted barlow - 11.54
Jay Solos Verbosity - 6.38
Raising Hell - 5.60
Reflections in d minor - 2.65
Trojan Horseshoes - 2.14
Fragments from Floyd - 1.54

Other Tidbits:

At current traffic rates, each second Glenn adds to his average visit length translates into 18 more hours of reader time a day.

Stickiest Site - Winds of Change, with an average visit length of 2 minutes and 15 seconds from it's readers.

Least Sticky - This Modern World, with a stunning average visit length of just 13 seconds.

Caveat 1 : Sitemeter averages are based on activity over the last week and are thus heavily affected by surges. Ideally Reader Hours should be calculated after a week uncharacterized by large dips or spikes in traffic. The Reader Hours measurement is thus most valuable when viewed over time.

Caveat 2 : Sitemeter updates every night at midnight, so by the time you see these numbers they will be obsolete. All were calculated using numbers harvested on the 26th of June.

Caveat 3 : Obsessing over someone else's reader hours is probably an excellent way of reducing one's own.

The best use of the Reader Hours measurement is when a single blogger uses them to measure activity on his own site. Rather than trying to increase traffic numbers by a certain amount each week, a goal for which there is no certain path, and is exhausting to boot, one could try to increase reader hours by a certain number of minutes each week, an increase in quality over one in quantity, and one that is directly reflective of a blogger's efforts.

Since comparison with others is not really the point here, I won't be running a Reader Hours measurement on a daily basis, in the manner of an ecosystem. I may track some on the blogs above to see what the behavior of the numbers is like over time, but that's it.

Whatever I do will be reflected on this entry's category page rather than as updates on the blog, unless I prize something very interesting out of the data.

Update: Reader Hours Averages as of July 5th. Instapundit leaves, and his reader hours drop considerably. Silflay Hraka's readers hours are in a temporary spike due to viewers of the Unseen History posts. I've broken the hours for the five blogs being traced out into two graphs so that the variation in the hours for each is more apparent.

Posted by Bigwig at June 27, 2003 12:27 AM | TrackBack

First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.

I think average visitor time is an excellent indicator of the quality of one's blog; popularity - while *eminently* desirable, is better indicated by the linkage factor (technorati, etc.) than total hits, IMHO.

Listen to me. I check my site meter like I have OCD. :D

Posted by: kelley at June 27, 2003 01:34 AM

Sitemeter's visit length measurements are nothing like accurate. All it really measures is time between page views. If someone comes to your site and reads for 10 minutes but stays on the same page the whole time Sitemeter will give a visit length of "0". This is the most irritating thing about Sitemeter. I have always wished I knew actual visit lengths.

Posted by: Lynn S at June 27, 2003 08:22 AM

Gee, you'd think den Beste or Lileks would be at the top, given the length of their posts :)

Posted by: Steven at June 27, 2003 10:27 AM

How did you figure that out, Lynn?

Lileks and Den Beste may well have a large reader count, Steven, but they don't use Sitemeter, so I've got no way to calculate it.

Posted by: Bigwig at June 27, 2003 10:36 AM

The idea of reader hours is good, but sitemeter's averages are way off:

"Why do some of my visitors have visit lengths of 0:00?
That means the visitors are only staying to view a single page and then leaving. The only way that Site Meter knows how long someone is on a site is by the times of each page view. If they only look at a single page and then leave, we don't know how long they looked at the page. If they looked at two pages and left we would know they at least were on the site during the time of the first page view and the second page view. The difference between those two times would be the length of the visit."

Similarly, if a person opened up your page and left it open without reading it (while they were surfing other pages, for instance), that would artificially inflate your reader hours.

Posted by: bryan at June 27, 2003 02:25 PM

Hey buddy, I'm stickier than Pee Wee Herman at the Paradise Theater - 3:36 per visitor.

This raises three possibilities:

1. My readers stick around longer because I have amazingly superior content, and lots of it.

2. My readers are spectacularly stupid, and they read that slowly because their lips wont move any faster.

3. Content wise, I'm not a clearing house; I'm a dead end.

#1 is my story, and I'm stickin' to it. Er, you know what I mean.

Posted by: Omnibus Bill at June 27, 2003 02:26 PM

I tend to take the blonde approach: numbers get big, I'm doing well. Numbers get small, I'm not doing well.
If the numbers are really depressing, I apply the "what would it be in dog years" formula, which never fails.

Posted by: LeeAnn at June 27, 2003 08:03 PM

ah.. don't you just love the non-persistant connections? If you wanted to find out how long somebody stayed at your site using this "sitemeter" (which I have little knowledge of) you could have links on your page that hit your site first, then redirect to the target. While implementation is ugly, it would (assuming they click on one of your outbound links) more closely capture the time a person spends enjoying your Hraka before they clicked elsewhere. However, if they just close browser, choose another bookmark, or (god forbid) actually type another URL, you lose that session length.

/**nerd alert.. nerd alert !**/

Posted by: MojoMark at June 27, 2003 08:12 PM

Posted by: Lynn S at June 27, 2003 08:41 PM

Oh. I see Bryan already beat me to the answer.

Posted by: Lynn S at June 27, 2003 08:43 PM

Ok, so then if single page views are not counted, then the calculated readers hours are the minimum hour spent reading the site each day, the bottom level of the average.

Essentially the information the measurement gives to an individual blogger is the same. A moving minimum average gives the same info as any other moving average.

It's ok for it to be inaccurate, as long as it's inaccurate in the same manner all the time.

Posted by: bigwig at June 27, 2003 11:00 PM

You also have to factor in whether or not a blogger has blocked his/her own "hits." Before I did this, any time I spent with the site open (using the blogroll, for instance), inflated my page view averages.

Posted by: bryan at June 27, 2003 11:22 PM

80 hours? Why do I suddenly feel like I'm contributing to the downfall of society?

Posted by: Michele at June 28, 2003 10:12 AM

Of course you are, Michele. It's all part of the great blogo-terrorist conspiracy to undermine America's workplace producivity. Of course, it's all being run by Canadians who will take over in the end. Welcome to the machine!

Despite Sitemeter's limitations, this was very interesting - and Bigwig's point about this metric as a useful statistic remains true. I hope we get better packages over time that can help us see it more accurately.

Posted by: Joe Katzman at June 29, 2003 02:42 PM

WebTrends is supplied by my ISP, and it says my average visitor stays for 8-10 minutes. Median is 2-3. This is over the past several months.

Webtrends also says my visitor counts are significantly higher than sitemeter says they are, though that percentage varies. When I get an Instalanche of say, five thousand hits, they'll be a few hundred apart in totals. On a daily basis, if sitemeter says I have a thousand hits, webtrends says I have 1600 plus.

Then again, can't complain about a free service. I just don't use sitemeter except for referrers.

Posted by: Meryl Yourish at July 2, 2003 01:51 PM

Site Meter only registers hits from cookied visits. That's why Webtrends is more accurate.

Posted by: Da Goddess at July 2, 2003 10:43 PM
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