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The REAP: New Stat Sweeps Blogosphere

I have to confess that title is what Huck Finn would call “a stretcher.” A revised version might read, “A Statistic About Blog Posts That I Just Invented While Playing Around in Google Analytics Will Some Day Become a Standard Measure of a Blog’s Effectiveness (I Hope).” So you are present at the creation.

Let me give you a little background, though, on why we need a new stat for bloggers when the Web is filled with statistics of all sorts. And I promise to keep this post intelligible to those like me who’ve never had a course in statistics.

In every realm digitization has made numbers readily available to the masses. In baseball, for example, if you’ve seen the excellent movie Moneyball, based on the excellent book by Michael Lewis, you know that the amateur’s passion for inside-baseball stats by night watchman Bill James led to a revolution in the way major-league baseball organizations evaluate their players and build winning teams.  If you’ve read Charles Duhigg’s new book on habit formation, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, you know that Target can look at the purchases of young women and determine not only when they’re pregnant but what month they’ll have their babies.

The problem with this great tsunami of data is figuring out what stats are meaningful. That is, which ones can tell you something that will lead to a better strategy and make your operation – whatever it may be – more effective? In particular, strategizers in many fields are on a quest for a grand unified number that will wrap up all ye know on earth and all ye need to know (something like a SAT score purports to be). In baseball this means the traditional measures of a batter’s worth – batting average, home runs, and runs batted in – have been superseded in recent years among those in the know by something called OPS (percentage of times a hitter reaches base + slugging percentage).

Photo of Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols, the king of OPS.

In the blogosphere there are some widely accepted measures. Any blogger can sign up for Google Analytics and receive for free all the numbers about her blog that she could possible imagine.  Pageviews are the usual starting point for evaluation.  That measure tells you how many people have taken a look at a particular blog post or page on your blog. If you see that Post A on steampunk porn has 842 pageviews in the last month and Post B published the same week and detailing Aphra Behn’s influence on Virginia Woolf has 14, you know that if you want readers, you’d do well to write more posts about steampunk or porn and never touch Aphra Behn or Virginia Woolf again.

But there’s a problem with pageviews. They tell you only that people clicked on your post, not how many actually read it. If, for example, you post about “Mad Men” and include a photo of Don Draper and Google happens to feature your post with Draper’s photo on the front page of its Photo search, you’ll get a swarm of pageviews for that photo page, but most of these folks are there only to check out the photo. Is the goal for your blog to be a quick-stop photo service for trendy topics? Probably not. Most bloggers cherish the notion that their precious words will be read – if only by a few.

Photo of "Mad Men's" Megan Draper

Photo of "Mad Men's" Megan Draper - a pageview driver.

Google Analytics has another stat that can help here – average time spent on a page. If Page A has an average time on page of 30 seconds and Page B an average of 5 minutes and 37 seconds, we can presume that Page B is getting a deeper read from most people than Page A. This presumption is not fool-proof. You have no way of knowing whether a viewer is reading your vital words or just happens to have left the page open while leaving his PC to brew up some green tea. But I think it’s safe to say that I’d rather write a post where people on average spend a lot of time than one where people glance and move on.

Voila, the REAP – a combination of page-viewership with time on page. REAP is short for Reading Popularity.  You get a blog post’s REAP by multiplying its pageviews times the average time spent on that page in seconds, and then, in the interest of simplicity, rounding to the nearest one thousand.

Here are a few REAPs from 317am stats for the last year. (Google Analytics gives you three lenses through which to view your blog’s data – the last week, the last month, the last year – and the last year is, of course, the most comprehensive since some posts start slowly and pick up pageviews over time.) Most of the top-ranked pages by pageviews on 317am, sadly, reflect photo-searching of the Don Draper ilk cited above. Consequently, I’ve excluded from this sample the pages where there’s a click only to a photo.

“12 Ways To Tell If Your Novel is Dead” – #7 page with 1,226 pageviews X 190 seconds = 233 REAP

“The Facebook Sonnet” – #6 page with 1,275 pageviews X 159 seconds = 203 REAP

“A 7-Step Program for Procrastinating Writers” – #48 page with 312 pageviews X 524 seconds = 164 REAP

“Facts, Schmacts” – #31 page with 427pageviews X 317 seconds = 135 REAP

”Meet Daisy Buchanan” - #18 page with 662 pageviews X 135 seconds = 89 REAP

“What Writers Read” – #57 with 281 pageviews X 276 seconds = 78 REAP

“The Promise of eBooks” – #120 page with 160 page views X 389 seconds = 62 REAP

 “Occupational Dialects” – #77 page (by time on page), with 54 pageviews X 634 seconds = 34 REAP

My point is a simple one. A REAP tells a blogger something useful that the standard measure alone – pageviews – does not.  I hereby offer the REAP freely to the world’s bloggers and statisticians to tinker with and refine in the spirit of the open-source software movement. Maybe some day Google Analytics will build a REAP calculator into its system so that the REAP pops up as the standard measure and I won’t have to do all this math.

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