Know Your Numbers (Photo credit: (klaus))

I’m old enough to remember back in the day when you would get a cholesterol number from the doctor and it was either high or low. One number, and everything was interpreted from that number.

Then of course things changed, and now you get several numbers, because it turns out that there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, each of which has its own acceptable limits. Then of course throw in your triglycerides. It isn’t enough to just know one number, you have to know several numbers and then interpret them, not just individually, but also in relation to one another.

In the online world we talk a lot about numbers. The most basic of numbers involve “followers” and “fans” and website “visitors”. Great. Now what?

Those numbers are often meaningless in and of themselves, and at times completely meaningless. What makes them meaningless is isolating them and using them as a barometer for how you’re doing. We get excited when we see an increase in fans or followers, and I admit that I watch my web traffic closely. I always like to see a nice increase in traffic.

But numbers are only as good as their context and interpretation.

Just to give you an example:

Let’s say you have 1500 followers on Twitter. Great, right? It must mean something.

But how many of those are spam followers? How many just decided to follow you in hopes you would follow back, with no interest in what you’re tweeting about? How many are no longer using Twitter? How many followed you just to be nice, because they are a friend, but have no interest in your business? How many followed you in earnest, but never really read your tweets?

That 1500 just plummeted pretty fast.

Many of those same things go for those Facebook fans of yours. A good number of them follow you but have hidden you from your newsfeed? How many don’t log in at the right times to see your updates in the newsfeed?

Then there’s you website or blog. Perhaps you had 10,ooo visits during the previous month. That might be a good number, but let’s look deeper at that number.

  • How many were repeat visitors vs. unique visitors?
  • First time vs. returning?
  • Search vs. Link vs. Direct vs. Social?

Let’s go even further.

How much time did they spend on your site? That 10-second visit surely wasn’t enough for them to do anything meaningful, so does it really count?

Then look at the visitors who came via search engines. Search traffic is great, but only if they are finding you for the right reasons. I get a lot of great search traffic. When someone searches for something related to what I do, that’s wonderful. Especially if they are looking for someone in my line of work.

But what if they find my site searching for “dandelion tattoos” or “Romney Obama”? This has happened, but chances are they aren’t looking for what I offer. Sure, I’ll take the traffic, but it’s most likely not someone who would ever consider hiring me.

It’s important to check your numbers on a regular basis, but more importantly know what they mean. Those numbers can be a sign of something good, in which case you need to replicate what you’re doing, or find ways to continue that.

The numbers can also be a sign that something is wrong, like high blood pressure, or a low white blood cell count. In those cases, you need to find out WHY the numbers are bad, then work to correct them.

Either way, you need to know your numbers, and more importantly, you need to know what they mean, within the overall context of you online presence and business model. Don’t just go throwing out numbers. And certainly don’t play the numbers game where you obsess over how many followers you have or not, as compared to your competitor.

And when it comes to your health numbers, you can’t fake it. You can’t do something to pretend that you have a normal blood pressure, when in fact it’s high. The doctor will know. In the same way, don’t be roped into one of those deals where they promise to “buy” or “secure” you a certain number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans for $1 or $5 apiece.

They aren’t real, and you can’t fake it.

Remember, it’s all about the big picture. It’s not the numbers; it’s what you do with them that matters.

What is your experience with numbers? Do you give into the temptation to obsess over simple numbers, or do you dig deeper to understand the context of those numbers, and what they mean in relation to other numbers?