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Friday, April 10, 2015

Stats Components Are Significant, In Their Own Context

One popular Stats related accessory, which displays pageview information to the public, is the "Popular Posts" gadget.

Popular Posts identifies from 1 to 10 of the most popular posts in the blog, by comparing Stats pageview counts. Optional parts of the display of each post are a snippet of text, and an ever popular thumbnail photo.

Like many Stats features, blog owners have found imaginative uses for "Popular Posts" - and overlook the limitations of the gadget. Both the dynamic nature of Stats, and the timing of the various pageview count recalculations, create confusion, when Popular Posts is examined.

Looking at the gadget setup wizard, "Configure Popular Posts", we see suggestions of design differences between the Stats dashboard, and the gadget.

The time ranges offered, by the gadget, are not as robust - and are labeled differently from the dashboard.

  • All time
  • Last 30 days
  • Last 7 days

This is different from the Stats dashboard time ranges.

  • All time
  • Month
  • Week
  • Day
  • Now

Timing of pageview recalculations, and re ranking of posts is critical.

The differences between "30 days" and "month", and between "7 days" and "week" - and the lack of "day" and "now" - suggests that the ranking of the posts, in the list, is not done at the exact time that the Stats dashboard displays are produced - or dashboard counts are reset.

If the "Popular Posts" list is updated separately from the Stats dashboard counts, it's unlikely that the gadget, and the dashboard posts display, will be consistently identical - when we compare "30 days" (gadget) and "month" (dashboard), and likewise "7 days" (gadget) and "week" (dashboard).

Note that the calendar in the US has only 5, out of 12, months with 30 days.

Caching of blog content may prevent any updates from being displayed.

Besides the timing differences, the gadget will be subject to another issue, previously observed in a similar blog accessory - the "BlogList". Both the BlogList and Popular Posts, even if "correct" when updated, are subject to caching of the blog display.

If you display the blog repeatedly, and no posts have been published since you last displayed the blog, your browser may retrieve content from cache. You may not see the latest updates, because your browser won't request them from Blogger - or even if requesting them from Blogger, may get them from a second cache that you don't control.

Re calculations of pageview counts is necessitated by referer spam corrections.

All Stats components are subject to another problem - referer spam. Where the timing differences probably affect only "30 days" and "7 days", referer spam also affects "All time".

As Google corrects pageview counts corrupted by referer spam, the dashboard and gadget counters must be updated. If the dashboard and gadget counters are updated separately, sometimes the effects from a recent update may be seen in the dashboard, but not the gadget - or vice versa.

Given these 3 differences - the options, the counter updates, and the referer spam issue, any correlation between the dashboard and gadget displays will be coincidental - not predictable.

The Stats "Popular Posts" gadget, like other Stats features, may be best enjoyed in its own context. Trying to reconcile the rankings, as shown by the dashboard and gadget posts lists, will be an exercise in futility.

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