I absolutely obsess over my blog's traffic. Not so much the actual numbers, but I want to know where the traffic is coming from. Can you name the top referring site to your blog? You should be able to.
By watching my traffic like a hawk, I can get a better idea of what content is resonating with my readers, AND where those readers are coming from. Case in point, here is my monthly Sitemeter traffic for 2008:
Now notice two things. Notice there was a big spike in traffic in June and July, then another in November and December. The first spike happened due to my using Plurk(which I joined in June), and linking to new posts from there. I was heavy into Plurk for a couple of months, then my usage scaled back. Around October or so I started using Twitter much more, and sure enough, there's a traffic spike in November and December. The two most active months ever for me on Twitter? You guessed it, November and December.
But I wouldn't have noticed that Plurk and Twitter were big sources of traffic for my blog if I hadn't closely examined my traffic referrals via SiteMeter and Google Analytics. After seeing which sites were driving traffic to my blog, that helped me change my usage to make better use of my time. Both SiteMeter and Google Analytics are free, so you really should be using one of them, or another free tool such as StatCounter to track your traffic.
Here's another example of why you should keep a very close eye on your blog's traffic. I closely track my feed subscribers with Feedburner. Now on the surface, the overall number is growing steadily as it has for a couple of years now. That's great. But I started digging deeper into the breakdown of my subscriber numbers, and found that my number of email subscribers (which is counted as part of the total subscriber numbers that FB reports) is surging. For example, I now have 275 email subscribers, and added 48 last month alone. For reference, I only added 9 email subscribers in December of 2007.
Now after studying my blog traffic closely, I know that Twitter is currently the top referring site to this blog. And after studying a breakdown of my feed subscribers, I see that email subscriptions are growing at a quicker rate than people that are subscribing to the blog's feed via a feed reader such as Google Reader or Bloglines.
Are the two related? I think they might be, because my number of Twitter followers has also surged in the past couple of months, and more importantly, many of these new followers appear to be people that have recently joined Twitter. So I am picking up a lot of followers that are new to Twitter, and at the same time I am seeing my email subscriptions surge as well. That suggests to me that many of the new followers I am gaining are also subscribing to this blog's feed, but via email.
One big hint that this is happening came a couple of weeks ago when Tom Martin mentioned me in this article he wrote for Ad Age. He posted the Twitter links to myself and several other social media mavens. I picked up over 100 Twitter followers that day, and I noticed that most of them were only following the few people that Tom mentioned in his Ad Age piece. Many of them also hadn't updated their Twitter account yet. So it was obvious that many had read Tom's article, and decided to join Twitter, and follow the people that he mentioned(thanks again, Tom!).
And here's the clincher. That article went out in Ad Age's newsletter on the 17th, and I added 11 email subscribers that same day, out of 49 for the month.
So from all of this analyzing and obsessing over my blog's traffic and analytics, I can assume that my readership is trending more toward those that are new to social media. This suggests to me that the content I create here some begin to move toward being instructional, and more 'Social Media 101'. Or it could also suggest that launching a newsletter aimed at sharing tips for those new to social media, would be a good idea.
But the bottom-line at the end of this long-winded post is that you should always study your traffic very closely. Studying the raw numbers really isn't that important, understanding that those numbers are REAL PEOPLE, and then understanding what's motivating them to read your blog is what matters.