PostRank for the rest of us.

Mel, the very helpful community manager at PostRank has pulled together all the Tots100 feeds into a list, which I linked to today on Twitter.

Following LOTS of questions about what this list is, why people are higher or lower or where they expect to be, and that sort of thing, I’ve been asked to a brief primer. This is just a quick post (school run in 5 minutes!) but it might explain what that list is, and why I think it's the best thing ever.

Q: What is it?
A: PostRank is a service that monitors blog feeds for something called ‘engagement’. Briefly, this is geek-speak for how involved your audience is with your blog – do they comment, do they share links to your content on Twitter or Facebook, do they submit your posts to social bookmarking sites like Digg or Del.ici.ous.

Q: Who cares about engagement?
A: Basically, PostRank sells a premium version of its data to people like PR agencies, marketers and online companies. They’re the sort of people that don’t just want to know whether lots of people read a blog; they want to know whether those people are MOVED enough to interact with the content in some way. A blog that has higher levels of interaction is generally seen as more valuable, or successful than one which doesn’t.

Q: Do I need to sign up?
A: No. PostRank automatically adds new blogs to its service as it finds them. a few blogs in the Tots100 were missing, but Mel from the company has now added all of the necessary feeds for the index to PostRank. Signing up, creating a profile, following people is only necessary if you want to use PostRank to analyse blog feeds or buy PostRank services. Otherwise, don’t worry about it. If you're not in the Tots100, you can submit a URL without signing up to the service – just enter the URL of your blog and if you get a "not found" message, there's a box to say "Tell us about this URL".

Q: How are those scores calculated?

A: PostRank looks at every blog individually. It will look at your posts each week and consider, relative to your blog as a whole, how engaged was your audience this week. It then assigns each post a score from 0 to 10. So if your blog typically gets one or two comments per post, but you post something this week that gets 40 comments and 6 Twitter mentions, there’s a good chance that post would score 10 points. If it’s an average post, it might score 5 points.

Q: How come I scored 1st/10th/50th?

A: The crucial difference is that the ‘thematic’ score you get in PostRank doesn’t compare your blog to anyone else’s. It’s just saying, compared to your blog’s average performance, this is how a particular post did, or how your blog did over a week.

So, let’s imagine Blog #1 scored an average 10 this week for his blog posts while Blog #2 scored an average of 7. This doesn’t mean Blog 1 is more engaging than Blog 2. It just means that, relative to each of their blogs’ typical performance, Blog 1 was more engaging than usual when compared to Blog 2. It’s a relative, not an absolute value.

Q: How is this different to the Tots100?

A: The Tots100 uses lots of different metrics to arrive at a score for each blog. That’s because engagement is just one part of the story – we also look at the number of  subscribers and links to a blog, for example, which aren’t measured by services like PostRank.

We do use PostRank as one of the metrics but we don’t use the relative, thematic scores as that would be largely meaningless for our purposes. We use the absolute values that underline each score. So we can use PostRank to say, “Okay, Tim scored 10 for this post, but what does that 10 mean? How many mentions did the post actually get? How many Tweets?” We then add up all the absolute points for each post over the month and average them to give a score that can be fairly compared between blogs.

Q: So does PostRank matter?

It doesn't matter. For the vast majority of bloggers, no blog stats truly 'matter'. But if you're interesting in maximising your audience or audience participation, it's always useful to understand what content really strikes a chord with your readers. With PostRank you can easily see by looking at scores, which posts are most likely to resonate. But also, if you can see you are getting all your engagement points from Twitter but nothing from Facebook, is there a way to make it easier for people to share your content on Facebook? Do you need to make it easier for people to add content to Digg? Is your engagement generally increasing or decreasing over time?

This is information that many, many bloggers won’t care about – and there’s no particular reason to worry. But if you are looking to monetise a blog (and Lord knows, there’s nothing wrong with that even if we are officially no longer in a recession) then understanding your audience better is generally a good thing.

Hope that helps!

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