Measuring web statistics for your food blog

Unless you’re going to act upon it, measuring anything is nothing more than statistical masturbation, whether it be on the web or anywhere else. There is the warm afterglow that you get from the first time that you hit a hundred; a thousand or a hundred thousand visitors to your blog a day, but once you know that people are reading your blog: then what?

Web traffic alone is meaningless without a goal attached to it. And this leads me back to the first post in this series where I asked you what is motivating you to get into the business and art of food blogging. If you don’t have a goal, there is no need to measure anything at all on your blog.

How should I measure:

Get Google Analytics for whatever blogging platform you use. It is both a blessing (it’s free! at least if you don’t count Google harvesting your rich and creamy data as a cost) and a curse (it’s so powerful that you can spend more time analysing statistics and staring like a rabbit in the headlights into an oncoming graph than you can writing about food). It’s also inaccurate; but still accurate enough for the common food blogger who doesn’t need to worry about a 25% margin for error or so.

What should I measure:


Always measure trends

Daily bumps and spikes in web traffic are meaningless if they cannot be repeated at will or sustained. What all bloggers should aim at is growth in audience (unique visitors), average page views, time spent on site, and readers of your RSS feed over time. It will take a few months after the launch of your blog for any of these things to become apparent. In the early days you (probably) won’t have enough content or readers to make a real assessment of where your food blog is headed.

Always measure your goals

Amongst people like me who measure web traffic for a living, there is much talk about how to judge the meaningfulness of web traffic beyond just visits to your website or even “conversions” (the people who buy your product and the path by which they arrive there). If you’re not selling a product and your goals are as ephemeral as the vagaries of food blogging then what is worth measuring?

Unless you’ve read the how to start a food blog, design, and making money posts, the following goals will sound a little vague.

Specifically for food bloggers:

Goal: I want to meet people who write on the web that aren’t freaks and be a part of a community of like-minded, passionate food junkies

Most important metric:
Incoming links from blogs that you respect; conversations started. And who you’ve met.

Incoming links is by far the easiest of these to quantify. Google Analytics does it under Traffic Sources > Referring Links. You can also chase up the links that have never been clicked to your site by typing into Google’s maw. This will output a raw number of incoming links and it’s easy enough to scan through the list to see if any blog that personally matters to you

Conversations started can encompass much more than just the number of comments on your site. The trend for blogging is that an increasing amount of the talk generated about what you write about will happen on sites other than your own: on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, StumbleUpon, on other people’s blogs and in the mainstream media. There isn’t a convenient tool yet to roll all the conversations together and come out the other side with a useful metric. When someone comes up with a widely agreed upon “conversation quotient“, I’ll be a happy web marketer. Nielsen BlogPulse is the beginning of these tools, along with Tweetscan or Summize for Twitter.

Check your address book to see who you’ve met. Poke your Facebook friends or something.

Goal:I want to make money

Most important metric: How much money you’re making.

Yes, it is that obvious.

While masses of visitors to your site will often be a proxy to how much money you’ll make (and is a direct correlation if you’re lucky enough to be paid per visit rather than per click), if you want to make money, measure what works. If you’re using Google Adsense, they include handy information on the click-through rate for each ad that you place on your site. Use this information to tweak ad placement.

Goal: I have a food business/restaurant/am a food professional and need somewhere to honestly link up with the punters/debate my awesomeness

Most important metric: Local traffic and conversions. Unless you’re running a destination restaurant that punters will fly in from all over the world to visit, the most important thing for a restaurant/locally-focussed food business is the traffic from your immediate region and how many of those people eat your food or buy your product. To measure this traffic on Google Analytics, go to Visitors > Map Overlay, click your country then use the Segment selector to segment up your national or regional audience however you choose.

Secondly, if you’re selling something, you can set up goals to measure whatever action/conversion is desired. Google can tell you more about setting goals in Analytics. Offline, you need to harvest this data wherever you can. Can you ask those who book or buy where they found out about you?

How should I act upon it:

Repeat the things that are successful. Stop doing the things that aren’t successful. If you’re tracking a goal, defining what counts as success is straightforward. Do you write posts that start more conversations than others? Could you spin them out into a monthly series? While you were building an audience did something spur a huge number of people to subscribe to your RSS feed? Could you, in good conscience, repeat it?

If you were obsessed with statistics, you could test every change to your website using multivariate analysis before you commit to any change, but for the average food blogger, it is not worth it.

One-plus-One Dumplings: Uyghur-licious

Chinese food in Australia is for the most part, awful, but it is an awfulness within which you can revel. Steak and black bean sauce, paint-liftingly acidic lemon chicken, your-meat-of-choice stir-fried with cashew nut and cornstarch. Fried rice with peas in it and those little prawns (jumbo krill?) from a can that only exist to populate this specific dish. I still have a lot of love for it, mostly because it represents a resolutely Australian cuisine.

It does bear a passing resemblance to Cantonese food, if you squint hard enough and have a terrible aversion to vegetable matter, offal and real seafood. I’ve been meaning to do some research to uncover Australia’s first Chinese restaurant as a way to find out whom or where gave birth to this food, and why it was Cantonese and not the Uighur food from Western China that captured the Australian palate.

uighur food - kordakh

If Central New South Wales had have invented a Chinese cuisine of their own (and been originally populated by nomadic Central Asians subjected to 2500 years of bloody invasion), it would probably look much like Uighur food.

The far Western province of China is built upon sheep and wheat; which the food reflects, as does its location between Tibet, Mongolia, Russia, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan- and India-controlled Kashmir. It thus has a byzantine political history whose richness is only surpassed by its daedal religious intricacy. As a consequence, people eat potatoes; piles of cumin; chili in crazed abundance, both whole dried and as flakes. Fresh wheat noodles are pulled or are presented flattened and hand-cut.

Uyghur Lamb kebab

is omnipresent: in the cumin-coated kebabs (above), atop and beneath hot noodles ands soups, providing filling for the dumplings and pastries. Apart from the spices, it couldn’t conform more to the cliche of the Anglo-Australian palate.


Green salads even arrive uncooked and unpreserved which is about as far from the rest of Chinese cuisine as you can possibly veer. Why isn’t this food in every Australian country town?

Apart from the obvious reason that there is no critical mass of Uighur people spread about the countryside, there is probably a Western Chinese restaurant nearby that you wouldn’t otherwise notice unless you could read Chinese characters. One-plus-One Dumplings in Footscray is a case in point. Their name is little more than a ruse to hide their true cuisine; their dumplings only notable for being forgettable; the interior indistinguishable from any other Chinese restaurant under the disinfectant glare of fluorescent lighting and mirror-halled walls.

But the lamb and noodles will transport you straight back to Ürümqi.

While one should eat Uighur food apropos of nothing, this particular occasion to hit up some Western Chinese in the Western suburbs was that Maytel from Gut Feelings was in Melbourne, as were ex-Cambodian expats Andrew and Anth. We are all still bound to upholding the myth that every English language blogger in Cambodia knows each other. And there isn’t a decent Cambodian joint for miles.

Address: One-Plus-One Dumplings, 84 Hopkins St, Footscray

Addendum (27 May 2008): Added Tibet to list of neighbouring nations. I missed it.

Bánh Mì Xiu Mai

banh mi xiu mai

Bánh mì xiu mai is the ultimate culinary mashup: a strange interpretation of Cantonese food in a French baguette via Saigon. The banh mi is your average baguette filled with a slap of pate, pickled carrot and stalks of coriander. The xiu mai part is utterly bewildering.

banh mi siew mai
Picking the xiu mai from the sauce

The Vietnamese version of the Cantonese siew mai bears only the most basic resemblance to its Chinese compadre. It is both made from ground pork and is the size of a golf ball but lacks the thin wonton skin of the Cantonese dumpling. Instead of being gently steamed, the Vietnamese version is boiled in a tomato sauce.

The further that you delve into the origins and history of the recipe, the stranger it becomes. Andrea Nguyen from Vietworldkitchen hints that it might be a Vietnamese version of an Italian meatball sub and to illustrate the point, uses a modified Cambodian recipe for them. I’ve certainly seen them around Cambodia: there was a vendor in the Russian Market in Phnom Penh who sold them from an aluminum soup bain marie, in the same thin and oily tomato sauce. Graham from Noodlepie spots them about Saigon.

As far as I can find, there is no canonical Vietnamese recipe or even one that closely accords with the others. This recipe in Vietnamese, for example, calls for devilled ham along with ketchup. Another specifies Hunt’s brand tomato sauce and breadcrumbs. This lack of consistency and extensive use of more typically “Western” ingredients suggests that the xiu mai (for banh mi purposes) is a fairly recent addition to the Vietnamese culinary pantheon, even if the Cantonese siew mai have been cooked around Vietnam for millenia. Xiu mai just happened to be the most convenient word already in common usage.

This leaves the more difficult question of whether the banh mi xiu mai originated in Vietnam, and if so, how long has it been there?

banh mi ba le, footscray

If you happen to be in Footscray, Banh Mi Ba Le does an excellent banh mi xiu mai for A$3, with the bread amply soaking up the oily sauce and squishy pork ball. It comes a close second to the nearby banh mi thit nuong.

Address: 2/28A Leeds St, Footscray VIC 3011, Australia

Guerilla Gardening: How to compost a whole cow

the garden

The guerilla garden continues apace with one rude surprise. The bamboo has been chopped down and left aside to mulch as much material as possible before I call in the council to remove the woodier stalks.

The rude shock is that beneath the thin ground cover of rotting bamboo leaf and years of accumulated trash, the bluestone and tarmac alleyway is intact. There is no soil beneath, apart from a few spots where the road surface is collapsing. So I scraped up as much of the ground cover as possible, built a raised bed and put in a compost bin to mulch kitchen scraps (and bamboo); added a good thirty kilos of cow manure and have planted the first crop of winter greens.


Nothing fancy, just broccoli (above), onions, leeks, spinach. I don’t expect it to be the best of crops and my plan is to plant some climbing beans after the leeks come up at the back to take advantage of the fence.

As for how to compost whole cows, I’ve been researching feedlots in Australia for another unrelated project. According to the South Australian EPA’s Guidelines for Establishment and Operation of Cattle Feedlots in South Australia, 2nd Edition, 12.5.1 Composting

Adult cattle should be composted using the following method:-

1.In the manure stockpile area, or approved composting site, place a layer of dry organic matter 30 – 45 centimetres deep on the ground over an area slightly larger than the carcase. Straw, sawdust or hay are all suitable.

2.Place the dead animal on the bed and cover with another layer of the dry organic material to a depth of 30 centimetres.

3. Cover the whole lot with 60 centimetres depth of semi-dry organic material such as feedlot pen manure, stockpiled manure, or silage. This layer needs to be at least 60 centimetres deep to contain odours and exclude scavengers.

4. Allow the pile to “work” for 20 days undisturbed. Internal temperatures should reach between 65 – 75oC.

5. After 20 days, or when the internal temperature falls below 60oC, turn the pile and expose the carcase. Cover the carcase again with 30 centimetres of dry organic material and 60 centimetres of semi-dry material.

6. Allow the pile to “work” for another 20 days undisturbed. Internal temperatures should reach 70oC and then slowly decrease. After the 40 days only large bones and some hair will remain.

The composted carcase can then be incorporated with manure or solid wastes for spreading on land.

My head on SBS

A while back I foretold a grim future where bloggers would be hired up by major media players. That future is this afternoon. I’ve just started work on Special Broadcasting Service’s new (as yet untitled) world food blog. The site is still a bit shaky – no commenting/trackbacks/RSS yet – but it’s a start on the weird geometry where the line between journalist and blogger ceases to be meaningful.

This week, I cook lamb mechoui from the Food Safari back catalogue and conjecture on the size of Maeve O’Meara’s hands.

Addendum (10 May 2008): Comments are on, no RSS, social sharing buttons still a bit patchy.

My new baby

No, I’m not having a real baby. Don’t get your hopes up, Mum.

Nikon D40X with 18-55mm kit

I’ve finally taken the plunge and invested in a real camera: a Nikon D40X. My point-and-shoot Olympus C-740 was reaching the end of its life: I had worn off the rubber eyepiece from having it pressed against me so often, and was beginning to wear a hole in shutter button. I was also annoyed at how poorly it performed in low light. The things that you don’t notice when you begin taking photos like chromatic aberration, barrel distortion and the weird blue cast that sometimes falls over my food shots began to grind.

North Melbourne Town Hall, by night

I haven’t had much of a chance to play with the Nikon yet because it was night, but above is the North Melbourne Town Hall.