The Story of a Plugin – Part 4: The FAQ

You may wish to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 first where I talk about the idea for the plugin, early proofs of concept, and getting to the current release version.

There have been quite a few questions about the plugin, so I’ll try to answer some of them here.

What is Pro Blog Stats?

It’s a WordPress plugin that pulls in publicly and privately available statistics about your website(s) / blog(s) and pulls them into your WordPress dashboard.

What version of WordPress is required?

Version 3.1 and above is preferred. It may work on lower versions but that’s up to you!

Any other requirements?

You must have PHP5 or above. PHP 4 will not work, any decent webhost should either easily upgrade you or already be on PHP 5.

How much is it?

There are free and paid versions of the plugin. See our plans/pricing page for more details.

What isn’t it all free?

Gathering the statistics data from tens of sources and storing all that data is quite resource intensive and there is a cost associated with this. It costs us for you to use the plugin, even for the free version, so we have to recoup some of that cost with more intensive plans.

Will this plugin add tracking code for different services into my blog automatically? (Google Analytics, etc)

No, the plugin does not add any tracking code to your site. While it does not require any other plugins to run, you may wish to use plugins for services such as Google Analytics, Clicky, Postrank etc in order to add the tracking code and make the stats available to Pro Blog Stats (if your version supports those stats). Pro Blog Stats will not interfere with any of these plugins as it gets the stats directly from the services themselves and not the plugins.

Why isn’t AWeber included?
This is a common question! We did at one stage have AWeber stats in but their API does not provide a simple count of subscribers by list. To avoid storing any private data we had to do a one-time on-demand calculation that got this statistic. Due to the limits of the API this often failed and brought back incorrect numbers. Rather than provide incorrect numbers we have removed it from the plugin for now.

Do you store any passwords?
No, we avoid asking for any usernames or passwords. Where required we use authentication, like for Google Analytics.

Any other questions please let us know!

The Story of a Plugin – Part 3: The WordPress Years

You may wish to read Part 1 and Part 2 first where I talk about the idea for the plugin and early proofs of concept.

So the first thing to decide on creating a plugin (after, of course, deciding to make one at all!) is whether to do it yourself or hire someone to do it. Not having the skills or time (or really desire) to learn to do it myself I set about hiring someone to do it.

Finding a developer should have been relatively easy, but it’s actually very difficult. PHP programming skills are in high demand which means the best are either very busy or very expensive, or both. I don’t want to go cheap so I found a medium level US company to develop the first version of the plugin.

The Third Version

To be honest, this relationship didn’t go well. I won’t name the company as they’re still big in the WordPress world and it was really both our fault and a fault of timing. Neither of us understood the time and complexity that would evolve and the proposed 6 weeks turned into about 7 months.

The plugin worked, and produced a simple report as shown below. However it quickly became apparent that gathering the data on-demand like it did was taking too much time and causing problems with loading time and lots of zeroes – as you can see below.

So at this point I was speaking to Andrew Rondeau of We Build Your Blog about the plugin and the issues. He had some great suggestions, as well as providing validation of the idea and what I was trying to achieve. So it became our plugin rather than my plugin.

We did a lot of research and hired another company to do the next stage of development.

The Fourth Version

We needed to make the plugin more robust and not time out and cause problems. So the company we hired built a website that gathers the data for you. So when you run the plugin the data is pulled down from our server which already holds the data, rather than querying 50+ different statistics.

They also built the login system and everything that you still see on the site at this moment.

After a few months this version was complete. However (how many times have I said that in this series of articles?!) it became clear they didn’t really understand WordPress that well (the website is not built on WordPress, something we will be moving to eventually) and we wanted to deal with a company with more expertise in WordPress.

Another issue was that the plugin still required some user names and passwords, however we wanted (and have achieved) to remove the need for any user names and passwords to be stored on our server for security reasons.

The Current Version

So the company we have hired (and still used) cleared up a LOT of outstanding issues with the plugin, the website, and the (almost ready) affiliate system. A few weeks ago the plugin was released into the WordPress.org repository and there is a completely free version available.

In part 4 I’ll answer some of the commonly asked questions about Pro Blog Stats. In the meantime, why not download it and give it a try, it’s free!

The Story of a Plugin – Part 1: Stop Messing Around

Those of you read my site and emails regularly will probably have heard of Pro Blog Stats, a WordPress plugin created by myself and Andrew Rondeau that pulls in stats from multiple sources and reports them into your WordPress dashboard. It’s a massive time saver and allows you to easily and quickly see actionable data about your site performance without all the associated hassle.

Pro Blog Stats gives you over 50 different statistics about your blog or WordPress website – all on one page, within your WordPress dashboard. With Pro Blog Stats, you no longer have to log in to all your different accounts (like Google Analytics, Twitter, Facebook) to see your statistics. Enough of the sales pitch though, this is the story of how this came to be….

The Genesis of an idea

I used to work in the corporate world, for a couple of very large companies, which employed thousands (and even hundreds of thousands) of people. A lot of my job involved numbers and statistics. George Bernard Shaw once said:

It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.

Who am I to argue with him? I spent a lot of time analyzing those statistics and creating recommendations from them and implementing them. However I spent 10x that amount of time gathering the data.

Organizations large and small often have huge volumes of data. In one case I dealt with it came in on reams of dot matrix printer paper. This isn’t 30 years ago, less than 10.

Volume of data is not so much an issue with powerful computers and database tools, however what the biggest issue was, and still is, is the large number of different locations this data is held. In the blogging world you can have your traffic stats in Google Analytics, real-time stats in Clicky, RSS subscribers in Feedburner, Facebook and Twitter followers on their sites, StumbleUpon shares in your SU account, AWeber subscribers in your AWeber account, and so on for seemingly forever.

One day in my job, my boss asked me for a report. Several hours later he came over to ask whether the report was ready, and I replied that I was still working on it. His response? “Stop messing around and get me the report!”.

However I haven’t been messing around (in fact he didn’t say messing, it began with an F…), I had been trying to put together a report from 12 different sources with about 30 different pieces of data. It was actually 27 pieces of data. I remember because later on I had to do it two or three times a week.

The idea of a dashboard to report sales or display statistics is nothing new, however achieving this goal can be extremely difficult. We worked for weeks to produce a report that saved a large amount of time and hassle, not only for me, but my boss could not request report and have it in a few minutes instead of a few hours.

Pro Blog Stats was born of a similar frustration with the amount of effort and time it was taking me and my clients to monitor performance and progress of our WordPress websites and blogs.

The initial idea for the plugin came over three years ago now, and in the next part I’ll go through the process we’ve experienced with it.

Find Out How Well Your Blog Is Really Doing!

Many of you know, Andrew and I have been collaborating on a plugin called Pro Blog Stats.

It has taken us over a year for this final stage, and thousands of dollars – but now we are proud and excited to say:

Here is our first ever WordPress plugin!

It’s been tweaked and tested by many beta testers and some of them are hooked.

Why?

Pro Blog Stats gives you over 50 different statistics about your blog or WordPress website – all on one page, within your WordPress dashboard. With Pro Blog Stats, you no longer have to log in to all your different accounts (like Google Analytics, Twitter, Facebook) to see your statistics.

And, yes, there is a free version of the plugin.

I won’t list all the statistics here (there are too many to mention) but they include:

– Google Analytics
– Twitter
– Facebook
– Alexa
– Pages indexed
– Backlinks
– WordPress.com Stats

…and many more.

It’s important to note that the plugin will NOT slow your site down. Once configured the only time the plugin does anything is when you request a report. The rest of the time the stats are gathered by our server, not yours. So unlike some other stats plugins, it will not slow down your site.

Many of you will know how vital it is to monitor your statistics, to keep abreast of how many visitors you have, the bounce rate, number of subscribers, number of backlinks, time spent on your site and so on.

By monitoring these statistics you can determine what impact your on-line decisions and work are having.

Do you get more visitors if you blog every day, or four times a week?

Did your subscription rate change as a result of your latest blog post?

Monitor your statistics… check the impact and repeat them if positive (or stop if negative).

Of course, you do need a history of your blog stats to see the trends, and the quicker you start using Pro Blog Stats the better. From the day you install and use the plugin, it will keep a history of your stats. A couple of days later you can compare and see what stats have improved. Then compare again a couple of weeks, or months later!

So there we have it… our WordPress plugin… now available for download.

The personal e-mails from our beta testers has been extremely positive. This plugin will make a big difference to the success of your blog.

Make sure you get your free version of the plugin by going here today:

Pro Blog Stats

We’d really welcome your feedback to see how the plugin can be improved, so get in touch and tell us what you think.