The Mystery of WordPress Shares

Did you see this post?

Hey, fellow WordPress bloggers—have you ever looked at the “Shares” feature on your stats page? It’s down near the bottom on the “Totals, Followers & Shares” menu.

For the longest time, my total only rose when I shared my latest posts on my Facebook page. But over the last month, the numbers increased. And I’m wondering what they mean.

At the end of August, I had all of 184 shares. Given that I had nearly 120 posts, it’s obvious most of them were my own. Maybe 60 of them came from readers. That would average to six per month. But then something happened.

Nine days later, there were 239 shares. You know I didn’t make 55 posts in nine days. Thirteen days later, 286 shares. Hmm. Four days later, 406 shares. At the end of September there were 423 shares. What the heck?! My first ten months of blogging had maybe 60 shares from readers. The next month alone more than 200?

I’ve made an exhaustive search of WordPress poked around a little, but I haven’t found an explanation for how the Mysterious Share Computator works. The shares in the stats don’t match with the share buttons on my posts. For example. I can see a certain post got shared on LinkedIn. But when I look at the share buttons for that post? No little number on the LinkedIn button. So where are these mystery shares coming from?

I am Mysterious Share Computator. Mere humans cannot understand the mysteries of my superior share computational abilities.

And what makes some posts more share-likely than others? My most-shared posts aren’t the ones that get the most views, likes, or comments. My least shared? It’s safe to say none of my posts are going viral as you can see below.

Number of Shares

I thought Meghan’s current short story in Poetic Archaeology might have generated a few, but only the second installment has had a share. According to Mysterious Share Computator, 64 of my 125 posts have been shared only by me. (But some of the share buttons on those posts show that somebody else shared them. Strange.) Most of them are early posts, so that’s understandable. But some posts that I thought were good didn’t generate much interest.

Which posts generated more shares (say 6–9 according to Mysterious Share Computator)? A number of Awards acceptance posts. Seriously. But a few posts that gathered a number of likes and comments also fall into this range, such as Will Social Media Kill My Writing? and Academic Writing Gets Its Revenge.

But my most-shared post according to Mysterious Share Computator? My recent Catching Up On Awards post. I’m as confused about that as you are. It’s received 16 shares. What’s so interesting about it? Are family and friends of my top commentators sharing that fact? And when I look at the share buttons on the post itself? There’s only my single Facebook share. Why don’t the numbers match?

Really, I don’t see any correlation between Mysterious Share Computator’s numbers and those on the posts’ share buttons. I mean, Blogs—How Do You Follow Them? has nine Facebook shares according to the buttons on the post. But Mysterious Share Computator says it has only one share, from Facebook. That would suggest only my sharing of the post counted to Mysterious Share Computator. Why not the other eight readers who shared it? Their opinions are just as important, don’t you think?

Of course, I still don’t understand the sudden jump in shares during September. Maybe my blog has achieved consciousness and is seeking out new friends for itself….

If you understands the mysteries behind these numbers, I would love to hear from you. And even if, like me, you don’t understand them, please have some fun and share your thoughts on how Mysterious Share Computator comes up with his numbers. There are some really creative minds in my audience!

67 thoughts on “The Mystery of WordPress Shares

  1. I certainly do not understand it! However, i would now like to check – does this mean that people read your article, enjoy it and then decide to forward it to their friends via facebook or something…? If so, kudos to you! :)

    • I think that’s the general idea. When you set up your blog to allow shares (like I do), people can just click on the relevant button to share it on their social networks. But how WordPress or Akismet translate that into the Share statistics is beyond me!

  2. There are some strange things happen on WordPress. No idea on the shares, I just checked mine and it’s a much lower figure than yours, but it doesn’t even seem to include all the shares I’ve done. Dunno!

    • That’s the weird thing for me. The numbers on the Share buttons for a post don’t match the Share statistics. Thus, my belief that there’s a Mysterious Share Computator who works in ways we don’t understand. :)

  3. I can’t make sense of it either. The numbers shown on the posts are nothing like the ones n the summary and I’ve come across shares that just don’t show at all. I gave up trying to make sense of it.

    • Maybe some tech-savvy blogger will read this post and fill us in on the mysterious details…. I’m the kind of person who knows there must be a sensible explanation and so I want to know what it is! (Well, maybe not sensible. Logical, maybe….)

  4. Well, I know that I have shared a few of your posts via Facebook. When I do that they automatically get Tweeted and shared on LinkedIn–because I have all of my social media linked together. Perhaps that is part of what you’re looking at?

    I didn’t know that there was a stat for sharing. How silly of me. There is a stat for everything, why not sharing, too! I haven’t checked my numbers for sharing, and I don’t think I’m going to because I’ll be depressed. I would rather be happy in my ignorant little world, lol. :)

    • I think shares like yours have to factor into it somehow. And maybe in those cases that explains why there are no numbers on my Share buttons. The “share” is coming from a third party, not directly from my post.

      But I know I’ve had posts in the past where friends have shared them on Facebook, but there’s no corresponding number on the Share buttons. Maybe people using the Reader trigger different results, too.

      My curious mind boggles. ;) Maybe I shouldn’t be so inquisitive! But that’s what I get for poking around the stats so much. Fortunately, I know I’m not savvy enough about them to want the paid upgrade for more detailed stats. :)

  5. I’m always delighted to see someone shared one of my posts, but I’ve never paid much attention to the numbers. To be honest, I don’t really even understand the process. I’ll have to go explore a bit. :)

    • The reality is more people could be sharing your posts than you realize! Maybe things are clearer if you have the paid upgrade for the Akismet stats. Given how much I struggled with statistics in ;college, I’m not much interested in that particular option. :)

      But if there’s a simple explanation of how the numbers are “counted” and calculated, I’d love to hear it. :)

  6. I actually never noticed the stats for shares before so thanks for pointing it out! :)
    (Note to self: Set up sharing properly!)
    When I do go in there there is a line that reads: “Just a note: we don’t count shares from smart buttons, just the standard share links.” Do you see this too?
    I can’t find much in the docs that tells me the difference between a smart button and standard share link. To me they all work like smart buttons. But assuming there is some vague distinction, perhaps this is the root of the discrepancy in your stats? Long shot, maybe?
    Maybe posting your question in the WP forums might give you an answer. :)

    • Hi, Richard, I have noticed that line, but it’s about as clear as mud to me, too! What exactly is the difference between a smart button and standard share link?! Given my “understanding” of these stats, it could well be the reason behind the differrences.

      To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the forums. There are some helpful people there. Others seem really grumpy and terse with their help to readers. If it’s that annoying to help people who are new to blogging, why are they volunteering to do it? I know people could find many of their own answers if they poked around the WordPress site. But like many sites, the help/support features aren’t always easy to find or use. So I understand people turning to the forums with questions that seem “simple” or “obvious” to more tech-savvy users.

      Anyway, I think you’re on to something with the smart button/share link distinction—whatever the heck it is! :)

      • I did a little poking around and I think I found something. Under Dashboard -> Settings -> Sharing near the bottom you can select the button style for the sharing services. If you select icon and/or text, I think only WordPress tracks the clicks and only the clicks on your post will be tracked. If you select Official buttons you get the stats from actual service provider, ie Twitter or Facebook, etc. WordPress may or may not track these also. But importantly the link can be clicked on anyone’s Facebook timeline or twitter feed etc. where it will also appear. This will then result in higher stats for a given post if people clicked it outside WordPress.
        Software Engineer geek-speak: When I compare the page source when using Official buttons vs icons I can see the icon-only version only links to WP but the version with official buttons links to a Facebook plugin, twitter goes to a twitter widget, etc.
        So… The mysterious line above probably means WP doesnt include the exclusive FB twitter etc stats. How it comes up with its own dubious looking numbers, I still don’t know.

  7. You always raise such good points and questions, JM. I’ve backed away from the blogosphere before I every fully understood it (social media WAS killing my writing!), so I can’t even begin to understand the Mystery of the Shares. Keep up the good work, and I hope to start posting–and sharing–again one of these days.

    • Good to see you again, Robin! Social media does pull us in, and if we’re not careful, it’ll take over our lives and time. That’s why I only blog, except for Facebook with family and some friends.

      I hope your step back has resulted in good writing sessions! The WIPs must come first. :)

  8. Fascinating, jm! I haven’t looked at my shares in a while, and I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, so I know they’re all other people’s shares. But that makes it even harder to track what’s what since only occasionally someone thinks to tell me that, by the way, they shared something. I agree that Richard’s point about the weird button/link wording might have something to do with the mystery of the MSC.

    I did have great luck asking about why my post didn’t appear in the reader the one time I posted there. After I ran through all the tests the volunteer suggested, he agreed it was a WP problem and alerted the WP staff, who had to fix something on their end for my posts to start showing up again. I was really glad I asked.

    • Thanks, Laura. :) If I really had the energy and time, I would research this more thoroughly. ;) But there are only so many hours in the day, and those novels refuse to write themselves for some reason. If I had a problem with something not working on the blog, I’d go to the forums in a heartbeat. I know someone would be as helpful for me as they were for you. But when I see questions that are less problem-specific and more general in tone, that’s where I’ve seen some testy “help.” I come away thinking maybe those folks should step back from volunteering for a while…. ;)

  9. JM, When I try to see my shares, the screen locks up. I’ve tried it three times now. Don’t know what that’s all about. I’m not going to worry about it. My two friends in the world might have shared something of mine twice or something. I’m not burning up the blogosphere, apparently. ; )

    When I start Tweeting and becoming a social media expert, maybe I’ll figure out all the stats.

    • You mean I’m not the only one who doesn’t Tweet?! YAY!!!!! :) I’ve felt sooo alone about that!

      My Facebook activity is really limited to family and some friends. It is good for keeping in touch with far-flung folks that way. And when my books get closer to publication, I will probably set up a separate page for “jmmcdowell.” But I do share my blog posts on FB with those family and friends. Surprisingly, a few of them will read my blog. :) So if you look at my first 10 months of blogging, nearly every share was me linking to Facebook. The numbers are not impressive! I really don’t understand what happened in September….

      Do you use Internet Explorer as your web browser? A few months ago, I started having major problems with it and my blog. There were so many glitches with the new features WordPress had introduced. I downloaded Mozilla Firefox to see how it would work with the blog, and I’ve had no problems with it. It’s free and worth a try to see if it works better for you.

      • Huh! I had no idea it could be Internet Explorer. I’ll try a couple of different “fixes” and see what happens.

        I will start Tweeting when and if I have something to Tweet. And as far as my blog posts, one of my friends said, “You should post on FB every time you have a new blog post.” I told her: “I’ve told everyone on FB that if they want to read my blog, just click the Follow button. Otherwise, I’m gonna bug the heck out of them.” That may make me un-social-media-savvy. So be it. ; )

  10. Wouldn’t that be nice if our blogs grew minds of their own and got their own friends? I’d have so much more time on my hands. I’ve never understood Shares…and still don’t after reading this. So I guess I won’t stress my mind over it. I’ll go with the blog consciousness thingie you suggested.

    • It would be such a time saver, wouldn’t it? I enjoy poking through the WordPress stats, but I don’t begin to understand them. ;) Blog consciousness makes as much sense to me as smart button vs. standard share links…. Do I even have standard share links? Those just make my brain hurt. Where’s my chocolate stash; that should help…. :)

      • You sound like you know a little more about the techno stuff than me…but still, do serve yourself up some chocolate. Brain power.

  11. Have no idea. (Guess I should check mine….and be even more confused.)
    Hope someone can figure out how this relates to the other bloggy stuff.
    (Running now…you mentioned statistics…I used to work with the king of statistics…no longer!)

    • Wine and chocolate. That’s the best preparation for looking at WordPress stats. I try to avoid all other statistics these days. Some archaeologists are statistical wizards, but I am definitely NOT one of them. If I ever had to deal with them, well, fortunately my husband understands them. :)

      I took one stats course in college, and it was awful. How I passed the course, I’ll never know. Because I had taken calculus (having started as a ComSci major), I couldn’t take the Social Sciences stats course. I had to take the heavy-duty one in the Math Department. Can someone please explain the logic there? Anthropology/Archaeology is a Social Science! Wouldn’t that have made more sense for me?!

  12. That is a mystery. I’ve had some shares, but certainly not that many. And there have only been 2 posts of mine that have ever really had any shares, so I’m impressed by the fact that you’ve had such high numbers!

    • Now just a minute, Madame W. How could you have few shares? Your posts generate far more likes and comments than mine and are all share-worthy. Mysterious Share Computator must have had a serious meltdown when he calculated your shares! This makes me think bribes must be involved somehow. There’s an underworld we’re missing here….

  13. i may have one answer for you – BOTS! i also have share numbers that do not match the numbers ‘pushed’ on the share buttons for the individual posts. my answer for that is bots. there is this robotic software (as i understand it, i am not a big techie) that scrolls the web for content, links what it likes, throws that content or snippets and links from and to that content up on its webpage, monetizes it through adsense words and there you have it. at least, that’s my theory on what happens. so, you may be getting a share or two that way. it’s harmless. but, i do think the more you post, the more it happens. xo, sm

    • Ooh, bots! That’s a good possibility. They are everywhere, right? Can we bribe them to share our posts in a way that won’t be perceived as spam? A bottle of their favorite lubricating oil, maybe?

      I wonder why they like my awards posts so much. Maybe because of the links to the nominated bloggers? Hmm…. And since I only post twice a week, maybe that’s why I don’t usually have too many posts being shared…. Interesting possibility!

  14. I have not read all the other comments yet, so maybe it’s all figured out, but have you clicked on the number of shares that shows on the shares total of the stats page? It goes to an entirely new page and it tells a little more about it. I am too tired to figure out if it has your answers, but it does tell that it leaves some out (ones from smart buttons?)

    • I don’t claim to understand the “geek tech speak” here, but the explanation still seems to run counter to what I’ve experienced. I think I’ll go with the Share Fairy below….:)

      • My understanding is simply that if the share to your site is done by the “share” buttons on FB and such, those numbers are not included because they don’t know when they are used.

    • I’m with you on this one. :) Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I’m happy with my numbers and interactions on the blog, and that’s really all that matters!

  15. I have never looked at this before, but I don’t have any high numbers. Probably something to do um, er, I don’t know really. If the numbers don’t tally with the little number in the boxes, which mine do not seem to do, then, um nope, I am no help whatsoever.

    Hmm you have me thinking now…

    • I’m sure there’s a reason, but it’s still unclear to me. The WordPress explanations seem to run counter to what I see in my numbers. I’m trying an experiment now. I’ve switched to the “official buttons” in my dashboard preferences, which may trigger more traffic as Richard Leonard described above. Then again, this is not a high-power blog, so maybe not…. But as I said to norfolknovelist above, I’m happy with my blog’s status, so all should be good, right?

  16. Um, I kinda just learned about the share feature here. LOL. I never noticed that tab or clicked on it before now. I don’t get it either. Weird. Yet another mystery of wordpress. :) Thanks for letting me know about it!

    • I like poking around the stats and dashboard pages sometimes—even though I don’t understand a lot of the numbers. :) But the share numbers just confuse me. And I don’t understand last month’s huge (for me) increase. Magical mysteries! :)

  17. I’ve never looked at this ‘Share’ thingy so I had a look at mine and I’ve had 102 and that seems kind of right. Now I’m going to keep checking it!

    I’m going with the idea of the ‘share fairy’ :D

    • Yikes, I didn’t think of that…. Better be nice to the blog before it gets ideas about YouTube.

    • I’m sure some tech-types know exactly how the stats work. But they usually aren’t good at explaining things to non-techies. ;) I’ll just continue to attribute them to Mysterious Share Computator and the Share Fairy!

  18. I can’t believe I mostly understood this post. You explained a confusing topic very well. However, you completely lost me with these comments. Well done!

    Signed, Far-Flung Folk

    • I’m still lost myself. :) I appreciate the folks who tried to help explain them, but I’m still confused. To my mind, my numbers don’t seem to fit the potential explanations. But, ahem, let’s just say statistics are not my strong point. ;)

      But as long as I can figure out the basics of social media, I can stay in touch with far-flung folk like you. :)

  19. I’be had posts go viral with people twitting and their followers retweeting. Same for Facebook. That may be why your numbers look higher in the stats than the numbers on your actual buttons. I’ll have to take a look at this when I can get to a computer.

    • I am so not a techno-whiz kid. :) Some numbers are higher in the stats than on the share buttons. But others are higher on the share buttons than in the stats. A Share Fairy and Mysterious Share Computator are easier for me to visualize. ;)

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