Statistics – a story of blog growth

Yesterday saw a new high in my daily hits. I thought I’d share an annotated stats graph, to illustrate how things have grown.

annotated stats

Around mid-December, I was seeing hit rates of around 200-300 per day. Then, just before Christmas, the hits “spiked” to a peak of 794. I was in the office with Richard Brown at the time, and we talked about why this might be – not coming to any clear conclusions. We did both agree that a sudden surge from the 300 mark to nearer 800 was probably an anomaly.

From the chart, you’ll see that over the Christmas period itself, the hit rate settled back down towards the 250 mark. I wasn’t posting, and I suspect that most people were, quite sensibly, spending time with their families and not reading my blog.

After Christmas, I started to read Ted’s book, and to apply some of the ideas – things like intelligent linking; choosing the titles of my posts more carefully; thinking about keywords; and generally trying to analyse the content that readers were interested in and produce more of that. I’ve also been trying to work on “pillar” posts… read the book for more on that! When I posted the light tent series, I got a pleasing (and so far sustained) increase in traffic. Since then, the hits have stayed high, by my standards – even over weekends, which were historically low points.

Yesterday I couldn’t believe my eyes when the hits had zoomed past my previous high of 894 by just after lunch. It ended up at the magic 1459 figure – just short of 1500, but still more than double the number from the previous day – and with no new posts! There’s a deep drop so far today, but it is going up by the hour, so it may well level off to where it was last week.

Why the sudden interest in little ol’ me?

The number one culprit is the now-infamous Renewing car tax online post. On the “spike” days, that single post can easily attract several hundred hits alone. Taking that one out of yesterday’s stats, the total would have been 646.

Why the periodic surges of interest in that post? I have a theory. Car tax falls due on the last day of the month. I reckon that the DVLA probably sends out letters to remind people to renew somewhere around the middle of the month. I won’t be able to check this for sure for another 2 months, when mine will be up for renewal again. However, both of the significant spikes have been mid-to-late in the month.

Interestingly, the way that most people seem to find their way to the post is by entering the URL for the DVLA’s tax renewal page into a search engine, which brings them to me.  The weirdest thing (to me) is, why do they search for the URL, rather than typing it into the browser address bar? And when they have searched for it, why do they click through to my site, rather than going to the DVLA? Depending on the search engine, I’m only 5th or 8th or something on the list or results, whereas the actual site is 1st.

Now what I need to do is to associate some kind of advertising with that post – there must be a way to make some money here 😉

The nicest part is that the overall trend is upwards, despite the spikes. Over a 90 day period, that stats graph would show a significant upward trend from the 100/200/300 hits per day November and December 2005, to the average ~700 last week.Various posts, particularly those on Photography, the TomTom, and Second Life, are continuing to see traffic on a daily basis. I’d like to say that my more specifically work-related entries are popular too, but I guess it is a while since I posted anything earth-shattering, and I’m trying to post in other places now, too.

I’m still learning how to do this blogging thing, but hopefully I’m making progress. Thank you for taking an interest in my writing.

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23 responses to “Statistics – a story of blog growth

  1. The spikes are always interesting to watch. It’s slightly sad though that you are seeing a spike on a post that is tackling a side topic (rather than the core topic) of your blog. I get the same effect. I suppose it shows that there is a huge latent demand out there for these things.

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  2. Hi Graham, thanks for the comment. Absolutely, it’s kind of strange that it is such an “obscure” post that attracts the attention, but as I said it is also nice to see the overall upward trend even without it – I’m working hard at that.

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  3. My other half always types addresses into google. Getting her to do anything else would, I believe, be a futile effort! She doesn’t even bookmark anything.

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  4. I’ve become less good at bookmarking as time has gone on, even when e.g. del.icio.us is an option, so I understand that. But an address, I put in the address bar. Interesting…

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  5. Hi Andy, interesting post. Don’t forget that more content means more hits. That can explain some of the increase in hits – but of course not all of it.

    I am only at around 50 hits a day in average – but clearly growing in hits from my start in March 2006. According to FeedBurner my blog has 89 subscribers in average during the last 30 days. Have you considered using FeedBurner to track your RSS feed?

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  6. Hi Per, good points.

    I have thought about Feedburner… the thing I don’t know is how easy it is to use with WP.com. I need to look into it further.

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  7. I’m afraid my Mum is another culprit of the URL-into-Google habit. She seems to have trouble differentiating the address field in Firefox from the search text field in her default homepage.

    I am guessing that Adrian’s other half and my Mum are not the only people that have this problem…

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  8. Isn’t it interesting how Google has become the world’s homepage?

    I remember when I first came across Google when I was at university, somewhere around 1995/6. At the time, I was an Altavista expert – I knew just how to use all of the search options to find what I wanted, and I wondered how this Google thing would work (the algorithm for Google at the time was all to do with home many people linked to a page, whereas AV was a basic crawler I think).

    And now look – most people have Google as a homepage, and the way to get to a site appears to be to type the address in as a search!

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  9. Heading off-topic here but… when I was an undergrad I used the text-based Lynx browser. I can’t actually remember ever using a search engine until I reached my postgrad years when, like you, AltaVista was the only thing I used.

    I know plenty of your readers can out-do me with stories of punch cards and CGA displays, but whenever I speak to Sam (or indeed you!) about our early computing experiences, it makes me feel very old 😦

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  10. Oh, I used lynx and pine on a UNIX box – I didn’t know it was UNIX for a while, it was just what we were given to access our university email accounts. I’m not that much younger (can’t say the same for Sam, of course…!). Still used AltaVista though. Punchcards are a different matter.

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  11. Um, that’d be “punched cards” you youngster you. 🙂 And, no, they were BEFORE my time – both at college AND in IBM. 🙂

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  12. They weren’t before MINE 😦

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  13. I read your posts on online car tax with interest. I am the Head of Electronic Customer Services at DVLA and I am responsible for online car tax.

    You have to have a computerised MOT to use the service and all garages since March 2006 have been issuing them. By April, everyone needing an MOT will have a computerised one. Until that happens, we only invite the people we know can definately use the service (computerised MOT or car less than 3 years old). Your traffic is probably from people who haven’t been invited but have heard about it and want to find the site. We recently changed the reminder to give information to these people too.

    We select and print 3-4 million reminders a month (44 million a year) about 6 weeks before your tax is due. We post them a while before the 15th of the month, which is when you can start taxing your car, bike, lorry, van etc from. Most people get their reminder on around the 14th/15th of the month.

    It’s interesting that your traffic increases because of your link to us and we’re grateful for it! So far, well over 6 million customers have used the service and I’m glad to see so many positive comments on your site.

    Regards.

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  14. Andrew, thanks so much for your visit and your very interesting comment! Excellent information. As I said I was very impressed with your service when I used it last year. I may copy this over to the relevant post as well, so that it gets a bit more visibility.

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  15. I do find the statistics side a bit interesting. I am intrigued when I see how many places in the world actually hit my blog.

    As Per mentioned feedburner and being able to see how many are subscribed via that service, the same is true for Bloglines, and I am sure others, which leaves me with a question, that someone here may be able to address.

    How do RSS feeds play into statistics, or do they at all?

    Do you get a single hit from RSS or is the publishing of the RSS taking place behind the scenes, such that it doesn’t show in your statistics at all unless they follow a link in the feed? If RSS is not accounted for and as it appears more and more people are subscribing to RSS feeds via readers, one could potentially have a much larger readership than what is reflected via the statistics.

    Even if you could find out all of those subscribed, the next question would be, how many actually read them after having subscribed.

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  16. RSS feeds are not par t of your normal site statistics as RSS feeds are xml files and site statistics normally only register hits to your html files.

    That’s why a service such as FeedBurner is interesting because it measures “hits” to your RSS feed.

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  17. From the perspective of someone who (ab)uses RSS (and Atom) in the Commentator Firefox extension this is a difficult call…

    We allow the user to create a tabbed set of lists in their blogging page. (This is to make it MUCH easier to reference other URLs from within their blog entry or comment.) Each list is the result of a poll of an individual RSS / Atom feed. The point is that the user might never even glance at the tab for a particular feed. So would you call that polling a real live reader? I’d say not. However it does represent SOME sort of interest on their part.

    This is MUCH less of a problem for HTML pages, though I’d guess (through the wonders of XMLHttpRequest) this distinction is going to get REALLY blurry RSN.

    (Hopefully this comment isn’t perceived as a plug for Commentator – as non-IBMers can’t get hold of it 😦 – but rather illustrates a different usage of RSS from usual one.)

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  18. On the subject of Feedburner and wordpress.com, I played around a while ago and there is little you can do to get people to use the Feedburner links to your feed. I ended up modifying the links to my RSS and Atom feeds on my blogroll to point to Feedburner, but of course people can still subscribe via the wordpress.com feed link directly.

    So far there’s an average of 4 people subscribed via Feedburner (peak of 10) and about 12 via wordpress.com (peak of 45) I’m not sure if the Feedburner subscribers also get counted in the wordpress.com stats. Either way I don’t have many subscribers. I think I need to post more 😉

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  19. Ironically I just posted on this same subject 😉

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  20. Andy – I enjoyed the detailed analysis of your stats. Curiously, your ‘Renewing tax online’ post really illustrates the value of a good title. I had a similar shorter post without pictures on the same subject that attracts zero traffic. Nothing.

    My own mini-equivalent is a post named ‘Beware of Dixons Tax-Free Shopping’ which is ironic. This article saw increased traffic (one hit wonders) in the run-up to Christmas.

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  21. Thanks Andy. You’re right, it seems that it is important to use keywords in your post titles. Yours has a much more creative title, of course 🙂

    I just want to know what Dixons’ answer was…

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  22. Pingback: Not feeling the Google love « The lost outpost

  23. Pingback: The Spike is back « The lost outpost

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