Five years ago I asked if blogging was dying. Five years later I think it’s safe to say that blogging is mostly dead.
I speak not just of this blog, which languishes in ever more obscure corners of the web, but pretty much any blog, at least blogs that are self-hosted. When this one started in 2002, blogging was a new thing. Now it’s beyond passe.
These days the biggest readers of my website appear to be robots. Probably eighty percent of the hits I track on StatCounter come from “Singapore” via the Huawei Cloud supposedly on Android devices all with 800×600 screens and no referrer links. They come in bursts about once an hour. They “read” obscure posts from a decade or more ago that I don’t even remember writing. So there’s obviously no human behind these hits and it’s unclear to me why these fake visitors are even hitting this blog at all. Most likely they are searching for security vulnerabilities.
Twenty years ago we had longer attention spans. Blogs, particularly blogs like mine, are meant for people who want more than snippets. They want detail, context and maybe some sound analysis. Since then there’s been this revolution called social media, and we’ve nearly all succumbed to it. Its purpose is to suck us into aggregator websites where our “friends” hangout, so we never leave it. These sites like Facebook and Instagram are all about short bursts of text and photos, and generally emoji too. By keeping you in their enclave they also keep your eyes and brain away from places outside of their sites, except of course to links recommended by their algorithms, all of which are designed to give you more reasons not to leave their sites. They want to keep you comfortable and in a friendly space.
So we have this amazing World Wide Web but most of us won’t venture much beyond our social comfort sites. It’s like going from the Internet back into a walled garden like Compuserve and AOL … anyone remember them?
Blogging gave everyone (including me) a place to exchange our thoughts with the world at virtually no cost except time. When it was new, there was the thrill of the discovery of independent and thoughtful blogs. It got lots of hits back then, but the lure of social media proved too powerful.
It’s nice to know that some blogs are still highly trafficked and going, but these are well established and almost branded at this point. Many of these blogs have found homes inside of other websites. Barack Obama blogs on Medium.com, which maybe makes it a trending blogging site, if you can put up with article limits and ads (assuming you don’t want to pay to read). There is also substack.com, where the emphasis seems to be on monetizing your “extra” content behind paywalls. So it helps to have a following already before posting on Substack.
There are of course many other blogging sites, some of which have been around a long time including wordpress.com and blogger.com. Posting there has no guarantee that your content will be read. In most cases you don’t have to pay to post on these sites, although they might serve ads to your readers. In short, they are likely to make someone rich, just not you. But hey, the hosting is free!
Having my own blog allows me complete freedom of content, design and setting the rules. I don’t have to worry it will be abruptly shut down if someone doesn’t like my content, as I pay for the hosting. But unless I want to spend lots of time and money to find readers and influence influencers, it’s likely to keep languishing.
So it’s probably going to get shut down at some point, not that anyone other than me is likely to notice. I’ll probably move the whole thing to wordpress.com and let it live there in perpetuity as an archive. If I blog again, I’ll do it elsewhere under a blog aggregator and under a new alias. I probably won’t even tell my friends where it is. At least I won’t have to pay for hosting.
Blogging has scratched an itch, but its moment was an aught decade thing. So expect the blog to disappear by December 13, 2022, if it makes it that long. At that time it will turn twenty but if it makes it than long it’s pretty clear I will be celebrating its longevity all alone.
I had to check. I reached post 1000 on August 29, 2009. Today on December 20, 2018 I finally hit the latest milestone, post 2000. My expectation was that maybe I could reach post 2000 on December 12, 2018. Then if I were to take the blog down, as I hinted I might, it would be after exactly sixteen years of blogging. Seemed fitting, somehow.
Happily, traffic has picked up just enough where I find the impetus to keep going. Most of my posts go into a backwater wasteland somewhere with zero likes or reposts, but some still seem to resonate. I’m not sure how they end up resonating. Maybe someone on my email list recommends them. It used to be that I could count on Google search to boost some posts. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. In any event, it makes no sense to blog if hardly anyone is reading. So, dear readers, if you want the blog to continue, simply read it and recommend posts to your friends when you think it warrants it. If this blog goes down, it probably won’t due to my disinterest, but only because no one seems to be listening. If blogging amounts to talking to myself online, it has no point.
What’s been resonating? The home page gets the most hits, about 26% of the total page views so far this year. Those pages that broke the twenty page views in the last thirty days include one on Trump’s treason, the beginning of the decline and fall of the Trump presidency, on the nature of reality and my Mike Pence tag for some reason. It may be that Trump sucks all the oxygen out of the blogosphere. It’s hard not to comment on Donald Trump given his disastrous presidency and its oversized impact on our nation. But of course even when I think I have a unique perspective on him, there is so much other content out there on him that it’s hard for anyone’s to get noticed unless you have a lot of followers already.
And that’s part of my problem. I suck at marketing, but worse, I don’t really want to market the blog. I don’t promote it with friends and family; in fact I actively discourage them from reading it. They know it’s out there but for the most part they don’t read it. I don’t post links to my posts on Facebook. I prefer anonymity but arguably it’s kind of pointless now that I’m retired. Not all my ideas are acceptable in polite society.
The blog’s decline has been exacerbated by the demise of Craigslist’s casual encounter’s section. I could count on my monthly reviews of these bizarre posts to bring in several hundred page views per month on average. Nothing has replaced it. Nonetheless, this 2015 post on Hartford’s section still gets regular hits. Maybe it’s due to nostalgia. For myself, I don’t miss reviewing these posts. While good for my traffic, there wasn’t much new in them. After a while, even the most bizarre posts seemed perfectly normal.
I restate myself a lot, with many variations based on topics in the news. With 2000 posts, of course you are going to find that you are repeating yourself. But since hardly anyone has read most of my posts (I mean who would be following me for sixteen years?) it doesn’t matter. Trying to make sense of the present is quite hard and feels kind of futile. Not all things that happen really make any sense.
Retirement has expanded my interests. In theory it gives me more time for blogging but in practice other hobbies and interests have taken up the time instead. I don’t want to post more than once or twice a week. There are plenty of other things to keep me engaged. My IT business keeps expanding. I revel in open source projects, teaching a class here and there, and the luxury of so much time in retirement. It’s time to do things like take daily walks; bikes rides; or simply slog through my favorite websites. I keep busy, mostly happily while our national nightmare continues to unfold around us.
So thanks for reading. I hope it is worth our time.
I’m approaching post 2000. As I move close to this auspicious number, it has occurred to me that this may be a good time to stop blogging. My traffic is way down and has been way down for years now, and keeps declining. But even if it were not, it’s pretty clear to me that blogging is not much of a thing anymore, at least not blogging as I have practiced it.
Successful blogs these days are not collections of essays like this one, but for the most part contain short and punchy posts. That’s not my style. I use a popular WordPress plugin called Yoast, which helps boost your traffic by basically making your post more attractive to Google. I’m sure that if I took Yoast’s advice I probably would see more traffic, but it would also violate the spirit of my blog. This is a blog of essays and it aspires to be of interest to highly literate people capable of deep thought. Yoast though wants my posts shorter. It wants me to add more headings, pictures and links. It wants me to give short excerpts of the post for search engines. It wants me to use even simpler sentences to make it optimal for people with no more than an eighth grade education.
Ironically, the same technology that elevated my blog years ago now seems intent on killing it. Search engines like Google (the only one that really counts) continually refine their algorithms, which they don’t share. What Google is looking for is relevance, an ephemeral quality. It all amounts to: is this site worthy of promoting in its search engine to advance the company’s profits? A blog of essays does nothing to help Alpha (Google’s parent company) increase it’s shareholders’ fortunes.
Basically Google wants you to spend your life in search engine optimization (SEO) hell. You are expected to work ruthlessly to promote it at your own time and expense for the tiny chance that you will have enough “relevant” content for Google to send people your way. You are expected to master the complexity of SEO, which is basically impossible without paying a lot of money to consultants, which is increasingly making blogging a privilege of the rich. The result of this “relevance” strategy is to deprecate the very things about my blog that I want to retain. So by retaining this approach, I attract fewer readers.
The really successful blogs these days are attached to successful sites, with Huffington Post coming to mind. The author is already someone of some prominence. They are broadcasting their stuff not just in a blog, but are constantly tweeting and posting to Instagram and pore through their site’s analytics to look for ways to make their site more attractive. Yoast tells me such with every post.
Frankly, this is a game I don’t like playing, so I haven’t. So sixteen years of blogging may be enough. The Internet has moved on. Blogging is still a thing, but if Google has their way relevance means it must be of topical interest and take you into an area of specialization. With essays that mostly discuss current events, I am part of a huge pool of similar bloggers. An occasional post will get a fair number of shares or likes (it’s rare to get more than ten likes for a post) but comments are virtually nil.
My first post was on December 13, 2002. My friend Lisa who beat me to it inspired me. Her blog is still around. But she is naturally more connected and sociable than I am, in spite of us both being introverted. Also, she posts a lot less frequently. Maybe I need to do something like that.
So 2000 posts may be it, or maybe even this one (post 1987). Or maybe I should close it down on December 13, 2018, which would make it exactly sixteen years. We’ll see. If it shuts down, it will probably eventually migrate to wordpress.com where at least it will persist indefinitely, but at someone else’s expense.
It’s unlikely though that I would stop putting my stuff out there in some form. I might try podcasting or nibble at vlogging (video blogging), but both take more work than I am likely to want to engage in. If so, I will assume a new persona. Perhaps by looking fresher I will attract more readers.
Sixteen years is a good long time to ride a trend, but it’s abundantly clear to me that blogging is a trend that has been petering out for a while now, being killed slowly by our search engines. And I won’t pay the price in time and treasure to be relevant the way that Google wants me to be.
I am loathe to give up my blog’s styling. But arguably my blog’s old WordPress theme, while dark grey with white letters was “cool” (IMHO) and has suited me well for more than fifteen years, wasn’t very attractive to Google. Google reports:
Top new issues found, ordered by number of affected pages:
Clickable elements too close together
Text too small to read
Content wider than screen
Viewport not set
Shame on me I guess, as I teach CSS and HTML and most things web and should have fixed this stuff years ago. I’m just strangely apathetic about fixing these things as I like things to look just the way they (mostly) always have been.
So I have reluctantly updated my blog’s style to something more traditional and pretty simple, cutting down a lot on the clutter in the sidebars. In fact, I’ve moved from two wordy sidebars to just one. So hopefully it is more usable and Google will start ranking my site a little better. My stats have been miserable for quite a while, and this may be the result. I should care more but I just don’t.
None of this makes any difference to you, I suspect, unless you visit so often that it also seems jarring. Perhaps I will get used to this one on this blog. I already use it on another site I manage.
I couldn’t give up on the Rodin’s “The Thinker” image though, something of a signature for my site. So a little hacking of the WordPress template and a couple of CSS style changes and it at least is back and consistent.
It will take me a while to get used to it, however. And I’ll miss the old style. I just couldn’t find something dark that was both acceptable and not a huge hassle to retrofit.
It’s a brand new year but it’s already looking a lot like 2016 with a terrorist incident killing dozens in Istanbul. I won’t reprise 2016 here, but I will do my annual look at my blog’s statistics and usage in 2016 to see what people were reading. I’m keeping it succinct this year. When I moved hosting I lost my web statistics, and a lot of the statistics I used to count are less trustworthy.
Overall web traffic was down modestly compared to 2015, about 10% overall. Web traffic does not include non-browser (syndicated) traffic. The vast majority of web traffic is from people who arrive via search engine queries. Considering the blog home page is the #1 most accessed page, perhaps I get a lot of readers who prefer to read the blog the old fashioned way: by coming to it using a browser. It’s hard to know.
In 2016 there were 3.66% fewer users (16,185 users), 5.33% fewer sessions (16,993 sessions) and 9.71% fewer page views compared to 2015, according to Google Analytics. A total of 20,650 pages were served, if Google Analytics is measuring traffic correctly.
I also track web traffic with StatCounter and Quantcast. Quantcast recorded about 14,800 visits and about 14,800 global views. StatCounter counted 14,190 first time visits, 14,555 unique visits and 17,026 page views.
One of the mysteries of this business is why Google tends to see more traffic than other sources.
Unsurprisingly, plenty of readers were looking for sex, as I make scanning Craigslist’s casual encounters section a monthly feature of the blog. Without doing this I suspect my traffic would have sagged more than it did. In 2015 this post became something of a hit and shows up as #2 in this list for 2016:
JonBenet Ramsey and the tip of the iceberg (506 views)
Facebook’s appallingly bad user interface (244 views)
It’s hard to know how much syndicated traffic I am getting. I use Feedcat.net to measure traffic. I assume it is reasonably accurate. Unfortunately, I can only get a graph, and I can only see statistics for the last six months. A few days ago I had a spike of 254 unique weekly readers, but overall I averaged 30-40 unique readers a week.
In general I’m getting a lot less syndicated traffic than a year ago. It’s unclear if this is due to less interest or Feedcat changing its algorithm. They are not transparent about their methods.
I tag every post with one or more tags. A tag archive contains a collection of posts with the same tag. These were my top five most popular tags in 2016 according to Google Analytics:
Taxes (188 hits)
Craigslist (133 hits)
Tarsal tunnel (101 hits)
Rose Rosetree (99 hits)
Star Trek (95 hits)
Sociology (30 views)
Chrome (55% of traffic, up 10% from last year)
Safari (20% of traffic, down from 22% from last year) – This is probably mostly hits from iPhones and iPads
Firefox (10% of traffic, down 5% from last year)
Internet Explorer (10% of traffic, down 3% last year)
Android browser (2% of traffic)
Busiest month: January (2091 sessions)
Slowest month: November (1004 sessions)
Mobile sessions in 2016: 4767 smartphone and 918 tablet sessions
% Mobile visits of Total Visits: 28%
Quantcast used to provide demographics of my readership. This year it tells me it can’t, at least not without a premium subscription. Google Analytics though think it knows. Here are some things it says about you readers:
The highest segment of readers is ages 25-34 (24%)
Men mostly read my blog (62%)
44% of traffic comes from the United States, 25% from Germany, 7% from the Netherlands, 6% from the United Kingdom and 2% from Canada
Google Analytics tracks social usage. It counts as top referrers:
It’s not the least bit obvious to you but this blog is now coming to you from the cloud. My move to cloud computing is but my latest adventure in hosting. This blog has moved around so many times in its nearly fourteen years even I don’t remember all the places it’s been hosted at. For at least the last four years or so my sites have been hosted at Hostgator on its generally inexpensive shared hosting for about $15 a month (plus an annoying $4 a month for a dedicated IP).
Today though you are being served my fresh content from the cloud. Yes, I am using cloud computing at last, rather than a server in a server farm somewhere. Actually a server farm and a cloud-computing center look pretty much the same except the cloud-computing center is likely a lot bigger. Even I have no idea exactly where my words are coming from, but rest assured they are still sent from a machine on a rack deep in a hosting center somewhere.
All I really know is my blog comes from a gridserver.com domain, which is owned by MediaTemple. “Owned” probably does not apply here. I’m using MediaTemple’s Shared Grid, which is actually Amazon Web Services. I know this from calling their support and asking the question. While MediaTemple still has hosting centers, they have outsourced their shared hosting to AWS. MediaTemple is not alone. Oddly enough most major web hosts are outsourcing a lot of their hosting to someone who will do it faster, better and cheaper in the cloud. This is probably Amazon Web Services, but they are not alone either. Google and Microsoft are the two other major cloud providers and there are a host of smaller ones.
I’m in the cloud in part for cost but also because being in the cloud I get more value. MediaTemple’s Shared Grid service uses all solid state drives, which means there is none of the latency that exists from retrieving content off a disk drive, which requires moving disk platters around. So all things being even, response is faster on this hosting. Readers should also be “closer” to my blog: six routers in my case instead of sixteen to get through between server and browser. (Static content comes from a content delivery network I pay $9 a month for.) So now it’s like going through six stoplights to get to a destination instead of sixteen. A properly managed cloud-computing center also takes care of a lot of the hard stuff, mostly through advanced engineering. Outages are far less likely; patches are less likely to incur downtime. In general readers like you should expect faster response and fewer quirks and issues.
Where vendors like MediaTemple add value is by making using the cloud quite simple. If you were to buy an Amazon EC2 service, you would be expected to manage much of it yourself, including security and upgraded to the operating system. Amazon handles the backend stuff, but MediaTemple wrote a nice friendly wrapper with its control panel so I can use it without thinking too much. It is still technical to administer my sites at times but most stuff can be done elegantly inside its control panel.
Rehosting though is still a pain, which is why I’ve avoided the hassle and waited until my Hostgator contract was ready to expire. This is one of five domains I own. Moving each to the cloud is hardly a trivial process. It means moving masses of files around and in most cases exporting and importing a database, skills not easily acquired. I also have to edit a number of files to make the integration between programs and databases work. This all takes time, attention and a certain amount of geeky skills that I happen to have.
Since I can get this for a fair price (up to 100 domains for about $20 a month, with obvious overall resource quotas I am unlikely to exceed) my hope is this will be the last time I have to rehost. I’ve been plugging away at this for more than a day and my most challenging site still has to be moved. To move that I’ll also have to integrate a certificate first so that content can be sent securely.
In general though I am following the trends. At some point traditional hosting will be obsolete. It will all move to the cloud and probably hosted by Amazon, Google or Microsoft. You won’t know or care who’s doing the heavy lifting. Vendors like MediaTemple and HostGator will distinguish themselves by writing wrappers around cloud hosts for an optimal customer experience and by working with cloud providers so that the infrastructure can be highly tuned for their customers’ needs.
For you and me, reading my blog should be a faster, less quirky and a more reliable experience.
When I started this blog in late 2002, blogging was an up and coming thing. Fourteen years later, there is plenty of evidence that while blogging is not quite dead it is dying. I can look at my own web statistics to see the trend. While I strongly suspect my web statistics were overstated in the early years due to incorrectly counting robots and search engines, according to the most accurate gauge that I have (Google Analytics), I am getting 18% of the page views in 2015 that the blog got in 2010.
I am not helped because my blog is both very personal and largely themeless. Those blogs that succeed today tend to be rooted around a much more popular website, like a blogger posting on Huffington Post. A successful blog is often extremely specialized (narrowcasting is the term I have heard used). Over the last decade or so, web marketers have learned all sorts of tricks on how to catch eyeballs. Just ask Facebook, Gawker (RIP), Twitter and Tumblr, to name a few. Mobile devices with smaller sized screens just further the trend. People want content in small and succinct bites, which bodes ill for long form blogs like mine.
My monthly foray into the Craigslist Casual Encounters section was due largely to people continually coming to my site for these postings. Making a monthly review of local postings is not so much for my own amusement as it is for yours. My hope is that having satisfied your prurient interest, you might stick around and read my other stuff too. It works somewhat and may explain that while my statistics like most blog sites are declining, I suspect I am doing better than most. You know things are bad when bloggers like Andrew Sullivan give up their blog.
I don’t feel particularly inclined to throw in the towel. This blog has been more about keeping me engaged mentally than anything else. Not that I haven’t considered giving it up. I did once drop out for a couple of weeks after Google mysteriously delisted me. Blogging may not bring in the traffic it used to, but as part of a site it’s definitely useful. If you run a small business on the web, one of the best ways to increase traffic (after convincing other sites to list your site) is to maintain a blog and regularly post relevant content on it. This helps establish that you are serious about your site by demonstrating that are willing to spend time to keep it fresh and topical, as well as offer nuggets useful to the public at large. In my case, this blog is the website. It serves no higher purpose and has not proven a way to make me independently rich.
I have noticed that web traffic is just one piece of my total traffic. A lot of people read me through the site’s feed. This week Feedcat (my blog aggregator) tells me I have 295 readers. If these readers are regular readers, that’s a whole lot more valuable to me than webpage hits. How many singers would be happy if the same 295 people came to hear them sing once a week? So while I don’t fill stadiums, I do fill a small virtual auditorium with generally the same people. I don’t know how much of my post they read, or if they read it at all. Judging from the dearth of comments I receive, most of them probably scan my content or are looking for that one special post, like the monthly Craigslist casual encounters post.
The general trend though is clear. Blogging is not dead, but it is less interesting to people on the web and it is becoming more specialized. Right now it works best as a narrowcast channel for mostly textual content. If your content is video, you are probably better off with a YouTube channel instead. It’s also quite useful for small communities where there are handfuls of content creators. The popular blogging software WordPress serves 26 percent of the content on the web, more than any other software solution. Most of that content is coming from hosted web servers. The beauty of WordPress is that it is both elegant blogging software and an elegant content management system. Obviously I like it as I have been using WordPress for at least eight years. Most likely WordPress is being used for your church’s website, but also to post the minister’s blog on it too. Small businesses find WordPress a no-brainer as well as the entry fee is small (just hosting) but the features available in WordPress and its thousands of plugins make pretty much anything possible and not too hard to do.
So perhaps it’s better to say that blogging is changing. It’s becoming a feature of a site rather than its reason for being. Blogging is probably not a way to riches, unless it is of the non-monetary kind. It does make it simple to get your content on the web and simple for you to control it. It allows you to personalize the content and make it easily available on lots of devices and media. It offers you a level of control that can’t be matched with a Facebook page, or a Tumblr or Twitter account. A blog is not easy to market. It depends mostly on friends or colleagues promoting it for you.
Blogging is still useful but it’s not a way to get lots of page views, at least not without a lot of really popular and unique content. Keep your expectations modest if you are going to blog; make the blog at least interesting to you so you will want to keep at it. This has to be enough or there’s no point in starting.
I only analyze my blog’s statistics annually, usually on January 1 for the previous year. The more I study web statistics however, the more I realize that they can lead you astray. For example, about 50% of my web hits come from referrals from search engines. This explains why my most popular web content is old, in some cases a decade or older. Just 7% of my web traffic was from a known referral (such as another website) and 4% came via social media links.
The blog’s home page is still the most hit web page, but it’s just 8% of all web page requests. This means that from the perspective of those using a browser this blog is more of an archive of potentially interesting disparate topics than someplace to go to get some insight into current issues. Increasingly those interested in current content on my blog are getting it indirectly through feeds. My stuff pops up in whatever technology they are using, perhaps a Tumblr account or in their Feedly instance. I can’t blame them. This is exactly what I do too since it is much more efficient.
So my web hits are a lot less important than they used to be and don’t measure all my traffic, which partially explains my declining web hits over the years. In 2007 when feeds were relatively unused, I started reporting web hits to Google Analytics. Mostly since then my web hits have dropped, some years precipitously, but at least some of that traffic moved toward feeds instead.
In any event, I intuitively trust Google to provide reliable web statistics. Here are my annual web statistics courtesy of Google Analytics, which shows a 9% drop in sessions in 2015 compared with 2014 and a 12% drop in page views. For 2015 there were 17,950 sessions, 16,800 users and 22,871 page views. That’s on average 49 sessions a day and about 63 page requests a day. Presumably it is all human traffic. Overall though, web traffic has been pretty flat the last three years.
Next is a chart of my daily web hits over the year, as measured by Google Analytics. I noted a major spike beginning in November that has continued into December but seems to be receding. I don’t know why as no new post registered lots of hits. But I know most of these new hits are coming from Germany. Can someone from Germany leave a comment if you know what’s going on?
I also track hits with StatCounter and Quantcast. Quantcast recorded about 16,300 visits (which is roughly equivalent to Google Analytics sessions) and about 24,000 page views. Note: statistics for December 31, 2015 are not available yet.
StatCounter counted 14,523 unique visits, 14,041 first time visits and 18,374 page views, so it’s recording a fraction of what Google and Quantcast noted. I think this is mostly due to pings getting lost or blocked on their way to their servers.
While my web hits sagged compared to previous years, I’m at least doing well with feed (syndication) hits. A year ago I had 198 readers. Today I have 643 readers. A few weeks ago I hit 2096 readers. Feedcat, my feed broadcaster, won’t give me raw numbers but it will give me a traffic graph for the last six months:
Feeds show interest in current content by measuring how many times a single client polls the feed. So these numbers are good news as it suggests that over the course of the year I tripled interest in my current content. It also shows a surge in readers starting in November, with 43% from Germany, with lots of daily spikes up and down since then. This is not unexpected, as I don’t normally post every day. Thanks again to all the Germans and others who are reading my blog. I do appreciate it.
Now I’ll delve into what people were reading in 2015. Feed hits are for current posts and tend to represent a bundle of posts (usually the most current ten posts) displayed at once. I can only count web hits here so presumably a lot of people were reading my current posts. I get few comments, probably because commenting through a feed is a hassle. (Note: this should now be much easier as I have addressed the spam comments issue with a Cleantalk subscription. So go ahead and click and comment; you should not have to go through a CAPTCHA.) From my web hits though I can see what’s hot and what’s not for those in browser-land.
Most viewed posts
If you wonder why I feature a monthly review of local Craigslist casual encounters post, you can see evidence here. Three of my top ten posts are Craigslist related. People read this stuff, albeit irregularly and mostly through web searches where a post matches some particular search term. My Google Analytics dashboard shows at least 2284 Craigslist pages viewed, and there’s much more from feed readers. I’m not sure if it’s because the web surfers are kinky, super horny or like me just find some humor in the bizarre stuff found on Craigslist. It’s for the latter reason that I also read the People of Walmart site daily.
Site home page (1779 views, #1 last year too)
Eulogy for my mother in law (1282 views, #2 last year too)
The Illusion of Time (761 views, #7 last year)
Craigslist casual encounters: now a crazily dangerous and illegal waste of time (663 views, #3 last year)
The Root of Human Conflict: Emotion vs. Reason (380 views, #4 last year)
Craigslist casual encounters: now officially a complete waste of time (366 views, #5 last year)
If Aubrey fought Hornblower, who would win? (334 views)
Looking at browser usage is interesting to me and these usually follow web trends in general. Chrome is now dominant and IE, formerly the 800-pound gorilla, is fading quickly as Microsoft has largely give up this game and is promoting its new Edge browser instead. It’s curious that my Firefox traffic actually increased, bucking the general trend.
Chrome (45% of traffic, up from 31% last year)
Safari (22% of traffic, down from 23% last year) – This is probably mostly hits from iPhones and iPads
Firefox (15% of traffic, up from 11% last year)
Internet Explorer (13% of traffic, down from 23% last year)
Android browser (2% of traffic)
Busiest month: December (3443 sessions)
Slowest month: August (969 sessions)
Mobile sessions in 2015: 3580 smartphone and 1761 tablet sessions
% Mobile visits of Total Visits: 30% (unchanged from last year)
Quantcast used to provide demographics of my readership. This year it tells me it can’t. Google Analytics though think it knows. Here are some things it says about you readers:
The highest segment of readers is ages 25-34 (23%), but these statistics are incomplete due to highly sporadic sampling
Men mostly read my blog (62%)
53% of traffic comes from the United States, 24% from Germany, 4% from the United Kingdom and 3% from Canada
Why people bother to read my blog is a mystery Google will probably never understand, as it tends to be theme-less. A general survey would help but I have no way to get a representative sample. For those who subscribe to the blog, I suspect its appeal is that its scope is wide, which makes it relatively unique. The web excels at narrowcasting and my blog has more of a broadcast flavor.
According to AddThis, which adds a tracking anchor to the end of URLs if you hit the site with a browser, there were 161 shares in 2015, with 134 sharing by copying the address bar in the browser, 6 Facebook likes, 8 Twitter tweets, 3 on Pinterest and 10 other shares. This is miniscule and nothing to brag about. It also says there were 5,508 visits, but I’m not sure what that means. The top content shared:
Facebook’s appallingly bad user interface (36 visits)
Craigslist tag (35 visits)
The root of human conflict: emotion vs. reason (32 visits)
Google Analytics tracks social media differently. It looks at the referrer (referring web site) and if it’s a social media site, it counts it. It counts as top referrers:
StumbleUpon (608 sessions). These appear to be almost entirely for my “The Illusion of Time” post.
Pinterest (78 sessions)
Twitter (44 sessions)
Facebook (34 sessions)
Tumbler (22 sessions)
Raw web log statistics
Finally, there are my raw web log statistics. Most of these hits are various search engines, not actual human beings, which means there are a whole lot of search robots regularly indexing the blog for a relatively tiny amount of human traffic. Here is my AWStats summary for 2015:
While I do a lot of blogging, I suck at marketing my blog. Oh, I do look at who’s viewing my blog and check my statistics daily, and often more than once a day. Google Analytics provides a wealth of data on my web hits, and StatCounter is useful to see what was recently read. Aside from dressing up my blog’s sidebars with marketing stuff and making sure my content is easily accessible as a newsfeed, I can’t seem to be bothered to do much else.
Part of the problem is that my blog serves principally to keep me amused and to stave off boredom. If readers find an occasional post worthy of a Facebook Like or a Share, that’s nice, but I don’t lose sleep when they don’t. You would think that as a software engineer and someone who spent ten years directing the management of the largest web site in the U.S. Department of the Interior, I might find this web marketing business pretty easy. But one thing I learned early on is if you have great content, the marketing kind of takes care of itself.
In that job I simply worked to make the content more readily accessible and to make sure that the data was easily consumed. I spent much of my ten years there leading an effort to make the site’s data accessible as a set of web services. In this sense I do know marketing. When I left these new web services constituted the third most accessed site for my agency, in spite of not having existed just a few years earlier.
On this blog though my traffic is pretty anemic, particularly during the summer. There are things I could do to get more hits: shorter posts, more topical posts, turn it into more of a stream of consciousness blog and link ruthlessly to posts in other blogs, which seems to be the way blog aggregators like Tumblr work. Doing this though would ruin blogging for me. It might be successful, but I wouldn’t care. I’d be bored with my own blog.
During one of the recent Net Neutrality debates I mentioned that the Internet was already not net neutral. If you can afford little, you may (shudder) use an Earthlink dial-up account and watch web pages slowly draw themselves like they did in 1995. If you can afford $100 a month or more for Internet, or live in a place like Kansas City where you can get Google Fiber, you can cruise the Internet at 100MB per second or more. Some people have 1GB/sec connections.
If you have your own web site you also have some factors that limit the speed of your website. That’s the case with this blog. I host the site on hostgator.com, which is a really good shared web host. What’s not optimal about Hostgator is that while it can reliably serve most content at $5 or so a month, getting the data between its servers and your computer can be like going through every traffic light in town to get home from work as opposed to taking the expressway. It typically took eight or more “hops” to get my blog posts to my computer. A “hop” in this case means a router, which is effectively a traffic light as it routes parts of web pages from one place to another. According to Google Analytics that it took about ten seconds to load one of my web pages. Most of that was due to all those routers that had to be traversed.
So it finally dawned on me that this was probably a significant reason my traffic is declining. Google is looking at the hassle factor at getting content from my site, and is probably lowering my search rankings because of it. Aware of the problem for several years I have used CloudFlare to try to speed up the serving of my content. CloudFlare is a content delivery network or CDN. It specializes in reducing the number of traffic lights and making sure that my content goes through crazily fast connections, usually one physically close to where you are. Hostgator (and a lot of web hosts) offer CloudFlare for free to its customers. CloudFlare like every CDN sells a more expansive service for those with deeper pockets.
I had outsourced my CDN to CloudFlare, but I never really went back to look to see if it was doing a good job. There are probably things I could do to cache more of my content on CloudFlare’s servers (probably for money) but mostly I stuck with its defaults and ignored it. However, when I looked at Google Analytics, my average page load time was still stuck at around ten seconds.
Ten seconds is a long time to wait for content these days. So I figured I was probably losing a lot of readers because they lose patience and go elsewhere, particularly mobile users. We want every web page to load like a Google web page: fully dress itself for our eyes in a couple of seconds or less.
But not my blog. It was like a horse-drawn milk wagon compared with a racing car. Actually, this describes a lot of sites on the web, particularly Mom and Pop affairs where the owners know little or nothing about web architecture.
I decided to put on my software engineering hat, and started researching CDNs some more. There’s a lot of competition in the market, mostly aimed at well moneyed corporations. I’m just a little blog, however. And this blog runs on WordPress. What options do I have for a swift CDN that won’t cost me an arm and a leg? CloudFlare was free but it clearly wasn’t doing the job.
After some research I settled on MaxCND.com. For about $9 a month it will serve my pages quick. Of course if traffic increases a whole lot it could get a lot more expensive. But if I am content to use principally their servers in Europe and the USA (which is most of my readers) and I expect a terabyte or less of bandwidth a month then $9 a month should be fine. I can afford that. My pages seem to load in about 3 seconds now. A lot of the sidebar stuff comes from elsewhere, so that slows things down a bit. But the main content, if it is cached, takes about a second to load. That’s pretty impressive for $9 a month. And this fast speed might draw in new readers.
So far it’s looking good. Today’s traffic is roughly double what it was two days ago. Over time Google may take notice and rank my posts higher in their search engine. Here’s hoping.
Does your blog or website need a CDN too? It can’t hurt if you can afford it, and it can’t hurt to do your research and see which CDN is best optimized for your kind of content. MaxCDN has a plug in that works with WordPress to facilitate sharing. It was a little tedious to get it configured but the instructions were clear enough. Some of it is kind of wonky (how many people know what minifying is anyhow?) but the more technical you are the more you can fine tune things.
Please note you don’t need a CDN if you are using a blogging platform like Tumblr, BlogSpot or WordPress.com. They are already effectively CDN platforms as well as blogging sites. But if you host your own site and you want to increase traffic, integrating your site with the right CDN may be the most cost effective way to go.
I’ll be watching my metrics and perhaps reporting success or failure in the months ahead. So far the signs look good.
Before I begin blogging in earnest for 2015, a look at this blog’s statistics for 2014. My web browser traffic has been on the downturn for years, but at least in 2014 that problem has been arrested, although modestly, with a 7% increase in visitors compared with 2013. According to Google Analytics:
Overall 2014 Web Usage Statistics
Total Sessions: 19,727 (54 per day), up 7% compared with 2013
Total Page Views: 26,104 (71.5 pages per day), up 5.2% compared with 2013
Percent of New Visits: 88.9% (85.4% in 2013)
Most Viewed Posts
Site home page: 2,260 page views, up 25% compared with 2013
Eulogy for my mother in law: 1,622 page views, up 66% compared with 2013
Craigslist casual encounters: now a crazily dangerous and illegal waste of time: 941 page views, up 47% compared with 2013
The root of human conflict: emotion vs. reason: 733 page views, down 2.8% compared with 2013
Craigslist casual encounters: now officially a complete waste of time: 522 page views, down 77% compared with 2013
Eulogy for my mother: 522 page views, down 44% compared with 2013
The illusion of time: 454 page views, down 62% compare with 2013
If Aubrey fought Hornblower, who would win? 313 page views, up 30% compared with 2013
Facebook’s appallingly bad user interface: 312 page views, down 8% compared with 2013
Review: What the bleep do we know? 251 page views (this was not in the top ten list last year)
It’s curious how few items on the Top Ten list change from year to year. My most popular content remains quite dated. Certain Craigslist posts though continue to score impressively, which perhaps justifies my monthly forays into my local Craigslist casual encounters section.
Tags are a way to organize content that are more discrete than the larger lumping of a category. Top tags in 2014:
Craigslist (356 page views)
Taxes (187 page views)
Tarsal tunnel (130 page views)
Mr. Spock (125 page views)
Ideal Protein (107 page views)
Sociology (54 page views)
Chrome (30.89%, 6,093 page views)
Safari (23.07%, 4,551 page views)
Internet Explorer (22.84%, 4,506 page views)
Firefox (11.12%, 2,193 page views)
Mozilla Compatible Agent (4.27%, 842 page views)
Safari is principally from iPhone browsers and indicates mostly mobile traffic.
Busiest month: January (3,001 page views)
Slowest month: December (1,622 page views)
Mobile sessions in 2014: 3,759 smartphone and 2,173 tablet sessions
% Mobile Visits of Total Visits: 30% (up from 26.3% in 2013)
In the middle of the year I gave up FeedBurner as my syndicator, since it was clear that Google was not maintaining it. I switched to feedcat.net and it routinely shows me with more than 200 subscribers. It says I currently have 198 subscribers, which are the same as unique week readers. If this describes you, thanks for reading! More is good and it indicates a trend I’ve seen for a few years now where content is being read indirectly through aggregators and newsfeeds instead of through browser views. This explains, in some part, the drop in direct web hits over the last few years but makes it impossible to know what you are reading, although presumably it is current content.
According to AddThis, which adds a tracking anchor to the end of URLs if you hit the site with a browser, there were 187 shares in 2014, with 147 via copying an address bar, 14 on Facebook and 11 on Twitter.
Google Analytics tracks social media differently. It looks at the referrer (referring web site) and if it’s a social media site, it counts it. It counts as top referrers:
StumbleUpon (372 sessions)
Facebook (164 sessions)
Twitter (12 sessions)
Pinterest (11 sessions)
Blogger (5 sessions)
Quantcast.com has a number of statistics about my readers. You are disproportionately male (68% of total), ages 45-54 (23% of total), childless and make more than $100,000 a year. I attract an overly disproportionate amount of readers with graduate degrees as well as Asians and Whites. I also tend to attract Democrats and politically active people.
Raw web log statistics
Finally, there are my raw web log statistics, which suggest the blog is overrun with visitors. Most of these are various search engines, not actual human beings, which means there are a whole lot of search robots regularly indexing the blog for a relatively tiny amount of human traffic. My web hosts provide a number of web log statistics analysis tools. I’ll use AWStats. For 2014 there were: