The case of the disappearing web traffic

In general, the traffic on my blog has had a generally upwards trend since I started keeping track of such things in October 2008. There are a few ups and downs, and a couple of specific spikes which I was able to explain.

However, starting in December 2010 there was a huge dip in traffic, after which it has gone continually down. Last month I had less traffic than I have ever had since January 2009, when I started blogging every day. This month will be lower yet.

Anecdotally, despite the statistics, it seemed like roughly the same number of people were reading. I had about the same numbers of comments, and the same number of people sighing and saying “I read it on your blog!” when I launch into a story.

I should specify that I don’t do this for the traffic, per say. But as a blogger, you can’t help but look at the statistics and say, “What did I do to drive them away? What am I doing wrong?”

Sara has been listening to me complain about this for months, but then she finally gave me the clue that I needed to figure it out:

“Are you getting as many random searches as you used to get?”

As a matter of fact, I had noticed that I had not. I usually keep a running list of funny searches people used to get to my blog, and I hadn’t had anything to add to that in months. But I had never connected that to the decrease in traffic before.

Once I figured that out, I connected the dots and realized that I had moved to shanehalbach.com in mid-November 2010, right before the big traffic drop in December. I don’t know how that never occurred to me before, but it made perfect sense: my web-rank went down.

Not to be too technical, but search engines have sophisticated algorithms to decide which search results are most likely what their searches are looking for. Websites that have a high “web-rank” are returned at the top of search results. Spam websites, or new websites with no authority or popularity are ranked lower, since it is less likely that someone searching for something is actually looking for them. So in a sense, the rich truly get richer; the more traffic you get and the more people link to your website, the higher you return in the search results, so the more likely random people are to find your website.

By moving to a new domain, I was basically starting over again at 0.

Anybody who had previously linked to my site was now linked to my old site. And because wordpress.com is a well known, well reputed site who tries to keep out spammers, etc. I was previously benefiting from being associated with them (this was part of my confusion, since I’m still technically a part of wordpress.com, but apparently the search engines don’t see it that way). I also lost other traffic that was previously driven to me from inside of the wordpress network. From what I’ve seen online, this is all supposed to come back in a month or two after moving your site thanks to special web redirects that wordpress puts in place, but that obviously didn’t work for me. And I never would have guessed that so much of my traffic was due to my wordpress.com URL.

So the question is, knowing what I know now, was the move worth it?

I still think so. While I’m disappointed with less traffic, I’m not nearly as disappointed as I was when I thought that people were just getting disgusted with my blog and stopped reading it. I can’t really feel too bad that people searching for “clocks” don’t land my blog anymore. And obviously I don’t just do it for the traffic, since I would be (and was) blogging anyway, even if nobody is reading.

So if switching is going to take you down to 0, you might as well do it sooner, rather than later. This site is probably not destined to achieve much web rank anyway, since it is pretty random and not devoted to any single topic. In other words, it is relatively unlikely that someone who doesn’t know me would be interested in reading it.

So that’s it. Thanks for not abandoning me, even if I thought you had!

The Fracus

On Friday I wrote a post about the Olympics and Chicago. It went live at 10:49 a.m., as soon as I heard the announcement. I had actually written the post the night before, and I was so sure Chicago was going to be awarded, that I wrote the whole thing as, “Yay, we did it!” So I had to totally re-do the post that morning.

At 11:54 I was notified that my post was promoted to the top story on wordpress.com, where it stayed for the rest of the day as the only Olympic related post. I was pretty excited about this. Too bad I had just completed my important moments in blogging timeline post! As expected, the post proceeded to blow up, dwarfing all of my previous high traffic numbers. I had over 1,500 hits on my blog that day (my previous high was like 150) and around 22 comments on the post, many of them from Brazil (and some not in English!) It remained on the front page Saturday and Sunday, netting me another 28 comments and 1,400 hits and 20 comments and 1,300 hits respectively. So, in three days, my blog had over 4,303 people visit, and that post received 70 comments.

I’m not going to lie, it was a lot of fun. I couldn’t stop compulsively checking it all weekend. I would go away for a few minutes and when I came back, there would be more comments. I was trying to approve the comments as fast as possible to keep the discussion going. It’s kind of funny because I didn’t really put any more time and effort into that post than any of my other posts. So it is kind of interesting to read all of the comments and really analyze that post in detail. I’m guessing my post was picked because it is somewhat informative, with a hometown view, without being critical or nasty. I wonder how much thought they put into picking posts for the front page. It’s probably totally random. 🙂

Anyway, in order to capitalize on the traffic, I put posts up for Saturday and Sunday as well. Many people who stopped did go and check out the next post back, to see if there was anything interesting. What post was it? The Toot Hole. <sarcasm>Lovely. I couldn’t have picked a better one if I tried, that’s exactly the post I would want the world to read. </sarcasm>

As of today the post is still on the front page, though it’s not the top post anymore, moving down 7 spots. I don’t know how often they change it, but it seems like it might be up there for a couple of more days. As much fun as it was to constantly see the stats going up, I don’t exactly feel like personally accomplished. After all, it was more of a “right place at the right time” kind of thing than a “my blog is awesome and deserved it” kind of thing. Still, I guess you make your own luck to some degree, and if you put enough stuff out there, something’s bound to catch on.

So, if you were wondering what was going on here over the weekend, now you know. And knowing is half the battle. The other half is getting your lazy keister off the couch. If only G.I. Joe would have had 10 more seconds each week to explain the second half of the battle, they could have changed the outlook of an entire generation.