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The HN Heartbeat

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Tired of coding today, so I thought I'd look over some server stats and make some observations based on the data. Perhaps my thinking aloud can help other bloggers.

server statistics graph for last 90 days

Average traffic is passing through 80K visits per month. This puts the blog in sort of a transitional space -- not really anything to be tremendously interested about, but a little more than just a hobby.

HN Traffic is a big part of that growth. This makes sense, as HN is really the only place I post my articles. Been doing it like that for years. That's not as a promotional tool -- I just like hearing what my fellow HN'ers feel about what I'm writing.

Traffic is very spikey. That's because the HNers have sort of become a huge herd of elephants, running from site to site The vast overwhelming majority don't like or dislike my site per se, they're just along for the ride. It's also because I only publish 5-7 articles a month. Most of them aren't that good, and what's there to read in the intervening days? I've also noticed with my other sites that internet traffic in general is much more spikey than you would think, although there are long-term trends.

The danger here -- as it has always been with blogging -- is that I start writing articles as a way to keep the heartbeat going. I love writing. I love putting my thoughts down on paper (or in a blog). And I can't describe the feeling to you of writing what you know is a good article and then watching something like forty-thousand people come by to read it. It's freaking incredible. But the minute I start thinking in terms of "what can I write for the HNers so a lot will come visit today?" is the minute I start writing crap. Must remember.

As an observation, as the HN traffic firehose grows ever larger, the temptation is there for a lot of people to become "HN hangers-on" -- people who provide marginally useful apps and services just for the HN audience. HN is like its own city by now -- very strange. While I played around with this idea a bit in my site hn-books.com, really the idea for that site was to see if I could put together a multi-page targeted site with lots of functionality without a backend server. The HN gang were just my guinea pigs. (Plus I love books and respect their opinion). If it's difficult for me to separate writing for myself and writing to suck up to the HNers, I imagine it's going to be impossible for a lot of people. Expect to see a LOT more HN-stuff sites and services being pumped over on HN. They mean well. But it'll get noisy. I guess nothing lasts forever, right? Sigh. Much better that than the endless supply of nerd-drama that seems to fill the front page.

So what are people reading?

pages viewed in the last 90 days

Spikey traffic is probably not as important as it appears. Ah, here's the biggest slice of humble pie: remember that "agile ruined my life" article I wrote? Folks loved that. It got 78,000 views. But coming up right behind it, with almost 60 thousand views, is an article that I wrote 18 months ago that has nothing to do with technology, management, or humor. It was just an article I wrote on a lark, to see how the internet would respond. Well, respond it did, and every month I get thousands of people coming by to look at the article about she-who-must-not-be-named-again-on-this-blog. Coming in at #7 on the list is an article I wrote three and an half years ago. Yes, spikey traffic drives the numbers and averages up, but there's a huge component of evergreen content in blogging. If I stopped writing tomorrow, I'd still be generating tens of thousands of visits, and probably would continue doing so for a long time. Traffic might even increase over time.

Throw-away articles lead to throw-away traffic. Over the years I've written many kind of fun articles, like "nerdy girls in cute t-shirts" or "important online research" I don't regret writing these articles -- I write whatever I feel like -- but I notice that quickie articles generate quickie traffic. People don't stay around to read much. Whereas articles with a lot of heft drive folks to stay for a while. Six thousand people stayed an average of more than 8 minutes reading my "putting the fun in functional programming". I don't know a lot, but that seems like an incredible number. Most articles tank, yes, but in general the more thought I put into writing something the more in-depth value people get out of it.

People are searching my blog for web design tips. This seems like going to a bar to ask for alcohol abstention advice, but there it is, on line 17. From 10 to 20 folks a day are searching the blog for web design advice. Wish I had some to give!

Why are people visiting, anyway?

traffic sources for past 90 days

Most folks come directly here. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, even though HN gives me a big bump on the days I write something worthwhile, most of the people visiting get here because they know the site and check it out from time-to-time (probably on an RSS feed). These folks are probably going to hang around longer.

A close second is HN, and beyond that we really are getting into Google territory.

Images count a heckuva lot more for organic search than you think. People are visiting my site from search engines because, well, I like graphics and I like putting in fun images from time to time. A full 37% of my search-engine traffic visitors are visiting -- and you'll like this -- because I put pictures of a teenage track star up in an article about what's fair game on the internet. Yes, at the time I knew it might be "junk" blogging, but I was genuinely interested in what the effects would be. Well, year and a half later, thousands of pimply teenagers a month are still flocking to my blog to see the derrière of a mmse stocke (purposely misspelled) Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. Following her up is "bikini", "Walt Disney", and "Pluto" (which should still be a planet. Long live Pluto!)

I really enjoy blogging, and I love numbers, but looking at stats is always a dangerous thing. I remember when I first got my blogging account; I would watch each and every visitor as they showed up. Wonder why they came? What interests them? Wonder if I put the graphic on the left if it would be better?

This type of thinking is perfectly fine for a business, but in a freeform medium it's very easy to get the cart ahead of the horse. Blogging as an engineer has a way of sucking you up into the numbers instead of focusing on the reason for blogging. Yes, when I write thoughtful articles people spend more time here, and yes, when the folks over on HN like it there's a huge spike, but none of that is a reason to change what I do. That was a difficult lesson to learn, but I'm glad I learned it.


That's a very intriguing thing to see, I've just started up the blog for my HN November project and was wondering what the HN effect would be like.

If I may ask, how much of your traffic to this blog goes on to your hn-books site?


Thanks for the link to your blog. I usually zap all links (best way to avoid link-spam) but I'll leave yours up since its very much on-topic for this discussion.

Short answer? Not a lot.

Perhaps you are in the same boat as I was in. When I started blogging, I wanted to use the blog as a marketing tool. So I did a lot of news aggregation and commenting, and generally wrote any kind of stuff that I thought people might like. My goal was traffic and conversions -- referrals to my consulting business. Blogging was just a different form of meeting people and selling to them.

I could have probably driven up traffic in this manner -- but I don't think I would have enjoyed it. After a while, I realized I really like just writing for me. You guys are welcome to come hang out if you like, and I love your opinions and participation, but the blog is for me to sort through whatever is in my head at the moment.

So the marketing idea never really took off. But what I did find out was that time and persistence beats almost everything else when it comes to blogging. So if you're looking to throw up a site and then hustle your way to profitability for an associated company (not saying you are, but you did ask the question about referral traffic) then I don't think it's going to work very well. But I could be wrong. All I know is that in my case time and stubbornness has beaten out cleverness and market-engineering.

Thanks for the comment!

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This page contains a single entry by DanielBMarkham published on November 13, 2010 7:50 AM.

To code quickly, you must quit coding was the previous entry in this blog.

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  • DanielBMarkham: Steve, Thanks for the link to your blog. I usually read more
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Information you might find handy
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Recently I created a list of books that hackers recommend to each other -- what are the books super hackers use to help guide them form their own startups and make millions? hn-books might be a site you'd like to check out.
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