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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Science Behind the Blog

I crossed 350 posts sometime in the last week or so. Yay posts! I also just crossed the one year mark with my Google Analytics data. With those milestones behind me I decided to take a hard look at the blog and content. Specifically I wanted to see what people are reading and what they're ignoring. If you're not familiar with Google Analytics, it's a site monitoring tool that provides tons of statistics and numbers or any site you set up for monitoring. If you're involved in web publication it's definitely a valuable research tool. I've had it running here for just over a year, and I'm going to be looking at the data for that period.

So what are people reading? By far the most popular article was Deadly Maladies, a post that someone stumbled. That generated over 1000 hits in two days, so I view that as something of an anomaly. The next most popular articles were a post noting the availability of Diaspora, an article on critical and fumble charts, my TiddlyWiki tutorial (part one), and an old dungeon map I scanned a while back.

Notice anything there? Not one of those posts actually fits the stated purpose of the blog. Hmm. I might treat it as a fluke if the trend didn't continue, but the next 20 articles are about the same. Pretty much every fluff, advice, or opinion piece I've written has received more views than the regularly featured items, creatures and encounters posts. Even the lame filler post with the scanned image of my original Armory dice crayons made the top 25% of posts. Apparently I should stick to opinion pieces and posting scans of the ancient maps in my files. Heck I bet this article hits the top ten within a few days.

Looking at it from the other end, let's take a look at some of the worse performing articles. Now some of these were written before I started running Analytics, so the results are certainly skewed. Some also predate my joining the RPG Bloggers Network, which pushed up readership significantly. Nevertheless, the bottom performing articles are all items, encounters, creatures or treasures. Removing all the archive and keyword links the bottom five articles are:
Now in fairness, all of those articles (and most of the rest of the bottom 20) were all posted before I started running Analytics, so they weren't being tracked when they were fresh. But looking further up the list, the trend continues. Even search links like Moria or encounter end up garnering more hits than the average article.

It's a bit depressing.

The next thing to look at is where people are coming from. I expected to see most hits coming from RPG Bloggers, but surprisingly they ranked 5th in the list. The number one source was Feedburner, which implies a lot of people subscribe in an RSS reader, something supported by the 100+ subscribers Feedburner says it has. Direct links and Google searches come up next, indicating people using bookmarks or hitting links seen elsewhere. In 4th place, hats off to Jeffs Gameblog for sending me a big chunk of hits, beating out RPG Bloggers by a narrow margin (Thanks Jeff!)

The next couple entries are Google, Blogger itself, and Stumbleupon (that stumble I mentioned earlier). Sword+1 gets honorable mention for making the top 10 sources, one of only two blogs in that group. The 10th entry is the forums at rpg.net, which I'm sure is mostly people hitting the link in my signature.

Geographically the mix isn't that surprising. The USA is the biggest source of readers, with 10 times the hits as the next biggest source, Canada. The UK, Brazil, and Germany round out the top five. In the USA I've managed to garner at least one hit in every state, with California, Virginia and Texas having the highest numbers (discounting the many hits from me in Indiana).

So what's all this mean? Well, I'm not sure yet. It's clear from the numbers that most people really aren't interested in one-off ideas for campaign material. The dismal performance of that category of articles relative to opinion, advice or fluff pieces is significant. Maybe I could raise interest by using a specific system (D&D 4e I'm looking at you!), but I'm not sure that's a tack I'd like to take. Maybe I just need to alter my focus and broaden my writing to include the more appealing fluff, advice and opinion articles on a regular basis. Maybe I need to go bigger and start developing a larger product to frame some of the stuff I've already written here. Maybe I should reboot with a new format. Maybe people just think my writing sucks.

There's definitely some thinking ahead for me. I'm certainly not in this solely for the hit counter, if that were the case I'd have been gone a while ago, but the feeling of talking to an empty room definitely wears on me. That said, I'd like to take a moment to say two things. First THANKS to those of you that read and comment here. It really brightens my day when I see a comment pop up in my RSS reader. Second, no matter what, this content won't vanish. Even if I decide to reboot, this blog will remain available until Blogger decides to wipe it. Rest easy, my awesome chili recipe will be online forever!
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