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Serving it Up

Serving it Up

February 4th, 2008  · stk

This is as close as it gets to an "About Randsco" page. Readership sits at 85,000 unique visitors a month (Jan 2008). Reasons why, what's popular, monetization, Interent penetration & the future of Randsco are all discussed.

Randsco: 86,500 Unique Visitors During January

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On Growth: Nearly 15% of all the visits Randsco has ever had, came last month.

-Awstats     

"Randsco" was born early in 2005. It was a blogging experiment that came about after acquiring a domain name and moving to a shared hosting company. Before that, we had maintained our websites at GeoCities, a free online host. In autumn of 2004, GeoCities changed their advertising and because the new method impacted the visitor experience, we made the leap to an inexpensive ($5/month), shared host.

Randsco started as a means of documenting our lives (primarily for ourselves, but also for family and friends). Additionally, it allowed us to share our love of backpacking, cycling & adventuring with like-minded people.

Wow, have things changed. We still document our lives, keep friends and relatives up-to-date and share our adventures, but Randsco now serves up much more:

Because Randsco has been (sorta) monetized, we've recently moved to a $50/month VPS host. Hopefully this will result in a superior visitor experience (stability & page load speed).

Readership growth is due to a number of factors: worldwide Internet penetration, benefits of a blog tool, increase in SPAM and (last but not least) valued content. To find out a bit more about monetization, what articles are the most popular, worldwide Internet penetration & the future of Randsco .... read on.

Explosive Growth: Real People, Bots or Butts?

Statistics are a funny thing. The same statistic, said two different ways, leads to two completely different conclusions. The bottom line is that they need to be taken with a grain of salt.

One thing is clear, looking at the month-over-month AWSTATS "unique visitors" numbers for Randsco ... there is growth. The question isn't, "Is there real growth", but rather, "Is the growth due to real readers?"

The answer (if there is one) is muddled.

AWSTATS is a server log analyzing program. Though it does filter out "bots" (short for "robots", which are the search engine spiders that come around to index your web pages), I'd imagine that it's doesn't do a 100% job. This means that some of the unique visitors are not real people.

Likewise, spammers will hit a site and they seem to do so with increasing volumes. Our blog is pretty good at blocking SPAM (we don't allow trackbacks, we don't show referrers and we've got a great system in place for preventing comment SPAM). However, every attempt is going to register as a visit *I think* ... so again, total readership is going to be inflated.

Also, AWSTATS counts "unique visits" by IP address. So if a reader is on a ADSL connection and is dynamically assigned an IP address, they may visit Randsco two or three times per month, with different IP addresses and get counted more than they should.

Regardless of the obvious over-inflation of AWSTATS visitor numbers, it alone doesn't account for the increase. Readership is definitely growing. But why?

The Digital Divide, Blogging is Best & On Target

Increase in popularity of a website can occur for many different reasons. One can conjecture about the various contributions of factors, but kinda like Ragu Spaghetti Sauce - "it's all in there". It's a way of saying, they're all contributing to the overall "flavor" (or tally), but it's nearly impossible to determine the level of contribution from each ingredient.

The Digital Divide - More people connect to the Internet, each day. Across the world, Internet penetration rate is rising. It's projected that 50% of the world will have Internet access by 2015 (which is what the 50x15 initiative is all about).

Because b2evolution is a multi-lingual blogging application, it has a more world-wide appeal than an application like WordPress. Randso benefits from this by drawing b2evolution users, readers and friends, from around the globe. (Look at the global distribution of our readers during January to see what I mean).

Blogging is best - Blogging really is good for business. Every article published on Randsco adds to a growing body of relevant information. More articles, over time, translates into greater readership. Articles written in 2005 are still searched for, still read and many are still relevant, to this day. This is one of the benefits of using a blogging tool for a website (business website owners take note, because the same benefit holds true for business websites). ;)

On Target - Not every article hits a public nerve. It's been interesting to watch which articles gain popularity and which don't (as measured by the number of "views", reported at the bottom of each article). Like any statistic, it's not perfect measure, but it does provide some insight.

What's Hot and What's Not?

Here's a run down on the the top 20 articles on Randsco.com, based on the number of "views":

It comes as no great surprise that the top articles (25% of the top 20) involve Photo-Caption Zoom. That XHTML & CSS technique (and its derivitives) have a relatively wide appeal. As far as I know, it's still the only pure-CSS technique that combines a zoomed photo, with a caption.

In fact, over 50% (11) of the top 20 articles are technical in nature (red background). The next highest group are the in-depth, general information articles (yellow background).

One surprise is the Loonie takes Flight article, which is about the Canadian dollar overtaking the U.S. dollar for the first time in 30-something years. It's hit a popular nerve, as Canadians flock to the U.S. to buy less expensive goods (many items - for some reason - cost more in Canada, than in the U.S. and the favorable exchange rate only exacerbates this inequity). The article is #14 on the list, but it's only been posted for 4 months, which underscores its popularity. (Most all of the other top 20 articles have been posted for at least a year).

Another surprise was seeing how popular a few of the "humor" articles were (green background). There are three in the top 20 and in my opinion, the funniest John West Salmon Bear Fight, isn't the most popular. I know that the cow picture on Udderly Humorous is often pulled up on a Google image search, which may account for it being the top humor article, but why Far Side of North has as many views as it does is beyond me.

The only personal article that ranks in the top 20 is about our cycle touring adventure through Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park (in Canada). It's really a fluke though, because of the way b2evolution currently tallies views. (It's a 10-page article and each page, counts as a view. Someone reading the whole article would - erroneously - register 10 views.) If it's dropped from the list, then another technical article rolls onto the list.

It's no great shock to see that personal and news articles comprise nearly all of the 20 least-viewed posts. Most of these articles, which are about Alex growing up and the stuff that happens in our lives, doesn't have an audience that extends much past friends, curious visitors and family. That's fine. I try to write the articles with a wider audience in mind, but it's really written for that small audience. Anything above that is just gravy.

Pennies from Heaven - Monetizing the Blog

Prior to 2004, the only thing we invested in our Internet presence was "time". Since then, we've gradually invested more and more money. First it was $60/year for a shared host and now it's 10X that ($600/year) for a VPS host. We wouldn't have been able to do this, if Randsco hadn't been able to pay for itself. It's always nice when, what amounts to a "hobby", brings in a little side cash, eh?

A big buzz last year was talk about "monetizing your blog". Usually, this means selling advertising or promoting products, Google ads or something similar.

Randsco actually monetized itself in a backwards fashion. After developing Photo-Caption Zoom, I was asked to do CSS and XHTML design work. From those humble beginnings and through word-of-mouth, I began to do more and more design and coding projects. Randsco is now a bit of a calling card, though never a business card. I don't actively seek work, but a fair amount seems to filter in, just the same. (It kind of makes me wonder how busy I'd be, if I sought it out). ;)

In 2006, I helped form a collaborative U.K. company (an associative group of talented individuals) called AstonishMe!. Through this group, I have more work than I can handle.

Randsco also generates a fair number of donations, via folks who utilize scripts and techniques for commercial purposes (and by good netizens who appreciate the amount of work that goes in to develop and support the scripts & techniques).

Last June, I added Google ads to the site. I resisted advertising (of any kind) for a very long time. I think ads are annoying. I don't like sites that are overrun with ads and presumed that our readers didn't either. However, I was able to deploy Google ads so that they're seen only when one lands here from a google search. This works out well for regular readers, because they rarely (if ever) see the ads.

The Google ads currently generate between $20-30 USD per month. It's not a lot, but it helps to defray the cost of our Virtual Private Server.

We also point people to Amazon, whenever we recommend or reference a book, but we've not made even a penny, through Amazon Associates (mind you, we don't heavily promote it either, as we believe ads should be integral to a site, not front and center).

What's the Future Hold for Randsco

Hmmm ... hopefully a site redesign, at some point, but right now I'm so busy designing other sites that Randsco has changed little in the 3 years it's been running.

Aside from that ... I have no idea. I write about what catches my interest. I play with CSS and XHTML code, when I have time (would love to do more of that, but sadly, the amount of donations doesn't doesn't allow much of that).

Less "work" and more "play" (if I can manage that)!

There's lots going on and real life generally takes the front seat (though my wife, Rachel, doesn't always think so)! I hope to document more adventures, one being a cycle trip around New Zealand, which we've talked about for years. I also want to get into sea kayaking and then drag a certain mate over for a visit.

Beyond that? Who knows? I guess you'll just have to stay tuned!

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Updated: 10-Feb-2008
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1.flag Gary Comment
02/06/08
Mc Randsco, like it. How about Kentucky fried Randsco ? Or are you too chicken ?

Arghhhh that was terrible.

Interesting post though, even though it took me an hour and 3/4 to read ;)

Gz :D

2.flag stk Comment
02/08/08
Gary - Your joke killed my computer. :p

(I've been two days re-installing the operating system and trying to breath life back into the 4-year-old beast).

Glad you found it interesting. Took longer than 2 hours to write! (They always do).
3.flag gary Comment
02/09/08
Sorry to hear that, hope 'the beast' is back up and running as it should now.

Just been up to look at the ferry at the top of the main street, its still there and causing more of a visitor attraction than Blackpool Tower !

Gz ;)
4.flag Chris Comment
02/09/08
Just wrote you an email a while ago, but I enjoyed this page a lot. So, I'm just saying so.

Wish I was younger - at your age - and not an old fart, trying late in life to get fully to grips with deeper coding!

I have a confession (embarrassed) I landed on your "donation" page because of nibbling within the source code of the Christmas photo gallery page!!! Wicked I know!

Don't redo the site - it's great but - add more about PZ3 later if you can.

Admiring reader! Chris
5.flag stk Comment
02/10/08
Chris - I assume then, that means you'll be donating soon? 0:-)

I don't know how old you are, but I'm no spring chicken, myself. If it helps, my grandma Milly learned how to use a computer in her 80's, so it's quite possible to teach old dogs. :D

Thanks for your kind words about Randsco (many b2evolution web-mates have re-designed their sites 2 & 3 times, while ours stays the same). Designer envy, I guess. Because I concentrate more on content than design, you'll see more PZ3 articles, before you see a spiffy, new design. ;)

Cheers - stk
6.flag Yabba Comment
02/12/08
Some of us have redesigned our blogs far more than 2 or 3 times :D

¥
7.flag stk Comment
02/12/08
Chris - Ahem ... apparently one of yer UK breathren, whom I have the pleasure of working with ... has redesigned his blog more than 2-3 times. I stand corrected. :p