Some Observations About Web Traffic

I've had a homepage of one sort or another since May of 1995, and I've been keeping access statistics almost the whole time. There's nothing world-famous about these pages, so I consider those statistics a reasonable example of "normal" traffic. Watching that traffic over the months has led to a few very simple observations about how people find their way to a home page, and what they like enough to stick around and read.

People read .signatures

Most of the people who signed my first guestbook claim they found it through my netnews .signature. Go figure. It probably helps if you post a lot, like I used to.

People don't like %7E

On the other hand, properly escaping the ~ in (my original homepage) to %7E (because the URL specification acutally forbids tildes) for a month led to an immediate drop in the number of visitors. I think %7E confuses people.

People follow topical recommendations

In response to an article on comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html asking about finger(1), I posted a recommendation to read Websnob's `How To Finger Through A Web Page' Page, and traffic skyrocketed for the next couple of weeks.

Conversely, people who just post "Read my home page!" articles usually get flamed, so I'd recommend against that.

People read the `What's New' page of directories

Whenever I enter a listing for one of my sites into a web directory service, traffic spikes for a couple of days. Either the directories are going overboard verifying the URI, or people are jumping here from "New Entries"-type pages.

People like guestbooks

Seriously. I get more user feeback through guestbooks than I ever did through the simple links (which appear more often than links to the guestbook).

People like niche pages

I can't emphasize this one enough: People read niche pages. -- Small, focused pages like How To Finger Through A Web Page and Cryptography Newsgroups get a lot of traffic that completely bypasses the home page. (People appear to be finding the the cryptography page through web search engines.)

People don't like long pages.

Hyperlinks at the top of large pages (my personal FAQ tops 20k) are activated more often than the ones towards the bottom, which suggests (to me, anyway) that people aren't hanging around to the end of the page, and/or aren't coming back after visiting other pages.

People still read newspapers

Beer Dies! got mentioned in a Philidelphia newspaper once, and traffic shot so high that it overwhelmed logging routines and I lost the week's worth of stats that would prove my point. Damn.