As 2017 comes to a close, as we do each year, let’s take a numbers-based glance back at CSS-Tricks. And more importantly, tip our collective hat to all y’all that come here and read the site.
We really do think of the site as somewhere you come and read. While a lot of people’s experience with CSS-Tricks is a place that shows up in search results to find the answer to some web design/dev question (and that’s awesome), another way to experience the site is to read it like a magazine. We publish an article (or a couple) nearly every day, from a variety of authors, with the hope that it’s interesting and exposes us all to new ideas.
According to Google Analytics, which we’ve had installed and reported from anonymously since day 1 around here, we had 75 million pageviews this year. Very little of CSS-Tricks makes use of any kind of “single page app” type tech, so that’s pretty accurate to people visiting and clicking around. It’s down from 77 million last year. I’d like to think that’s because of ad blockers, which often block Google Analytics, are up in usage for the visitors of CSS-Tricks, but it’s just as likely we’re just down a smidge this year. Sessions are also down a smidge at 54 million but Users steady at 21 million.
We were on a publishing roll though! We published 595 posts, blowing away last year with only 442, the previous record. We also published 50 pages (i.e. snippets/videos/almanac entries) beating 43 last year. Certainly, we’re in favor of quality over quantity, but I think this is a healthy publishing pace when our goal is to be read, in a sense, like a magazine. That has been more clear to me this year. We produce content with complementary goals and one of those goals is that of a magazine. We hope the site is worth reading day after day and week after week. The other is that the content lasts and is referenceable for many years to come. Hopefully thinking of things that way can be a guiding light, balancing news and reference content, while avoiding stuff that is neither.
I always wished there was an easy way to figure out what the most popular articles published that year were, but I still don’t have a great way to do that. The top 10 is dominated by our big guides, things like our Guides to Grid, Flexbox, SVG, and centering.
Those top 10 make up about 15% of total traffic, which is a massive slice, but that leaves 85% of traffic as part of the “long tail”. That’s a satisfying thought when you’re in it for the long haul as we are. Not every article is a huge top 10 smash hit, but does contribute to the long tail which is a much bigger slice collectively anyway.
For the last bunch of months, we’ve been using Algolia for search. My plan only has 7 days of analytics retention, which isn’t enough data to expose major trends. In looking at a week of data though, you can see some surprising top terms like React, SVG, grid, flexbox, font, border… Another thing that’s clear is that on-site search is quite important. Algolia reports ~15,000 queries a day. I don’t think that represents “user typed in a thing and submitted it” because the search happens in real-time, so each character typed can result in a query. Still, likely hundreds or low-thousands of searches a day.
I’m going to convert us back to using Google search. I think Algolia is a fantastic product, I just don’t have the developer time right now to give it the work it needs.
The location of y’all seems to be spreading out internationally little by little. The United States is down to 22% of traffic from 23% and India back to down to 11% from 12% (meaning more traffic came from elsewhere). Those are the top 2, then it goes UK, Germany, Canada, France, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Brazil. What would be really interesting is to figure out visitors per-capita. For example, Singapore has a population of 5.6 million and had 111,319 unique users, so you could say about 2% of Singaporeans visited CSS-Tricks last year. Lols probably not, but hey that’s what the back-of-the-napkin math shows. Whereas with the 4.6 million unique visitors from the US compared to the 323 million population means only 1.5% has visited.
We gained about 10,000 newsletter subscribers this year for a total of 31,376. That’s about a third of the entire list size. I love our newsletter. I think it has a ton of potential and is always worth reading. To be perfectly honest I’d like to see our newsletter subscriber numbers be higher than our Twitter followers, but that’ll be a tall hill to climb.
Search is the origin of 86.6% of the traffic we get. Direct visits and referral links result in another 5% each. Social media just 2.5%. Whenever I look at that I’m reminded of the disproportionate amount of energy spent on it. Still, it aligns with our goal of being a publication people regularly read and being a source of news, so it feels worth it.
Speaking of social media, we rose 44,000 follows on Twitter last year, again an astonishing number, but it’s down year-over-year for the last several years. 71,900 likes on Facebook, only rising about 3,000, which isn’t bad considering we do hardly anything at all on Facebook. Growth is much more explosive on YouTube. We’re at 40,123 subscribers there from 32,174 last year, despite only posting a paultry 6 videos.
This is a classic loop in my head: maybe we should have a dedicated social media person! But even part-time employees are expensive… is it worth it? How much more potential is there? Could they add so much value they pay for themselves? What else could they do? And then the questions swirl around in my head so quickly the idea fizzles out. I guess I’ll just say if that kind of thing interests you, reach out!
For once, mobile traffic is actually up. 6.2% this year from below 5% last year. Industry-wide, that’s rock bottom. CSS-Tricks is just weird that way. A lot of developers b searching stuff at work, unsurprisingly. Less than 1% is tablets. 30% of the mobile traffic is iPhones.
Y’all left about 5,040 comments on the site this year, which is a smidge down year over year from the past few years, but it actually feels significantly up to me, since we’ve been much more stringent about what comments we publish this year. I do the vast majority of comment moderation and I trash a lot more than I used to. Anything that off-topic, rude, or unhelpful doesn’t see the light of day. I hope that doesn’t scare you off from commenting. In fact, I hope it encourages it. Anything on-topic and helpful will absolutely be published and won’t be lost in a sea of junk.
We’ve had 20,238 people use our contact form. Don’t worry, I love email.
Double newsletter subscribers. We didn’t double but we grew by a third, which is pretty strong. Especially since we did little to nothing to promote it. We probably need to do a better job of promoting it and somehow incentivizing signups, especially since it’s such a good way to reach people.
More pairing videos. Pretty hard fail here. The main difficulty is scheduling multiple people together, combined with the pressure of producing something worth watching. It’s one thing for an audio podcast like ShopTalk where we can schedule someone and just chit-chat about tech. It’s another thing to ask someone to pair with you and essentially do live coding. It’s still a good idea, it just needs a more serious time commitment and leader. And honestly, probably a sponsor so that it can be worth everyone’s time.
Maintain a mostly-daily publishing schedule. Check and check! This is the first year we’ve actually kept an honest to god schedule, structured after daily posting. We’ll be moving forward with that for sure.
Assemble content in more useful ways. We got a good start on this with Guides. We haven’t done a ton with them yet, but we have given ourselves a way to build these without too much effort, and I think the potential in them is fantastic.
Publish something in a new format. We have a lot of publishing power around here with lots of writers and a solid platform. Let’s use it to publish a book or something book-like.
More editorial vision. Admittedly, what we published each day is a bit random. That’s not a terrible thing since the site has a niche anyway, but I’d call it a good goal to exert some editorial guidance to what we publish and when. Meaning commissioning and shepherding work that is a good fit for this site and publishing it with timing that makes some sort of sense.
Interesting sponsorship partners. The most rewarding and powerful partnerships between sponsors and publications are ones of mutual respect and admiration. There are loads of businesses out there I think are doing a terrific job of building what the build, and I’d like to forge relationships with them to promote what they do. And do that promotion in a way that we are uniquely able to do. Get in touch if you think you’re a part of that company.
Create another very popular page. It’s just a matter of time and topic. I’d like to find at least one web development topic that could really use a strong reference page and spend a good amount of time making what we consider a perfect fit for that, with the goal of it really resonating with developers.
Thank you, again, for being a part of this community.