Lab Report: Sudden Traffic Increases

Google analytics

This is the traffic at FreshPlans, our lab site, for 2/28 through 3/29: a nice steady increase, which is what we like and what we’ve been seeing most of the time since our launch last April.

Google analytics

And this is analytics for 2/28 through 3/30. I had several instant reactions when I saw this during my usual analytics check this morning. First, of course, I thought I was on the wrong page. I’ve been looking at nicely undulating upward curves for months, and all of a sudden I see a hockey stick. I figured I was looking at results for an individual page with one or two visits a day that suddenly got twenty visits one day.

Then I noticed that this hockey stick was going from five or six hundred visits a day to over nine thousand visits in one day.

My next thought was that this was going to mess up my presentation for WordCamp. I’m speaking at WordCamp KC in June, you see, and I had planned to show the analytics for our lab site, with their clear upward path demonstrating the value of best practices for SEO. Now I’m going to have a weird looking graph instead of the tidy one I was planning.

Here’s what happened: we have a post on Bunsen Burner Day, which is today. It got over 10,000 pageviews yesterday. This exceeded my bandwidth and the page is down, or it might well have gotten that many more today.

This isn’t the only site in our keeping that has had sudden traffic increases. Trout Fishing in America, whose site is featured in the WordPress Showcase, has had an increase of just about 500% since it was chosen.

An award, a viral video, a mention at StumbleUpon, or (as with FreshPlans) simply being at the top of the search results when a lot of people happen to look for something — a site can find itself more popular all of a sudden.

The question is, what should you do about it?

  • Make sure your site looks good. Since FreshPlans is down, we can’t pop in and make sure that everything looks nice for the Bunsen Burner Day traffic, but once it’s back up, we sure will. Any sudden influx of traffic may include people who will like your site and come back — and the chances are better if your site is at its best. Update that blog, clean up any little errors, and generally fix up anything that needs fixing.
  • Make hay while the sun shines. Sudden influxes of traffic, unlike steady gradual increases, don’t usually last. You hope to bring back some of the people who’ve found you through Digg or a guest blog post, but this sort of thing rarely leads to a stable increase in traffic. So, if you’re selling something, sell it. Trout Fishing’s new visitors, though many of them are coming to admire the website we made for them , are staying to listen to the music, and many of them are buying albums while they’re there. Make sure the shop is open and stocked, and that there’s a clear call to action on the primary landing pages.
  • Work around the spike. I was featured in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago, and ended up with a bit of a traffic spike at my website. When the traffic settled back down, my analytics showed a serious drop in traffic. It wasn’t bad news, just the end of my 15 minutes of relative fame. Set the dates on your analytics outside of the spike to get a realistic report. For FreshPlans, we’ll need to skip a couple of days in our analytics in order to get a true picture of how our traffic is going.

It will definitely mess up the visuals for my presentation.


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