Warning: This is a Tales from the Blog sort of story and involves page view stats. No video games are mentioned.
I like to watch the traffic stats for my blog, less because they are meaningful at any given moment… web stats are a polite lie most of the time… but because I like to see what brings people here and the patterns of interest. As I have said in the past, even an flawed system of measurement, applied consistently, can reveal patterns that even an accurate single data point cannot show.
So when I noticed a big pop in page views a couple weeks back, I started looking at what might have caused it. Running a WP.com hosted blog means that I do not get to see raw data, but I have a couple of avenues to check that can be lined up to indicate what was going on.
The first check is usually to see who is referring traffic. Often a traffic spike is related to the site, or a specific post, being linked somewhere with some visibility. Every so often, for example, somebody will link the Alamo teechs u 2 play DURID! post gets linked to one of the World of Warcraft sub-reddits and between a dozen and a couple hundred people will click on that link.
This is very easy to spot in the basic stats. The referrer will be obvious and the post linked will have a bunch of page views which will push it to the top of the daily list.
This time there were no referrers that stood out and no particular post seemed to be getting traffic that could account for the jump in total page views. In fact, referrer and post stats seemed very much within the recent norm, while page views were exploding. The second day of this saw the site get just over five thousand page views but Google, always the default top referrer, had only sent me 350 viewers, and the top post of the day only had 30 page views.
Sometimes that means somebody went scrolling through the blog. I have the theme set up for infinite scroll, so you can just press the page down or arrow key and scroll all the way back to September 2006 if you have the time and patience.
But when you do that, a page view gets counted for every ~20 posts and gets attached to the Home Page view stats. The Home Page, somebody showing up at the base URL, always has the most page views on any given day because I don’t hide post content and make people click on titles to read a whole post. I could do that, and I am sure my page views would go up, but I don’t like that on other blogs so I don’t do it here. As I always say, be the blog you want to read.
And this might have explained all those page view. The flag counter widget on the side bar did not show anywhere close to the number of page views that WP.com was showing me, which is consistent with somebody doing a long scroll, as the widget only gets loaded once when you do it.
That is one of my checks on the WP.com stats.
Also, the visitor count, WP.com’s attempt to track daily unique visitors, was very low relative to the page views. The visitor count is very broken, more so than page views I would guess, since I can get referrals from seven different locations, which implies seven different people visiting, and WP.com will tell me I had two visitors so far. Also, the Flag Counter widget would count a different number, maybe five, maybe seven, just to confuse the issue. As I said, web stats are a polite lie. But, again, if I ignore accuracy and look at trends, somebody doing the long scroll tends to widen the gap between page views and visitors.
However, the Home Page only showed about 400 views, leaving a few thousand page views unaccounted for. So nobody did the long scroll.
Then I noticed that Canada seemed to be way over represented in the demographic stats. Again, specific count is probably garbage, but trends are likely reflective of reality, and the usual daily trend tends to look something like this.
Typical top five distribution
Those countries tend to be in the top five in that order every single day. That is the same order displayed in my annual blog wrap up, the fourteenth of which I posted back in September.
On the peak day, however, the country list looked like this.
The big day
Germany was a bit down that day… they tend to trend up with EVE Online posts… while Canada was through the roof.
But where was all that traffic going. There was no referrer sending me that much traffic, there was no single page that seemed to be receiving it, and the visitor count indicated that it wasn’t a bunch of people in any case.
So I drilled down in the WP.com stats. It will show you all the pages that got traffic on a given day, with a page view count. And there I noticed that after the usual fifty or so on a given day that get multiple page views, there was a long, long list of pages that got exactly one page view. Hundreds and hundreds of pages with a single page view.
At that point I think I figured it out. This person, from Canada, started with one post, probably the latest one, and began viewing the all one at a time. At the bottom of each post there are links that let you view the next and previous posts in the chronological order of their appearance.
I think this person sat there and clicked through, page by page, each post using those links. That explains all the page views, the low user count, the lack of referrals, and the fact that no single page, not even the Home Page, saw a spike in traffic.
And the flag counter widget? I thought that it would reload with each new page and count a page view there. But when I tried it myself on my phone, it seemed to ignore the count of views if I went post to post that way. But it is much more interested in unique visitors than page views.
So this whole post adds up to the fact that one person, from Canada, appears to have paged through nearly every singe post on the site, one at time, over the course of two days. The page views did not come in a single burst, but took time to accumulate over those two days.
Or, alternatively, somebody in Canada ran a script that scraped all the content from the blog one page at a time. So if you see another site that features a lot of familiar content, let me know. I’d like to see where I am being backed up!