Another year come and gone! As we do each year, let’s take a look at the past year from an analytical by-the-numbers perspective and do a goal review. Most importantly, I’d like to extend the deepest of thanks to you, wonderful readers of CSS-Tricks, for making this place possible.
This site has a new design, doesn’t it? It does! I’ll write something more about that soon. If you have something to say about it right now, feel free to use our new public community on Spectrum. If it’s a bug or thought that doesn’t really need to be public, our our contact form would be great.
I can count the times I pop into Google Analytics per year on my two hands these days, but we’ve had the basic snippet installed since day one around here, so it’s great for keeping an eye on site traffic and usage over the long term. Especially since CSS-Tricks has been a fairly basic WordPress install the entire time with little by the way of major infrastructural changes that would disrupt how these numbers are gathered.
We had 91 million page views this year, up from 75 million last year. That’s great to see, as we were at 75 in 2017, 77 in 2016, and 72 in 2015. We’ve managed to do a bigger leap this year than perhaps we ever have. I’d love make a go at 100 million next year! That’s based on 65 million sessions and 23 million users.
Perhaps some of that traffic could be attributed to the fact that we published 636 Posts this year, up from 595 last year. I’d like to think they are higher quality too, as we’ve invested much more in guest writing and had a more thorough editing process this year than we ever have. We’ve had Geoff Graham as lead editor all year and he’s doing a phenomenal job of keeping our content train rolling.
For the last few years, I’ve been trying to think of CSS-Tricks as this two-headed beast. One head is that we’re trying to produce long-lasting referential content. We want to be a site that you come to or land on to find answers to front-end questions. The other head is that we want to be able to be read like a magazine. Subscribe, pop by once a week, snag the RSS feed… whatever you like, we hope CSS-Tricks is interesting to read as a hobbyist magazine or industry rag.
We only published 25 new pages this year, which are things like snippets, almanac entries, and videos. I’d really like to see that go up this year, particularly with the almanac, as we have lots of new pages documented that we need to add an update.
I almost wish our URLs had years in them because I still don’t have a way to scope analytic data to only show me data from content published this year. I can see the most popular stuff from the year, but that’s regardless of when it was published, and that’s dominated by the big guides we’ve had for years and keep updated.
Interestingly, flexbox is still our #1 guide, but searches for the grid guide are only narrowly behind it. It depends on the source though. I can see data for on-site search through WordPress.com (via Jetpack) which show grid searches at about 30% less than flexbox. Google Analytics have it about 60% less, which would be Google searches that end up on CSS-Tricks. Nevertheless, those are the two most popular search keywords, on-site and off. From #3 onwards: svg, border, position, animation, underline, background, display, transition, table, button, uppercase, css, bold, float, hover, transform.
I love that! People are landing on the site looking for fundamental CSS concepts, and hopefully finding what they need.
Site search has been a bit of a journey. Native WordPress search isn’t good enough for a site this big. For a long time I used Google Custom Search Engine, which is nice because it’s as good as Google is, but bad because it’s a bit hard to style nicely and is covered in ads that don’t make enough money to be worth it and are too expensive to remove. Last year I was using Algolia for a while, which is a fantastic product, but I needed to give it more development effort than I was able to at the time. Now I’m back on WordPress search but powered by Jetpack, which brings the power of cloud-hosted Elasticsearch, which is pretty sweet. It means I have native WordPress template and styling control, and lots of tweakability.
Search is also fascinating as it represents 81% of how people get to CSS-Tricks. That’s particularly interesting in it means that the growth in page views wasn’t necessarily from search, as we had 86% of traffic from search last year, down a full 5%. Growth came from other areas so strongly it pushed down search.
All of social media combined is 2%. I’m always reminded this time of year how much time and energy we spend on social media, and how perhaps the smart move is refocusing some of that energy toward on-site content, as that is far better for helping more people. Not that I don’t enjoy social media. Surely we’ve gotten countless ideas for posts and content for those posts from social media participation.
An interesting uptick was in direct traffic. 9% of visits this year were direct, up from just 5% last year. And referral traffic at 7% up from 5%. Social media remained steady, so really we have more people coming directly to the site and more links from other sites to thank for the uptick in traffic.
Speaking of social media, we got @CSS on Twitter this year, and that’s been fun. I would have thought it would have increased the rate of growth for followers, but it doesn’t appear to.
We hardly do anything with Facebook, beyond making sure new content is posted there. That sometimes feels like a missed opportunity since there are more people there than any other social network on Earth. But it doesn’t seem particularly huge in developer communities as best I can tell. Not to mention Facebook is constantly revealed to be doing sketchy things, which steers me away from it personally.
We’ve had a remarkably consistent year of the CSS-Tricks Newsletter, publishing it every single week. Robin Rendle works hard on that every single week. We started the year with 31,376 subscribers and ended with 39,655. So about an 8.5k increase, down from the 10k increase last year. It’s still good growth, and I suspect we’ll see much better growth next year because the new site design does a lot better job promoting it and we have some plans to make our authoring of it and displaying it on this site much better.
If the news about Edge going Chromium made you worry that Chrome would become too dominant of a browser… well, Edge hasn’t actually done that yet and Chrome is already pretty darn dominant already, particularly on this site. 77% of traffic is Chrome, 11% Firefox, 6% Safari, about 1.5% each for IE and Edge, and then the rest sprinkled out through 836 other identified browsers.
61% Windows, 22% Mac, 7% Linux, 7% Android, 3% iOS, and the rest sprinkled through 42 known operating systems.
Traffic geography has remained consistent. The United States has the lead at 22%, India at 13%, UK at 5%, Germany at 4%, Canada, France, and Brazil at 3%, Russia, Australia, Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, China, Philipines at 2%, and the rest over 240 other identified countries.
Another surprising turn this year was mobile traffic. Internet-wide, I believe we’re past the tipping point of more than half of all traffic being from mobile devices. On this site, we hovered at just 2 or 3% for many years. It was 6% last year, a big jump, and now 10% this year. I always suspected the main reason for the low numbers was the fact that this site is used in conjunction with doing active development, and active development is still a desktop-dominant task. Still, it’s growing and the rate of growth is growing too.
There were 3,788 approved comments this year, down from 5,040 last year. We’ve been hand-approving all comments for a while now. We’ve always moderated, but having to approve them before they appear at all slows down commenting activity and leads to less overall. I’d estimate maybe 50-60% of non-spam comments get approved. Absolutely worth it to me to maintain a positive vibe here. I also suspect the main reason for lower comments is just that people do a lot more of their conversing over social media. I’m sure if we tracked conversations on social media in relation to things we’ve published (somehow) that would be up.
Our commenting system is also dreadfully old-timey. I’d love to see a system that allows for accounts, comment editing, social login, a fancy editor, Markdown, the whole nine yards, but I’ve yet to be swooned by something.
The contact form on site is up to ID #21458, so we got 1,220 messages through that this year.
❌ Publish something in a new format. Behind the scenes, we actually did some foundational work to make this happen, so I’m optimistic about the possibilities. But we didn’t get anything out the door. The closest thing we’ve been doing is organizing content into guides, which is somewhat of a new format for us that I also want to evolve.
✅ More editorial vision. I think we got close enough to call this a success. We did a bunch of themed weeks. We were always grouping content together that is thematically related. Our link posts got better at being referential and topical. We still covered news pretty well. I think I’d like to see us to more far-ahead planning so we can bring bigger ideas to life.
✅ Interesting sponsorship partners. I think we nailed it here.
❌ Create another very popular page. We’re at our best when we’re creating really strong useful referential content. When we really nail it, we make pages that are very useful to people and it’s a win for everybody. I’m not sure we had a run-away super popular page this year, so we’ll gun for it next year.
Polish this new design. This is easily the most time, effort, and money that’s gone into a redesign since the big v10 design. There are a lot of aesthetic changes, but there was also quite a bit of UX work, business goal orientation, workflow tweaking, and backend development work that went along with it. I’d like to get some mileage out of it by not just sitting on it but refining it over a longer period.
Improve newsletter publishing and display. We sent our newsletter out via MailChimp, which is a great product, but over the years it has been good for us to bring as much under the WordPress umbrella as we can. I think we can create a pretty sweet newsletter authoring experience right within WordPress, then continue to send it via MailChimp via a special RSS feed. That’ll take some work, but it should make for a better newsletter that is more comfortable to produce and easier to integrate here on the site.
Raise the bar on quality. I’d be happy to see the number of posts we publish go down if we could make the quality go up. Nothing against any of our authors’ work that is already out there, but I think we all know super high-quality articles when we see them and I’d like to hit that mark more often. If that means posts spending more time in editing and us being a bit more demanding about what we’d like to see, we’ll do it.
Better guides. There are two sorts of guides: “complete guides” like our flexbox and grid guides (to name a few) and “guide collections” which are hand-chosen, hand-ordered, and hand-maintained guides along a theme, like our beginner guide. As a site with loads of content from over a decade, I really like these as a way to make sure the best stuff has a proper home and we can serve groups of people and topics in a strong way.
Again, you make this place possible.