One Year of Designer Traffic
How to do almost nothing and get a lot of eyeballs.
A year and some ago (July 9, 2014, exactly one year before I started procrastinating this post), I launched my new, long overdue portfolio on Designer News.
In the first year, almost 60,000 designers and developers from around the world have visited my site (with another 12,000 since). This involved almost no work on my part.
The point of this post is to give you an idea into how this happened, what kind of traffic to expect from some of the big design publications out there, and some insights I garnered along the way.
I wrote it in one long burst and then let it sit for months. I’ve decided to release it without editing. As such, it’s probably really bad. Let’s see how that goes.
July 2014—July 2015
Following are the stats for the first 365 days since joelcalifa.com launched. In that time, 57,858 people visited, spending an average of 5 minutes and 18 seconds, and making a total 421,409 actions. The bounce rate is 21%. I can’t speak to whether this is good.
The traffic came in 3 large spikes, all curiously followed by mini spikes about a month later. A normal day averages roughly 25–30 visitors, but the spikes took this up to thousands of visitors per day.
If we look at the pages with the highest entrance numbers, we’ll see that the spikes correspond with days that I released each of them. The root of the site (my portfolio) was actually the smallest spike, but since it was the first release, the trickle of users throughout the year made it the most visited page.
When we review the entire year, these sites are the top sources of traffic. I will go into more depth on each of these source in the following sections.
Spike 1: Portfolio Launch
After a month of quiet work on my portfolio, I finally posted it on Designer News, a design community that was still relatively small at the time. It quickly accumulated upvotes and stayed at #1 for days. No insights as to how to make it happen
That first day, 2,218 hits.
All of these users came from either Designer News, news aggregators such as thenews.im or usepanda, or via shares on Twitter. I’m not sure how to account for the 715 direct visits. Any ideas?
The next day sidebar.io picked up the site, and I was graced with 2,872 visitors, most of which still came from Designer News.
Following is the first month and some of my site. You can see that after 10 days or so the initial boost died down, only to be followed a few weeks later by a mini-spike.
The spike was apparently a result of my comment on the following Designer News thread, which sent around 1,500 visitors. Turns out comments matter. I was also mentioned on a thread in /r/userexperience around this time, which sent about 500 visitors.
All in all the first release (mini-spike included) accounted for around 13.5k visitors, who spent an average of ~8 minutes on the site.
This makes sense considering the first launch wasn’t a specific piece of content, but rather an entire site. As an interesting side note, consider this homepage, which hasn’t changed since I launched the site:
Now look at which pages got the most views:
The lesson here is that it really matters how you order your content. Always prioritize what you want people to see the most. This might sound obvious, but I never expected this much correlation between order and visits. This is perhaps a better illustration of what’s happening here:
You can see that the most visited portfolio page by a long shot is the first one (my work for Amicus). The second is right under it, the third to its right. People drop off as you go through these links down and to the right. I could get substantially more views on a specific item simply by moving it up in the order.
Always prioritize what you want people to see the most.
Coincidentally, I was featured adjacent to MetaLab, the founder of which now publishes Designer News — my main source of traffic thus far.
Spike 2: How I Got Hired by DigitalOcean
Fortunately, the company I now work for loved the portfolio I just mentioned, so I figured I’d build my homework in the same medium for some extra points. I made an additional, hidden work page and sent it their way. If you scroll up, you’ll notice that /work/digitalocean was already there, but only visited by the handful of people I sent it to.
I can’t overstate that the traffic I received involved very little actual work on my part. The next spike occurred when I made this already existing page public.
The largest part of this was figuring out a good title that would hook people. With a less intriguing title, the post wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.
“How I Got Hired by DigitalOcean” took advantage of DigitalOcean’s brand recognition while promising an interesting story. It was around the 10th iteration of the title.
I published the post on November 19, 2014. The resulting increased traffic lasted until around Feb 10, 2015, and brought around 15.5k users to my site.
It started the same way the previous spike did, through a post on DN.
Behold: the exact thing happened. The first day of traffic came exclusively from Designer News, news aggregators, and social shares (2,893 all in all). The next day was more DN traffic, accompanied by slightly less traffic from sidebar.io (2,480 the second day).
In the following weeks it was picked up by a number of small blogs and newsletters such as uxdesignweekly. The main difference between the first and second spikes is the amount of social activity around my content. Way more direct entries and social links — the merits of more specific content, I assume.
I don’t know what to make of this “Advertising” source, as I never advertised the site anywhere and Clicky is kind of opaque in that sense. Any ideas?
Finally, something cool that happens when a bunch of people link to you using the title you chose is that search engines start associating you with those keywords, which will result in more organic visits. This is another really compelling reason to spend time thinking up a meaningful title. When you search for “how I got hired” on Google, you might get this result in first place:
Spike 3: Revisiting :Visited
On May 19, 2015 I published an article called Revisiting :Visited, which had been sitting in my drafts for well over 6 months (kind of like this one surely will). I say this spike in traffic lasted until around July 1, but the truth is I’m still seeing on average about 75 visitors a day, over double the normal day before this post.
This last spike of traffic, while very similar, is a little more interesting to me. At this point I’d gotten a feel for some factors for successful DN posts.
One of the things I started doing was posting early in a week, around 12pm Eastern. While this isn’t an exact science, posting at noon means that everyone in the US can see it right away, and there’s enough of the day left to keep engagement up. Traffic usually spikes around 4pm and eases out after that. The second day usually has less of a spike but maintains more traffic throughout, for what’s overall a stronger day.
Considering I time my posts for American audiences, my first-day traffic is usually mostly from the States (in this case 813 out of the 1,476 visitors on the first day). On the second day of Revising :Visited, I only had 590 US visitors out of a total 2,186 (the stronger day as a result of staying on top of DN, as well as a link on sidebar.io).
Based on previous experiences, the third day should have been slightly weaker rather than stronger, but I received an unexpected surge of visits. Most of these came from what my analytics tool simply called “facebook.com” — which as you can tell is pretty vague.
Apparently Smashing Magazine posted on Facebook and Twitter. Including shares and retweets, Smashing sent 1,333 that day, making it the strongest, with 3,885 overall visitors.
As you can see from the following table, not only did Smashing send me the most overall readers, they were also high quality visits — with a low 13% bounce rate and an average time of 6 minutes on site. Designer News’ visitors were a close second, and it looks like more of them spent the time to actually read through the entire post. I also got a good amount of slightly less engaged visitors from the Codrops newsletter.
After these first days, the post was picked up by a bunch of publications around the world such as CSS-Tricks, Web Platform Daily, UX und Tollerei, La Ferme du Web, CSS Weekly, and another 15 or so blogs. Each of these sent a relatively low number of visitors, but altogether amounted to quite a bit.
I was at 400 followers when my portfolio launched. Since then I’ve seen steady growth with faster growth starting around when I published Revisiting :Visited and added an obnoxious Twitter widget to the top bar.
Once my profile was raised slightly, I didn’t find that any individual publication greatly affected the number of followers, but I do feel (with no data to back it up) that the kind of followers I got directly from my portfolio and posts are more engaged, perhaps because my content is more relevant to them. Or maybe they’re just slightly more prepared for my horrible, horrible tweets.
By the way, if you’re so inclined, hit me up on Twitter.
Traffic from spikes isn’t sustainable, but the more places that link to you, the more likely new people are to find you. This is true for word of mouth, search engines, and happening to come by a link to your site.
I think one of the more important things I’ve learned is the importance of diversifying my traffic sources.
Designer News is an amazing community, and I owe it most of my current reputation. Each time I published something, DN acted as the starting point that set in motion all other traffic sources in the design industry. That said, in the entire first year, Designer News only sent me about 6000 out of 57,858 total visitors. Proportionally, a single post from Smashing Magazine sent me much more (most of the facebook.com in the next table).
Following are the final sources for the entire year. I hope you found this post useful! Let me know what could have been better :)
As always, comment on DN or hit me up on Twitter!