3 Things I Learned When My Site’s Traffic Increased 25,000% in One Day

Unique visitors per hour. The flat line at the bottom is how many I usually get.

For the past few months, my site has averaged maybe, oh, 75-125 visitors or so a day. Then for a 24-hour period beginning on May 10th at 9am CST, 48,342 people came to my site. That’s more unique visitors than my site had gotten in the past three years combined. Here’s what happened:

I released a couple new e-comics two weeks ago (yup, gotta get a plug in for them somewhere) so I’ve been looking for ways to promote them. I’d heard of Reddit, a social linking website, and had visited it a couple of times. I’ve always had a vaguely positive opinion of it, but never made it a part of my regular internet surfing routine and wasn’t intimately familiar with the ins and outs of the site.

But I figured I’d give them a shot, and submitted the first installment of the Kameoka Diaries to their comics section. I figured I’d get, oh, 100 visitors and maybe four or five comments.

So yeah. I got a few more than that.

The whole thing has been a real learning experience. Here are three things I took away from it:

1) Reddit commenters are much more kind & encouraging than I thought they would be.
When I saw how popular my submission was getting and saw that it was getting dozens (and then hundreds) of comments, I wasn’t really looking forward to reading them. Maybe I’m just a pessimist at heart, or maybe I’ve just read one too many articles about what a cesspool the internet is, but I figured I’d have to wade through a sea of comments telling me how much I sucked.

But much to my surprise and delight, the vast majority of the comments were really friendly and positive. I don’t know if Reddit’s comment sections are heavily moderated or if Redditors are just naturally sweet people, but it renewed my faith in humanity a bit and made me want to keep making these stupid little comics. You can take a look at the comment section (and my replies) here.

2) All that traffic helped e-comic sales, but not by much.
I once heard something to the effect that when you offer a free webcomic, you’re lucky if 1% of your readership buys something from you. Now, I’m paraphrasing so I might be getting the exact details wrong, but either way, it’s a just a sliver of the whole.

So when I saw all the people that visited my website, I wasn’t expecting any miracles. But still, I couldn’t help but run the numbers: if just half a percent of the visitors bought something, that’d mean hundreds of sales… it was hard not to get just a little excited.

But alas, the 48,342 people that visited my site resulted in an additional 23 e-comics sales compared to the previous day. So about 0.048% of the extra visitors made a purchase.

Hey, don’t get me wrong; an extra 23 books sold is better than a kick in the seat of the pants. And I’ll admit: out of all the hundreds of sites I personally visit, only very rarely do I buy anything from them. So it totally makes sense, it’s just a bit sobering to see the hard numbers.

3) There are super-important aspects of website administration that I’m completely clueless about.
When I saw that my submission was starting to get a bunch of hits, I panicked a bit. I was afraid I’d hit my monthly bandwidth limit and my site would go offline. So I hopped over to my web host’s website to see what my bandwidth limit was, and how close I was to it.

Apparently, “bandwidth limit” is an archaic concept, because my rinky-dink, $5-a-month account has unlimited bandwidth. Great, I thought, nothing to worry about. So I went to bed, and then to work the next day.

When I got home, I had an e-mail from my web host. They said my “CPU usage” was beyond what was allowed. I’m allowed “4.5% CPU average” per day, but had used 64.5%! They said if it didn’t come down to the acceptable average in the next 12 hours, they would block my account.

Long story short: the next day the average CPU usage was at 29.6%; a significant drop, but still way above 4.5%. They suspended my account, but put it back up again right away when I requested them to do so (the site was probably only down for like five minutes). The day after that, the CPU usage was at 2.7%, well within the acceptable range.

What I find fascinating about the whole thing is that there’s this critical limit that they’ll shut you down for exceeding, and I didn’t even know it existed. And this is after running a website for almost five years! I guess I’ve just never had enough simultaneous visitors for it to affect me.

Even now I don’t really know what “CPU usage” means in regards to website hosting. Like, yeah, I get that I can only have 4.5% a day, but 4.5% of what?

And if you decide to raise your CPU limit, it’s really expensive. Adding just one percent costs an extra four dollars a month, which would almost double my hosting bill. And bear in mind that on that one day I was SIXTY percent over my CPU limit! Yeesh!

I’ve done a bit of research since then, and have taken steps to try to optimize my site’s CPU usage. I’ve also read that simple, static html pages use almost no computing power, whereas WordPress blogs (i.e. this blog) tend to be CPU hogs. So I figure next time I submit to Reddit, I’ll make a special static html page for my submission and link to that, rather than linking directly to the WordPress blog. We’ll see if that helps.

Reddit seems really awesome and I totally plan on submitting there again, and also try to get more involved in the community in general. Some of the people from the Reddit comics section recommended I also post about my comics on Reddit’s Japan section. The Japan section has like a tenth the subscribers as the comics section, so that would probably be a good place to test my static html page idea and see if that keeps my CPU usage within the acceptable range. I’m preparing those pages now and will probably put them up later this week, and submit them to Reddit Japan then.

Anyone have any other suggestions for lowering CPU usage levels? I’m all ears!

  • Vestra

    So how many extra Facebook friend requests did you get!? That too seems like an important number.

  • Lars Martinson

    Let’s see, looks like about 24. I also probably got about 30 or so new Facebook subscribers, and about 30 or so new Twitter followers (as near as I can tell).

  • J

    The Reddit comment section is generally moderated by the masses through the medium of upvotes and downvotes, making the better (more upvoted) comments appear on top.

  • Yeah, I had a similar expierence which I “wrote about” here: http://lifeinjapan-comic.blogspot.jp/2012/04/march-16th-316.html

    …and sorry, I can’t help you with “CPU usage levels.” My URL still has a blogger extension…

  • Lars Martinson

    Yeah, I saw that comic of yours when you put it up; that’s part of what inspired me to give Reddit a shot. So thanks!

  • thezenarcher

    In my experience, I’ve only bought merchandise from comics that I have become attached to over a period of time. I would find it very strange for someone to purchase something from a site they just discovered.

  • I found your site through Reddit and have been reading your comics. Used to live in Japan back in 2003 as an exchange student. It’s hilarious seeing a lot of what I experienced told in comic form. Keep up the great work!

  • Uli

    23 additional comic sales?? What a shame, I made it 24 at least.

  • Lars Martinson

    thezenarcher: Yeah, I think I would tend to do the same. The only reason I thought *maybe* my e-comics might do better is since they’re only 99-cents, I thought they might inspire impulse purchases. Guess not though! I’ll just have to keep trying to build up a loyal readership. (^^)
    Chris: Cheers!
    Uli: Thank you so much for your support!

  • I’d definitely submit to the Japan group. I bought the first 2 Tōnoharu books on the ALT connection and I can’t be the only one to do so. (They’re fantastic by the way.) You really have some original and relatable characters developing and your “voice” is quite different from the typical comics dealing with foreigners living in Japan.

    As for the site performance, most people swear by the WP-Super Cache plugin. (http://ocaoimh.ie/wp-super-cache/) I run it on my site but I’m lucky to get visitors in the double-digits.

  • Lars Martinson

    Greg: Thanks for the kind words!
    And yes, I heard the same thing about Super Cache; that was the main optimization I made to my site. Even with it though I’m hanging dangerously near my CPU limit; yesterday it was at 3.5%, so just one percent below what I’m allowed…
    Don’t get me wrong, getting this much traffic is great, but at the same time I should probably sort out the CPU issue before I try to solicit more traffic. The only major thing I can still think of doing is I haven’t updated my WordPress theme in like forever, so that might be CPU inefficient. So I’ll try to do that soon. The only reason I’ve been reluctant to do so is I’ve made a bunch of tweaks to the theme, so I’ll have to go through again and re-do them. Oh well, must be done!
    Also, does anyone know anything about Amazon Web Services? Maybe hosting through them might be something to look into…?

  • Anonymous

    Actually, you were 60 percent *points* over your CPU limit, or 1333,33% over it.

  • Lars Martinson

    Anonymous: Whoops! Right you are! Didn’t even notice that math mistake…

  • John

    Are you only considering sales within a single day? Your reddit caught my attention and I put it on the backburner until the following weekend when I caught up with things and purchased a copy. Just some anecdotal evidence. Maybe your increase in sales will come over a longer period of time than you initially thought?

    • Lars Martinson

      Yeah, my little report is a very unscientific inquiry to be sure. And I think you’re right, the positive effects of Reddit might not be felt immediately.

  • Tom

    Your site isn’t optimized for conversion, it’s optimized for reading comics and blog posts. The only call to action on your page to buy something is at the bottom of the post… after someone has read the entire comic. There’s nothing above the fold that even tells the audience that there is something to buy here.

    I think you could have easily squeaked out 1%-3% conversion on those Reddit visits if your site was more conversion focused.

    • Lars Martinson

      You’re totally right, I’m hoping to redesign my site to make it a little more obvious that I have things for sale.

  • Scott

    You can get nearly the same effect as a static HTML page by using a caching plugin for WordPress. Here’s a couple options (you only need to install one of them):

    Basically, unless someone has logged in to your site, these plugins will serve them a static HTML page instead of the dynamic PHP page. Your CPU usage will drop significantly, and the pages will load faster for them. I wish I could tell you which of those are better, but depending on a number of variables, one could be awesome for you and the other not so great.

    I’d also recommend replacing your comments with Disqus. That way, their servers, rather than yours, handle the work of posting and displaying comments, including filtering spam. You can find a plugin to enable Disqus (and import your current comments) here:

    • Lars Martinson

      I’ve installed W3 and that seems to help, I’ll look into the Disqus comments too, thanks.

  • Jim

    As much as it pains me to suggest it — pay for a server upgrade. I had a similar virality of my site’s content and it kept getting throttled. Upgraded server fixed it.

    • Lars Martinson

      You’re probably right, *sob*…

  • Dante

    Good luck with your site management! Keep the images “efficient” (200KB or less).

    The “agreement” with your provider probably gives them your permission to do anything they want, with impunity (short of burning down your house or harming your pets, or the like–hohoho!!).

    I am so bummed how words are losing their meaning, especially terms like “free” and “unlimited”.

    • Lars Martinson

      Yeah, I thought the “unlimited” bandwidth thing is especially clever, since CPU seems like the bigger issue, and that’s nowhere to be found in any web host advertising material.

  • I can’t help you one bit with CPU percents or whatnot, but I wanted to say that I’m in the same boat with my sites, often confused by analytics and simultaneously sobered as well. I was glad to read there are other artists out there who are in the same boat. I’ve never been to Japan, but I have slept with my coat on.

  • alexk

    Couple of things:
    Reddit consists mainly (i know i’m oversimplifiying here, but bear with me) of college students, with easy Internet access and little money to spare. So it doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t any significant bump in sales. What you should be hoping this sudden spike gets you is exposure of your work.
    You are basically spot on with the hosting stuff. Dynamic content costs cpu time (because practically the server recreates the page everytime someone requests it) and because the content you provide doesn’t have to be dynamic you could benefit from static pages.

  • Lars Martinson

    Wow, thanks for all the comments and suggestions guys! I’m about to leave for work so I don’t have time to respond to specifics right now, but I’ll try to do it later today.
    Also FYI, I moderate comments to prevent spam, so if anyone else comments, it probably won’t show up for a few hours (yup, just another inefficiency of the site). (^^;)

  • hang in there. i’m well acquainted with the low immediate conversion rate in traffic spikes. but over time, it always, at the very least, puts you on more radars. it’s slow, hard work building a name for yourself and getting into everyone’s consciousness. but you need to focus on the fact that 50,000 people became aware of you, not that 0.5% of them made an impulse purchase. i’m not just being optimistic. 3 months from now see if your average daily traffic has been elevated. if your content is good and a pleasure to consume, i bet you’ll see an increase to the tune of 115-120%. and potentially more sales in that mid-tail. and if all those people forget about you, you have to look at what you can improve to keep their attention better, next time this happens. that rarely has to mean changing your offering. more often it just means figuring out what’s most relevant to new users and putting it up front.

    • Lars Martinson

      Cheers! Yup, once I get my website/CPU woes sorted out I plan to keep posting new stuff and try to build an audience.

  • Robert

    Honestly, I saw the Reddit thread, tried to buy the comic and found it was only on iTunes. I have an android phone and a kindle fire to read on but no iDevice. If you put it somewhere else I’ll buy it.

    • Lars Martinson

      Yup, I hope to make it available in other formats too. Just hard to find the time to do it is all…

  • If you’re getting that kind of traffic maybe consider setting up advertising?

    • Lars Martinson

      I’d like to avoid third party advertising if I can, but I might have to consider it to pay hosting bills… :-/

  • Regarding having to re-code the theme changes after a WordPress theme update – seriously consider making a child theme. It does seem complicated at first but dig in and it quickly gets easier. And it does make later updates a breeze.

  • Android phone/Kindle Fire. I’d buy this comic if it were available on a platform I use.
    Good stuff. Keep up the great work.

  • Great job man, keep up the good work!

  • interesting about how hits don’t equal sales. i figured that if each person who checked out one of my youtube vids downloaded one song from itures, (which i link on the vids) i could pay off my house. oh well. too bad ‘likes’ and nice comments don’t equal revenue.

  • Mike Powers

    It’s amusing to remember the days when disk space was the limit.  I remember web hosting companies that offered a whopping 20 megabytes (!) of disk space.

    Then it was bandwidth–and, to my dinosaur mind, it still was.

    But CPU usage is the limit now?  What is this, 1972?  We’re back to ps, renice, and kill -9?

  • Wow. That’s absolutely sobering. Just getting started myself, I completely relate to the feeling that there are entire swaths of knowledge I just do not have yet. CPU usage? That’s a new one for me. I’m sure there are dozens more.

    Thanks for the push to keep leaning into the learning curve!

  • ilmiguy

    nice.. keep it up