It’s incredibly sad that Christopher Schmitt passed away last week¹. I keep thinking about how Christopher was one of the best dudes I knew. Just incredibly kind and thoughtful all the way through. I know everyone says that about people after they pass, but I really mean it here. I’m sure we all know people that we like quite a bit, but hey, we know they can be an asshole sometimes too. Not Christopher, at least not to me. He was always good to me in ways I’ll never be able to reciprocate.
Here’s the most important thing:
We (a group of developer friends) would like to build a site of memories that people have of Christopher. We have our own, but we’d like to collect as many memories from as many people as possible to make this a true memorial to him. If you have one you would like to share publicly, please submit it to this little site just for that.
I hardly know where to start reminiscing about Christopher. Broadly: I spoke at more conferences thrown by Christopher (and Ari) than anyone else. At least a dozen. He used to throw on called In Control in Orlando that I spoke at a number of times and met some early web friends that I’m still close with today! Stephanie Rewis mentioned to me that’s where we met the first time and she remembers me coding away on a yet-to-be released CodePen while there. In Control went to Hawaii one year, along with the first-ever CSS Dev Conf, brining me to Hawaii for the first time in my life, where I remember driving around the island with Daniel Burka. CSS Dev Conf went all sorts of amazing places, and I went to all of them! Estes Park, New Orleans, The Queen Mary… all these incredible locations that were all incredible memories for me.
And all I have are blurry, distant photos of him like this:
Christopher and Ari also ran an absolute ton of online conferences. CSS Summit, RWD Summit, SVG Summit… they ran a ton of them and they were really ahead of their time. I remember a funny moment where I had just moved to a new city and my internet wasn’t installed yet, but I still had to present online at one of these, so I did it out of my neighbors garage (as their kids slept), and the light in the garage kept going out because it didn’t detect movement. 😬
The people I met through Christopher are too many to count. He was a great connector in that way. His influence on the web was tremendous through his direct work, like writing (what, a dozen books?), blogging (even here!), speaking, and podcasting (e.g. The Non Breaking Space Show) but when you consider the people he brought together, his influence is immeasurable.
I literally made money off the guy. In the early years of ShopTalk, when it was tough to sell podcast spots at all, Christopher would sponsor every episode of ShopTalk, which probably gave us the boost that ensured it’s still happening today. Who knows what would have happened without that.
One of the things I liked best about Christopher is that he was a damn nerd. Through and through. In a way that made you envious that you could one day hope to up your nerd level that high. Guy had a Chewbacca costume that he wore regularly. His Instagram is full of snaps of him meeting other famous nerds.
I hope you still got those black Converses on wherever you are, buddy.
One of our yearly traditions here is to thank all y’all CSS-Tricks readers at the passing of a new year. It means a lot to me that people come here and read the words I write, and the words of all our staff and guest authors that contribute here as well.
Plus, we dig into the numbers this time of year. I’ve always tried to be open about the analytics on this site. Looking at them year after year always serves up a good reminder: niche blogging is a slow game. There’s no hockey-stick growth around here. Never has been, never will be. The trick is to build slowly over time, taking care of the site, investing in it, working hard, and with some luck, numbers trend upward. This year, overall traffic didn’t even do that. Sometimes you gotta fight for what you’ve got! Growth came in other areas though. Let’s take a gander.
It was January 1st, 2019 that the current design of this site (v17) debuted, so this entire year overlaps perfectly with that. I’ll certainly be tempted to release major iterations with that same timing in the future for comparison sake.
Google Analytics is showing me 90.3 million pageviews, which is a bit of a decline from 2018 at over 91 million. A 1% decline. Not a big problem, but of course I’d way rather see a 1% increase instead. We’ll take that as a kick in the butt to produce a stronger year of content to hopefully more than win it back.
Looks like we published 726 articles over the year, which includes link posts and sponsored links. A good leap from 636 last year and 595 the year before that. Clearly quantity isn’t the trick to traffic for us.
I don’t know that we’ll slow down necessarily. I like the fact that we’re publishing multiple times a day with noteworthy links because I like to think of us as a timely industry publication that you can read like a daily or weekly newspaper in addition to being an evergreen reference. I don’t think we’ll invest in increasing volume, though. Quality moves the needle far more than quantity for this gang.
There is a bunch of numbers I just don’t feel like looking at this year. We’ve traditionally done stuff like what countries people are from, what browsers they use (Chrome-dominant), mobile usage (weirdly low), and things like that. This year, I just don’t care. This is a website. It’s for everyone in the world that cares to read it, in whatever country they are in and whatever browser they want to. We still track those numbers (because Google Analytics automatically does), so we can visit them again in the future and look historically if it gets interesting again. Taking a quick peak, however, it’s not much different than any other year.
Performance numbers are always fascinating. Google Analytics tells me the average page load time is 5.32s. On my fast home internet (even faster at the office), the homepage loads for me in 970ms, but it’s more like 30 seconds when throttled to “Slow 3G.” “Fast 3G” is 8 seconds. Sorta makes sense that most visitors are on faster-than-3G connections since the traffic is largely skewed toward desktop. No cache, we’re talking 54 requests (including ads) and 770KB (fits on a floppy). It’s good enough that I’m not itching to dig into a performance sprint.
Top posts of the year
You’d think we would do a section like this ever year, but because of our URL structure, I haven’t had easy access to figure this out. Fortunately, in March 2019, Jacob Worsøe helped us add some Custom Dimensions to our Google Analytics so we can track things like author and year with each pageview.
That means we can find things, like the most popular articles written in 2019, rather than just the most popular articles looked at in 2019 — regardless of when they were was written. Here’s a graph Jacob sent:
8.25% of traffic came from articles written this year. If you look at where these articles fall on the list of all URLs in 2019 (not just those published in 2019), the top article starts at #75! Hard to compete with older articles that have had time to gather SEO steam. This kind of thing makes me want to get re-focused on referential content even more.
Interesting that our top article was editorial, but everything else is referential. I like a little editorial here and there, but clearly our bread and butter is how-to technical stuff.
There are two aspects of search that are interesting to me:
What do people search for right here on the site itself?
What search terms do people use on Google to find this site?
On-site search is handled by Jetpack’s Elasticsearch feature, which I’m still quite liking (they are a sponsor, but it’s very true). This also means we can track its usage pretty easily using the analytics on my WordPress.com dashboard. I also installed a Search Meter plugin to track search form entries. I can look at Google searches through the SiteKit plugin, which pulls from Google Search Console.
Here are all three, with duplicates removed.
Jetpack Search Data
Search Meter Search Data
Google Search Data
vertical align css
the great divide
css background image opacity
There is a bit of a fat head of traffic here with our top 10 pages doing about 10% of traffic, which syncs up with those big searches for stuff like flexbox and grid and people landing on our great guides. If you look at our top 100 pages, that goes out to about 38% of traffic, and articles past that are about 0.1% of traffic and go down from there. So I’d say our long tail is our most valuable asset. That mass of articles, videos, snippets, threads, etc. that make up 62% of all traffic.
It’s always this time of year I realize how little social media does for our traffic and feel stupid for spending so much time on it. We pretty much only do Twitter and it accounts for 1% of the traffic to this site. We still have a Facebook page but it’s largely neglected except for auto-posting our own article links to it. I find value in Twitter, through listening in on industry conversations and having fun, but I’m going to make a concerted effort to spend less time and energy on our outgoing social media work. If something is worth tweeting for us, it should be worth blogging; and if we blog it, it can be auto-tweeted.
But by way of numbers, we went from 380k followers on @css to 430k. Solid growth there, but the rate of growth is the same every year, to the point it’s weirdly consistent.
I also picked up an Instagram account this year. Haven’t done much there, but I still like it. For us, I think each post on Instagram can represent this little opportunity to clearly explain an idea, which could ultimately turn into a nice referential book or the like someday. A paultry 1,389 followers there.
I quite like our newsletter. It’s this unique piece of writing that goes out each week and gives us a chance to say what we wanna say. It’s often a conglomeration of things we’ve posted to the site, so it’s an opportunity to stay caught up with the site, but even those internal links are posted with new commentary. Plus, we link out to other things that we may not mention on the site. And best of all, it typically has some fresh editorial that’s unique to the newsletter. The bulk of it is done by Robin, but we all chip in.
All that to say: I think it’s got a lot of potential and we’re definitely going to keep at it.
We had the biggest leap in subscribership ever this year, starting the year at 40k subscribers and ending at 65k. That’s 2.5× the biggest leap in year-over-year subscribers so far. I’d like to think that it’s because it’s a good newsletter, but also because it’s integrated into the site much better this year than it ever has been.
Oh, bittersweet comments. The bad news is that I feel like they get a little worse every year. There is more spam. People get a little nastier. I’m always teetering on the edge of just shutting them off. But then someone posts something really nice or really helpful and I’m reminded that we’re a community of developers and I love them again.
4,710 approved comments. Up quite a bit from 3,788 last year, but still down from 5,040 in 2017. Note that these are approved comments, and it’s notable that this entire year we’ve been on a system of hand-approving all comments before they go out. Last year, I estimated about half of comments make it through that, and this year I’d estimate it at more like 30-40%. So, the straight-up number of comments isn’t particularly interesting as it’s subject to our attitude on approval. Next year, I plan to have us be more strict than we’ve ever been on only approving very high-quality comments.
I’m still waiting for WordPress to swoon me with a recommitment to making commenting good again. 😉
There were a couple of weeks just in December where I literally shut down the forums. They’ve been teetering on end-of-life for years. The problem is that I don’t have time to tend to them myself, nor do I think it’s worth paying someone to do so, at least not now. Brass tacks, they don’t have any business value and I don’t extract enough other value out of them to rationalize spending time on them.
If they just sat there and were happy little forums, I’d just leave them alone, but the problem is spam. It was mostly spam toward the end, which is incredibly tedious to clean up and requires extra human work.
I’ve kicked them back on for now because I was informed about a spam-blocking plugin that apparently can do incredible work specifically for bbPress spam. Worth a shot!
Interestingly, over the year, the forums generated 7m pageviews, which is 7.6% of all traffic to the site. Sorta makes sense as they are the bulk of the site URLs and they are user-generated threads. Long tail.
✅ Polish this new design. Mixed feelings. But I moved the site to a private GitHub repo half-way through the year, and there have been 195 commits since then, so obviously work is getting done. I’ll be leaving this design up all of 2020 and I’d like to make a more concerted effort at polish.
✅ Improve newsletter publishing and display. Nailed this one. In March, we moved authoring right here on the site using the new Gutenberg editor in WordPress. That means it’s easier to write while being much easier to display nicely on this site. Feels great.
☯️ Raise the bar on quality. I’m not marking it as a goal entirely met because I’m not sure we changed all that much. There was no obvious jump upward in quality, but I think we do pretty good in general and would like to see us continue to hold steady there.
❌ Better guides. We didn’t do all that much with guides. Part of the problem is that it’s a little confusing. For one thing, we have “guides” (e.g. our guide to flexbox) which is obviously useful and doing well. Then there are “Guide Collections” (e.g. our Custom Properties Guide) which are like hand-picked and hand-ordered selections of articles. I’m not entirely sure how useful those hand-curated guides are, especially considering we also have tag pages which are more sortable. The dudes with the biggest are the hand-written articles-on-steroids types, so that’s worth the most investment.
100k on email list. That would be a jump of 35k which is more than we’ve ever done. Ambitious. Part of this is that I’m tempted to try some stuff like paid advertising to grow it, so I can get a taste for that world. Didn’t Twitter have a special card where people could subscribe right from a Tweet? Stuff like that.
Two guides. The blog-post-on-steroids kind. The flexbox one does great for us, traffic-wise, but I also really enjoy this kind of creative output. I’ll be really sad if we can’t at least get two really good ones done this year.
Have an obvious focus on how-to referential technical content. This is related to the last goal, but goes for everyday publishing. I wouldn’t be mad if every darn article we published started with “How To.”
Get on Gutenberg. The new WordPress block editor. This is our most ambitious goal. Or at least I think it is. It’s the most unknown because I literally don’t know what issues we’re going to face when turning it on for more than a decade’s worth of content that’s been authored in the classic editor. I don’t think it’s going to hurt anything. It’s more a matter of making sure:
authoring posts has all the same functionality and conveniences as we have now,
editing old posts doesn’t require any manual conversion work, and
it feels worth doing.
But I haven’t even tried yet, so it’s a don’t-know-what-I-don’t-know situation.
Again, thanks so much!
I was thinking about how stage musicians do that thing where they thank their fans almost unfailingly. Across any genre. Even if they say hardly anything into a microphone during the performance, they will at least thank people for coming, if not absolutely gush appreciation at the crowd. It’s cliché, but it’s not disingenuous. I can imagine it’s genuinely touching to look out across a room of people that all choose to spend a slice of their lives listening to you do your thing.
I feel that way here. I can’t see you as easily as looking out over a room, but I feel it in the comments you post, the emails you send, the tweets you tagged us in, and all that. You’re spending some of your life with us and that makes me feel incredibly grateful. Cheers.
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 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 interested 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 and 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. I 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 is 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 conjuction 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 for 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 to 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 see the number of posts we publish go down if we could make the quality go up. Nothing aginast 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.