Science So What? So Everything: web stats

Following some discussion of the Science So What? campaign, they have helpfully e-mailed us their web stats – in response to a question that we raised. The stats for the campaign from its 27th January start through to 20th May are therefore reproduced below:

Science So What main site
These are from the site launch (27th January) to 20th May 2009:
15,271 Visits
11,515 Absolute Unique Visitors
63,256 Pageviews
4.14 Average Pageviews per visit
00:02:42 Average Time on Site
Science So What Blog
These are from launch date (March 19th) to 20th May 2009
1,978 visits
2,756 pages viewed
1.39 average page views per visit
1:05 average time on site

How many people have left the site via the links pages as a whole?

“Find Out More” (links) pages:
Favourites : 987
Education : 447
Partners : 231
DirectGov : 199

At present we do not have a way of measuring accurately the exits via links alone (as per above) but we can measure total exits from article pages : 327



Filed under patrick holford

23 responses to “Science So What? So Everything: web stats

  1. gimpy

    I had more unique visitors last month than they had during their entire time in operation.

    gimpyblog – more widely read than Science So What? – who would have thought?

    Bragging aside those figures are terrible for DIUS. £600,000 and they can’t even generate a greater impact than a Z list blogger.

    • To be fair, the cash was also used to generate a fair amount of media coverage (tabloid articles etc. will have been seen by a good number of people). But, yes, there were all kinds of problems with online parts of the campaign.

  2. gimpy

    Just to add to my gloating previous comment. I think this shows the perils of not acknowledging and communicating with bloggers. With the right attitude it would not have been difficult to get bloggers to plug the Science So What? site and send considerable traffic their way. It would have been cheaper than celebrity riddled posh launches in Downing Street too.

  3. Elliot

    Just to add a couple of comments / clarifications.

    The 600K figure is for the whole campaign, not just the digital side. In fact, the web build etc elements (without giving away any commercially confident information) is less than 15% of that figure. I don’t have the exact figures as I don’t deal with the budgets directly, but that’s my recollection from what I’ve seen. The costs certainly weren’t especially high compared to similar projects or commercial projects.

    Additionally, webstats alone are not the only measure of success for a campaign, although more attention will certainly be paid to them in the next phase of online work. It’s also worth considering that a lot of costs are “front-end” and that the cost of the various digital assets decreases over time. Moreover, digital campaigns like this one should evolve and embed, which means that the figures should look better, in terms of both “return on investment” and total cost over time, the longer the campaign runs.

    Again, without necessarily being overly critical of the work to date, it’s not controversial for me to say that we aren’t wholly satisfied with the numbers thus far and it’s something we’re working on as I write. I will happily share more details when I can, and rest assured we’ll be looking to gain input and advice from a much wider range of sources than previously.

    If there was a reticence on behalf of some of us here to ask bloggers to help promote the site before, it’s probably because we didn’t feel 100% comfortable with the material we had to offer…. Probably best if I leave it at that for now. *coughs*

    If anyone has any questions on the stats or would like to know any of the other stats we might have access to, do ask and I’ll try and answer here.


    • gimpy

      OK leaving aside the £600,000, which I appreciate is a pittance in Whitehall terms (although I suspect it will be a focal point of criticism), I am intrigued by this comment:

      If there was a reticence on behalf of some of us here to ask bloggers to help promote the site before, it’s probably because we didn’t feel 100% comfortable with the material we had to offer

      Was anybody with any proven expertise in science communication employed by anybody working on Science So What? in an advisory role or one with significant contributory capacity?

    • Wulfstan

      The digital side may well have come in at less than £90K but it is not looking like value for money. It is profoundly disappointing if one takes into account that the digital side should have benefited from the extensive and comparatively successful campaign in the mainstream media. However, you’re probably keenly aware of that so it would be inappropriate to comment further on the matter.

      Again, it is good that you are here and commenting, Elliot.

  4. I get more unique visitors in a week than this entire campaign has received. And sites like Ben Goldacre’s or Ed Yong’s (probably the best young science writer in the UK) are considerably more visited still, which makes it surprising to me that you didn’t consult the vibrant online science community.

    You say: “…it’s probably because we didn’t feel 100% comfortable with the material we had to offer”

    That’s exactly why you should have come to us! Ed, Ben, myself and the others have experience in what works, we’ve been doing this for a while, we’re published in print and in other organs. I can’t speak for the others, but I’m based in Windsor and I would have been more than happy to come and meet you (and still would).

    • Thanks – we’ve approached Ed Yong, and some others.

      It’s positive that Science So What are looking to improve things. Hopefully there will be opportunities to contribute as things move forwards.

    • Wulfstan

      To be fair, Martin, you’ve been quite up-front about using linkbait to attract 9/11 Truthers and similar to boost your figures. It’s not as if it would be appropriate for the Science: So What campaign to do that.

      • @Wulfstan

        The 9/11 link bait was purely accidental, and I don’t intentionally use link bait at all. The bulk of the audience I have now comes from good writing, participation in things like researchblogging, the fact that I write for other more prestigious sites like LibCon, good use of social network tools like Twitter, and having a couple of useful celebrity followers.

        These are all techniques that are appropriate for anyone to use.

        • Wulfstan

          Then I appear to have misunderstood the tenor of your comments about yourself on the Bad Science forum. I should say that you have been very skillful and that is hardly a criticism. Unless I am mixing you up with someone else you had a plan for your website and a set of targets to meet and you did what you needed to meet them.

          I read this and lighthearted references to your parasites post as part of that strategy to meet your defined targets.

          Again, none of that was a criticism. Self-promotion is a very useful career skill.

        • @Wulfstan below:
          Lol, no, I was more just making an observation, and moaning about the fact that when I write serious posts nobody reads them :)

  5. Well I too had more unique visitors in the first two weeks of May than SSW have had altogether. To be fair, though, it takes time to build up readers. I think it helps that, if you come to, you can get an answer from me, not from a PR zombie. It seems that a lot of people prefer the personal and independent and passionate to the corporate and bland.

    But the really mind-boggling bit for me is the £600,000. It costs me a few tenners a year from my own pocket to run and it costs the taxpayer zilch. zero, nothing.

    • I think the point about the personal touch is really important. Your blog has an asset – David Colquhoun. Their site has some HTML code. You can’t have a relationship with a website.

      And ditto. I’d love to know what proportion of the £600k was spent on the website, because costs a thousandth of that to run…

    • Wulfstan

      “PR zombies” have feelings too (although none are involved in this thread, I don’t think). PR seems to be a necessary evil if people want attention for an issue in mainstream media. It wasn’t PR but would it be fair to say that your profile was substantially boosted when Ben Goldacre used his column and his blog to publicise your difficulty with Dr Anne Walker?

      I think that most of us would acknowledge that for most people/products/campaigns, there is no mainstream media coverage without PR.

      I hope that the writers of Holfordwatch don’t mind me mentioning that they have a substantial number of commenters who accuse them of vitriol, being Pharma Shills etc. because they discuss science, research quality etc. and that somehow upsets people and their world view. Unfortunately, not all commenters seem to appreciate their independent and passionate voices – not that that would be a reason to desist.

      In light of the reason Simon Singh case, I do wonder if it might be more difficult than ever for govt. employees to comment on science stories or alt med issues without being inundated with complaints and howls of outrage and accusations that this seems to be govt. policy, contrary to who knows what. Again, not a reason that there shouldn’t be a reasonable, high-quality attempt.

  6. Elliot

    I refer the honorable gentlemen to my previous comment above!

    “The 600K figure is for the whole campaign, not just the digital side. In fact, the web build etc elements (without giving away any commercially confident information) is less than 15% of that figure. I don’t have the exact figures as I don’t deal with the budgets directly, but that’s my recollection from what I’ve seen. The costs certainly weren’t especially high compared to similar projects or commercial projects.”

    And, yes, both of you have good assets to start with in that your writing / editing / presentation is the “draw.” Please remember – the SSW site isn’t aimed at an audience that is already engaged with science; it’s aimed at people who have no / little interest in science at present, so the numbers etc should be taken in that context. We have to convince people to visit!


  7. warumich

    Gimpy, Martin & David: I also have to rush to SSW’s defence here – what do you honestly think 90k can buy you? I make that the salaries of a couple of staff for a couple of years (not too many) + consultancy costs and some overheads. You’re beginning to sound like the Taxpayers Alliance.
    Yes you three do your websites for free, we know that, but if Dius had phoned you with a proposal to work for them for free for a couple of years, I doubt you’d have jumped at it. I for example was payed for my contribution to Understandin Uncertainty.

    Also site stats measure something, but not neccessarily whether it achieved its goals, which may have been something else entirely (the DVLA website’s goals are to give clear and concise information. They do that well enough even if nobody ever clicked there).
    Also a blog that is only ever read by a handful of politicians and journalists has a bigger influence than a blog that is read by millions of accidental surfers.
    And lastly, your respective blogs had years to develop a readership, you are free to follow your own personal whims, and it is you who get to decide how you measure success.

    Yes I agree there are problems with SSW, but keep a sense of perspective. It is not a blog in your sense, and you can’t judge it by the same standards.

    • gimpy

      Fair enough warumich, but I think it is legitimate to press the point about whether or not acknowledged experts in science communication has a significant role in SSW?. Eliott does seem to admit to a lack of confidence in the SSW? content, regardless of sums spent if you have not employed relevant expertise and lack confidence in your output then it does imply a inefficient use of resources.

      On the subject of standards, I’d be interested to know how you would define parameters to measure the success of any science communication effort?

  8. I certainly wish SSW good luck. Anything that leads to greater appreciation of the beauty of science, and helps people to distinguish the true from the false, is good.

    Wulfstan is right, the whole affair of Anne Walker and the blood cleanser, was the biggest single boost to my readship. He is also right that this was not PR, just serendipity.

    The problem with PR is that it promotes whatever it is paid to promoted, quite regardless of correctness. That is the opposite aim to mine, and it is the opposite of science. Even academic bloggers have been urged to promote their university’s image rather than write what they want (though I myself haven’t suffered from any direct pressure of that sort).

    I suppose that one of the problems for SSW is that may be seen as a branch of government and that doesn’t help, not least at the moment. But if they produce good enough stuff, and if they show that they aren’t afraid to criticise the government line when necessary, and that they are talking science not PR, they could take off.

    I hope they do.

  9. I would surmise that the difference (between the poor “viewing” figures for SSW and the much better ones for well-read blogs) comes down to both context AND content.

    In context terms, many of the kind of folk who find a lot of information online – and I think this is true in the sceptical, the neutral and the scientifically-deluded (delusional?) communities – are hardly ever looking for “official” sites for anything except official information – like “how do I renew my car tax online” in Warumich’s example . And people are all the more unlikely to hunt for interesting reading on worthy but dull official sites, as so many tend to be.

    A linked problem is content. The successful blogs, as several people have already pointed out, are written by people who are enthusiasts, and good writers, and frequently proper experts to boot. These blogs have content that is informative, entertaining, opinionated, readable etc etc.

    It is hard for an official site to replicate this because of the pressure to be what I would call “worthily unobjectionable” – see below.

    The solution is to go out and head-hunt people who will write interesting content – but even that can be hard with the inevitably slightly dead hand of officialdom on the tiller.

    To give you an example, I run a members magazine for a scientific society. Although we do our best to be editorially independent. there is inevitable pressure not to say anything which is out of line with the society’s official view as articulated by its governing body / Great and Good. And when we do, we get rumblings of discontent from said folk, who are of course those paying the bills (bills for production/distribution). Now, we defend our stance by saying we are representing and reflecting a community of non-uniform opinions – including, sometimes, facetious and non-PC ones – and that that, rather than promotion or official-Caesar’s Wife-ism, is our “mission”. But the tension is pretty much inevitable. Indeed, part of the reason I have a blog is to give me another outlet for stuff that might create tedious keruffle if I put it in a more mainstream/official “organ”.

    I think Warumich also has a point about cost, BTW. We are very lucky to have WordPress and the other free blogging platforms. And of course, “free” models only works because many people – notably the content providers, i.e. us – work for nothing. Going back to our society magazine, we produce it in a production run of several thousand for a net cost of around £ 2 a copy, including all production costs. But if we had to PAY the editorial staff and contributors the commercial going rate – as opposed to nothing or a nominal pittance – that production cost would be far more.

    Another point is that we often only know about the stuff we write about because of our (paid) day jobs. Remember when Univs threatened to try and claim rights to any IP academics generated outside working hours if it was something you (arguably) knew about as a result of your job? They failed, but they certainly appeared ready to try it.

    I think the solution is to set up a site, employ a thrusting younger science writer type as editor / moderator, and get other writers / enthusiasts to provide the content, in effect a bit like running an online pop science journal or a group blog. But bear in mind the “control” and “officially authorised messages” issues. Inevitably, the bigger and more quasi-governmental the organisation, the more elephantine / slow-moving / controversy-phobic it will be. It is a gamble for such entities to basically give some young Turk the money to set up and simply let him/her get on with it, and even when they do it the official body will tend to have a lot of “indigestion” about it.

    PS My blog gets far less readers than all the others mentioned here… though I do take pride in the fact that it gets far more readers than my University Faculty’s “Information for the Lay Public” site.

    • Re: the need to be “worthily unobjectionable”. Yes – this is a substantial issue. Nonethless, more and more organisations are experimenting with this in interesting ways, see SW Airlines and (as we’ve previously discussed) the US Airforce. However, as per Wulfstan, given the level of some objections that are received when criticising deeply cherished “world views” on a range of matters, then it’s probably one of those areas where a government department has to go for defensiveness and hive that out to a third-party that isn’t going to produce inanity, banality yet doesn’t bring them into disrepute by association.

      Perhaps oddly, I’m not going to second the Young Turk approach. People reinventing a wheel because they didn’t know that one existed can be unbelievably tiresome and there is a tendency to overlook the fact that just because something is new to one person doesn’t mean it is new to everyone. Warumich (to some extent) made that point in his guest post – the report did look a bit, “Gee wow, this is how the brave new Young Turks do science engagement and no-one has ever done this before”: in fact, there is a long and well-buttressed tradition of public engagement and people who have a good knowledge of what doesn’t work, which can be tremendously useful.

      I have friends and family whose blood pressure rises several points whenever some bright, young, social media guru discovers the problem about the importance of content and how to style it in appropriate ways to meet the needs of particular audiences. If I listened more to the rants I would probably know exactly how far back this issue goes but I gather that there is a history of this sort of problem being discussed in the academic literature since the 1980s when the Brave New World was all about expert systems and knowledge-based systems. However, these self-styled gurus aren’t availing themselves of the knowledge that already exists because they don’t know it exists or that it may have some strong relevance.

  10. Just to note: DIUS Science and Society strategy is online now.

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