Statistically Speaking… Tracking CanLit Guides Traffic

In late May, CanLit Guides ticked over the one-year mark since the launch of our 2018 Collection. At that time, we were thrilled to learn that we had received the 2019 Scholarly and Research Communication Journal Innovation Award. The award is intended to recognize the impact and results of innovations made by journals to expand the communication of scholarship, to promote engagement and enhance readership, and to build scholarly communities. The happy coincidence of the award and anniversary made for an especially welcome occasion to revisit the CanLit Guides project’s history and consider the contemporary impact of the 2018 Collection. Statistically speaking, the numbers are inspiring to say the least. In the span of just over a year since our 2018 launch, the CanLit Guides website has been visited over a quarter of a million times, by 75,000 users from 184 countries. That’s certainly a lot of CanLit being spread over ~95% of the international community!

What can we learn from these stats about the kind of contribution the project is making? Figuring out how often the online content is accessed or where it travels is one thing. Knowing how it circulates, why it’s used, whom it reaches, or to what effect is a different beast. (Which is why we love to hear feedback from our users, and have added a “Tell Us What You Think” feature to the sidebars of our chapters.) Assessing the impact of scholarly dissemination is always a challenge, and the totally open-access nature of the CanLit Guides presents its own unique circumstances. “Impact” and “results” are sticky words, too, in the fields of education, literary studies, and the humanities more generally. What are the actual “results” of an educational resource like this? By which metrics are they indexed? How can we measure “impact”?

These questions are not unique to the CanLit Guides, but part of broader and convoluted discussions about how teaching, learning, and scholarship are quantified in higher education and beyond. Establishing measurable results or outcomes can be problematic in fields where the qualitative is not easily quantifiable. The wide range of what can be considered valuable (and by whom) in the lit classroom is not always reflected in standardized metrics used to evaluate the impact of teaching or learning. (Canadian Literature editor Laura Moss discusses many of these complexities in her editorial “Auditing, Counting, and Tracking CanLit”). The numbers tell us CanLit Guides is being widely used, but its impacts are unique to the spaces where it’s used, contingent on the experiences of those who use it, and often made in relations and exchanges between the communities of students, instructors, and public users it’s designed to support.

So, stats can help to tell a story, but they are not the story. Still, for an entirely online resource such as this, the most accessible and powerful tool at our disposal for gauging engagement is web analytics (Google), which offers a range of data sets that enable us to better understand how the site is being used, from where, on what platforms, in which languages, for how long, on what pages, and so on. It also helps us to see how trends develop over time as the content of the CanLit Guides evolves and as the interests amongst its users shift. In late April, we conducted an audit of some of our high-level web statistics for the ~11-month period since the May 2018 launch of the 2018 Collection. We then placed this data alongside the comparable prior-year period to see what we could learn. What story do the numbers tell?

Pre-2018 Collection
22 May 2017–15 Apr. 2018
Post-2018 Collection
22 May 2018–15 Apr. 2019
Year-over-year
           Δ
Total Page Views 100,051 207,871 + 107.77%
Most page views, 1-day 1,064 (Sep 25, 2017) 1,995 (Apr 7, 2019) + 87.50%
Total Users 24,804 58,105 + 134.26%
Users from Canada 14,691 (59.27% of total) 25,701 (44.23% of total) + 74.94%
Countries of Access 150 178 + 28
Reading lists generated 29 47 + 161%

Source: Google Analytics and WordPress

Big picture, it’s an exciting one. The number of page views and users visiting the site have both more than doubled since last year, and our analytics show significant increases in web traffic and utilization of CanLit Guides content across all major metrics. In fact, more users made more visits to the website last year than in the previous two years combined. The popularity of the new 2018 content and the new accessibility features of our redesigned website are reflected in a significant increase in the number of custom CanLit Guides reading lists that have been curated and downloaded by users, both with and without academic institutional affiliations.

Placing these numbers into broader historical perspective is illuminating, particularly in terms of geographical reach. Since CanLit Guides was first launched back in 2010, it has always attracted a healthy amount of traffic and a global community of users, and these numbers have steadily grown along with the project. In its first year, our website had 18,701 users from 121 different countries who visited ~75,000 pages (by comparison, the 2018 numbers are roughly triple these, with a wider international reach). The vast majority of that traffic was, predictably, from Canada (nearly 80%), followed by the US (7%), and then India, the UK, Poland, Germany, Australia, Spain, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. By 2017, the percentage of Canadian users was still an overwhelming majority, but had dipped to ~60%. Looking at the 2018 stats in the context of this broader trend, what is interesting is not just the exciting increase in traffic, but also the increasingly international make-up of our user-base. Our number of Canadian users, while up ~75% year-over-year, is actually much lower as a percentage of our overall user base, now at 44%. So, less than half of the traffic on our Canadian literature resource is now coming from Canada.

Top 10 countries by % of overall users
Of 178 total countries accessing from 22 May 2018–15 Apr. 2019
1. Canada 44.2% 6. Nigeria 1.9%
2. US 19.4% 7. Philippines 1.9%
3. India 8.5% 8. Pakistan 1.1%
4. UK 5.0% 9. Kenya 1.1%
5. Australia 2.5% 10. Germany 1.0%

Source: Google Analytics

This tells an interesting story, particularly in the context of the Canadian government’s cutbacks to financial support of international Canadian Studies programs in 2012. It seems notable, too, that there are now more users accessing our content from Nigeria, Pakistan, and Kenya than from European countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, or Poland where the university study of Canadian literature has traditionally found institutional support. (Eva Darias-Beautell’s introduction to Canadian Literature’s upcoming special issue Rescaling CanLit: Global Readings will have more on this coming this Fall). Nevertheless, if the CanLit Guides are any measure, engagement with CanLit is alive and well abroad, especially in the US, which now accounts for one out of every five visits we receive.

Some other interesting stats over the past year:

  • Roughly half of our Canadian traffic is from Ontario (48%), followed by BC (24%), Alberta (12%), and Quebec (5%). Toronto leads the way in terms of visits by Canadian city (15%), then Vancouver (7%), Edmonton (5%), Calgary (5%), and Ottawa (4.5%).
  • Chicago is the third-most active city in terms of web traffic globally (after Toronto and Vancouver). We received more visitors from Chennai than Montreal, from Sydney than Saskatoon, from Nairobi than Hamilton, and from Saint Petersburg than Quebec City.
  • Around 30% of our users now access the CanLit Guides on mobile phones, 3% on tablets, and the remaining two-thirds on computers.
  • The most active day in our website’s history was April 7, 2019, with ~2,000 pageviews. Interestingly, this was a Sunday. Not coincidentally, it was the day before final exams began at many Canadian universities.
  • The most frequently accessed chapter from our new 2018 Collection is An Introduction to the Short Story in Canada: Reading Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are?.
  • Among the new chapters, those focusing on individual authors and/or texts (e.g., on Marie Clements’ Burning Vision, Dionne Brand’s No Language is Neutral, or Joy Kogawa’s Obasan) tend to generate slightly more traffic than chapters dedicated to historical/cultural context (e.g., Multiculturalism, Censorship), literary/cultural theory (e.g., Diaspora Studies, Border Studies), or genre (e.g., Comics, Periodicals).
  • Two skills-based guides—on Close Reading Prose and Close Reading Poetry—are among the most popular and frequently accessed on the site as a whole.
  • Chapters on Indigenous writers, texts, and literary history account for the largest number of visits and visitors collectively. The chapters on Tekahionwake/E. Pauline Johnson, on Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach, on Orature and Literature, and on Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters are particularly popular.

While we are open to the public and attract many non-academic users, stats about the use of our content are undoubtedly reflective of larger trends and dynamics in the field today, including who is teaching Canadian literature, where it is institutionalized in curricula and syllabi, and which texts/authors are most prevalent in those locations. These figures can be read for the stories they tell about CanLit Guides usage, just as the Guides are part of a larger story about how CanLit is being taught, studied, valued, and critically engaged more generally.

Have a story about your experiences using the CanLit Guides? We welcome your feedback, opinions, constructive criticisms, and any other comments!

—Brendan McCormack, Senior Editorial Assistant