Whatever Happened To The 45th President?

Ever since I installed Google Analytics on AustralianPolitics.com some 5 or 6 years ago, I’ve been addicted to studying the statistics in order to understand who’s using the site and how they’re doing it.

Last November, there was a spike in traffic in the week of the US presidential election. That’s a pattern with the site: major political events, especially elections, produce traffic spikes.

Because there’s quite a lot of material about American politics on the site, an apparent anomaly that I’ve long since stopped worrying about, it didn’t surprise me too much that the Obama-Romney contest would bring more traffic.

What I couldn’t work out, though, is what specifically caused the traffic spike. Tens of thousands of extra visitors came to the site that week. Google ad revenue rose accordingly and in fact it was this that alerted me to the spike.

A cursory check of the traffic stats didn’t provide any answers. The same patterns and proportions I see every month were also there in November.

I must have been asleep because I didn’t burrow into the figures to work out what had happened. Just before Christmas, I finally realised what had occurred.

Google Analytics provides a complete list of keywords that have brought people to the site. It’s very useful for anyone operating a website because you can see exactly how many people have turned up on a particular page in response to a specific search term.

In November, there were 21,902 search terms that brought people to AustralianPolitics.com. That’s fairly standard. In October there were 23,213 search terms, although in December it jumped to 29,466 terms. The figure varies from month to month but is usually between 20,000-30,000.

The figures for November showed a remarkably large number of people searching for the “45th president”. There were numerous variations of the search term – eg “Barack Obama the 45th President” and “who is the 45th president of the United States?”. There were so many variations I gave up trying to count them but I estimate around 50,000 searches on about 100 variations of the question about the 45th president.

And that’s when it dawned on me. Many people were confused about the numbering system for US presidents. Obama became the 44th president when he won the 2008 election and he’s still the 44th president even though he won a second election in 2012. But some people think he must now be the 45th president.

I think the confusion arises because even though Obama is the 44th president, he’s only the 43rd person to have held the office. That’s because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and is the 22nd and 24th president.

As I combed through the search terms, I found some optimists searching for “Mitt Romney 45th president”. One person had typed “Bill Clinton is the 42nd and 43rd president”. There were numerous variations, some quite humorous.

Along the way, I discovered a lot of people were also searching for the 46th, 47th, 48th and 49th president. A couple of people even got into the 50s.

Most of these searchers had arrived at the page which lists the US presidents. The traffic to this page had increased dramatically. But the bounce rate was hovering around 90%.

The bounce rate measures the number of visitors who arrive at a particular page on the site and depart the site from the same page without looking at any other pages. Whilst a 90% bounce rate could mean that visitors found the information they were looking for and then left, in this case I’m fairly certain they left because they didn’t find the answer to their question about the 45th president.

By this stage it had dawned on me that I had missed a golden opportunity to write a post explaining the presidential numbering system. Not only would visitors arriving via a search engine have found the answer to their question but they might have been enticed to further explore the site. No-one who runs a website wants a high bounce rate.

The Analytics are very revealing of what people are searching for and what brings them to your site. In this case, I got the traffic because a Google search on “list of US presidents” produces a results page where AustralianPolitics.com ranks second.

A search on “US presidents” sees the site drop to position 8, still on page one but not as good as “list of US presidents”.

That’s why the piece I posted yesterday on Julia Gillard’s longevity as Prime Minister very deliberately contained “list of Australian Prime Ministers” in the title. I know that I usually get position number one on the Google results page for “list of Australian prime ministers” and “Australian prime ministers”.

You can see this at work on news media websites. Gone are the days when a clever or subtle headline would be used. Now it’s all about a heading that attracts search engine traffic. Keywords are all.

As a sidenote, the drop-down list of suggestions Google offers on their search page indicates that it’s not just the number of US presidents that people are searching for:


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