More than 20 years ago, I kicked off my writing career by doing travel pieces for an English-language newspaper here in Taiwan. A few books and hundreds (possibly more than a thousand, I long ago stopped counting) of articles later, things seem to have come full circle. Since summer 2018, I’ve been taking care of the weekly travel column at Taipei Times.
In 2018, I wrote 22 Highways & Byways articles. The 2019 total will be 48. I also wrote five non-travel features for the newspaper this year, one of which will appear on New Year’s Eve. Each article appears twice on the newspaper’s website — once as a conventional webpage with photos, then again in a text-only format labeled “Print Edition.” Google searches favor the former, while the latter pages don’t show how many times they’ve been viewed. Earlier this week, I decided to tally the visible viewing statistics in case I could learn something useful about readers’ preferences.
My writing doesn’t set the Internet alight. I’ve long known that. Page-view numbers are mostly four digits. In terms of online eyeballs, the most successful article I wrote for Taipei Times this year was the non-column feature “Expats play key role in boosting Taiwan’s tourism” (September 10). So far, it’s accumulated just over 12,000 views. The Highways & Byways winner, “A modest achievement in Nantou” (April 19), looks set to top 7,000 views any day now. Oddly, it’s a fair way ahead of the next five most-read travel pieces, all of which were viewed between 5,000 and 5,500 times.
So what common denominators are shared by the most popular articles? It’s very hard to say. People searching for cycling travelogs might stumble across “A modest achievement.” But of the next five? A couple are about museums (and very different museums: one focuses on insects, the other is archaelogical); one describes a hike near Alishan; the other two cover stretches of coastline seldom visited by international travelers. Is there a “slow burn” effect, with articles gradually picking up page views months after publication? I’ve no idea. Perhaps in six months’ time I’ll go back and check the numbers again, to see if certain types of article are more likely to become evergreens.
East Taiwan is many Westerners’ favorite region, yet the articles I wrote about Taitung and Hualien didn’t get much attention, typically fewer than 3,000 views. Is this because I steered cleared of famous destinations like Taroko Gorge? Perhaps. So… will I change the way I choose places to write about? No, I won’t. I’ve learned no clear lessons from this little bit of web-data analysis, and I’m very fortunate to have an editor who gives me a great deal of freedom. I’ll continue to visit and write up destinations that I think deserve coverage, be they religious sites, museums, or nuclear research reactors.
UPDATE: A few weeks after I wrote this piece, page-view counts disappeared from all Taipei Times articles! I’m told the website will be revamped in the near future.