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  •  Saturday, November 3, 2012   
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Another month flies past like a distant memory & here I am writing our 3rd update post for October. The last month has had its fair share of ups, downs & frustrations but we’re definitely moving forward at a good pace – to give you some perspective we increased our traffic in October by 311% compared to September.

Going Viral

At the start of September I stumbled across a Tumblr blog called Free Cabin Porn, whilst I’m not particularly an avid outdoor adverturer at this stage of my life I used to be in the Boy Scouts so the outdoors always holds a special place in my heart. I found myself incredibly engaged & addicted to the content, before I knew it almost 20 pages had scrolled past & there was no sign of me slowing down.

In the back of my mind I thought ‘I wonder if there’s something like this out there for servers or data centers?’ which to my surprise there wasn’t. There’s a sub-reddit, which is awesome but no blog that provides something new for you to look at daily. Within a few hours I converted our blog theme over to Tumblr & Server Porn was born. If you look at last months update post you will see that I had already posted 21 posts, literally just after I posted that blog update things started to go a little crazy.

@shaunpud from Low End Talk submitted the main Server Porn page to Reddit & Hacker News, normally any time I’ve ever submitted something myself it never takes off. But this time it reached the front page of Hacker News within a few minutes, the main frontpage of Reddit wasn’t as successful but we did make it to the top of their Server Porn sub-reddit for a number of weeks. The impact on traffic was instantenous as you can see from the graph above we had somewhere close to 300 conncurrent users on the site at the peak.

Some interesting observations:

  1. A lot of people commented that using porn in the domain name is off putting, especially for those online at work. I couldn’t imagine it getting traction being called something else.
  2. We got a huge uptake on Twitter. Unfortunately I didn’t put our Twitter follow button (@serverbear) in the sidebar, so I think we lost out on a few of potential followers during the peak period.
  3. We now have 71 followers on Tumblr. I see a huge advantage having this type of fun blog on Tumblr, we made it easy to reblog & follow us so you see some good network/sharing within the Tumblr eco-system.
  4. The Server Porn blog itself has close to 600 RSS subscribers which is insane (although it’s hard to know how many are real or bots), as a result we now get a lot of direct traffic to the site every day. I did forget to enable the Email Subscriptions (even though we still had the signup form in the sidebar), that’s fixed now but we probably lost out on lots of people wanting to get a daily email
  5. Finding high quality Server Porn is not an easy task, I’ll normally spend a few hours queuing up the posts on a Monday evening. But I’m already running out of good stuff, if you have any good pictures you can submit them here!
  6. We did have a huge surge in Benchmarks during the traffic spike, a lot of the Hacker News readers seem to use Linode which resulted in 17 new Linode Benchmarks during a 3 day period.
  7. We now rank in Google Images for several porn related keywords. Which makes some some interesting internal searches. ^_^

Traffic Stats

The impact on overall traffic has been extremely positive, you can see the massive spike at the start of the month (I’ve also overlayed the previous month so you can get an idea of %change) we were averaging 200-300 visitors per day in September. Now we average anywhere from 500-800 vistors per day depending on various factors.

Here’s our top 10 traffic sources for the month, you can see a massive increase in direct traffic (possibly people using Twitter clients) plus a huge amount of traffic from Twitter directly.

We also had a great month increasing our natural traffic from organic search, you can see we increased almost 100% month on month. Possibly due to some of the links & mentions we got from the viral traffic.

Some of the popular landing pages from organic search this month were:

  1. Unmetered VPS (100 Visits)
  2. Europe VPS (63 Visits)
  3. Web Hosting Coupons (61 Visits)
  4. KVM VPS (53 Visits)
  5. Asia VPS (43 Visits)

Site Stats

Not much growth in most of these stats this month, we’ve been pretty busy focusing on existing hosts in the system & improving the data we have. We feel like we’re reaching a point where we have a large portion of the popular hosts covered, but do also have quite a few in our queue to add.

  1. 860+ New Benchmarks – This number is down on the previous month, I spent less time adding hosts this month therefore less time reaching out for comprehensive benchmarks for all plans.
  2. 74 code commits
  3. 10 bug fixes
  4. 34 helpdesk requests (mostly hosts getting in touch)
  5. 520 unassigned benchmarks sitting in our queue, these are benchmarks that haven’t been uploaded as we’ve not added the host, quite a lot are invalid
  6. 12 hosting coupons posted
  7. 119 hosting plans added (4 / day)
  8. 22% of links are affiliated, bit of a drop due to adding new hosts
  9. 6 Blog Posts
  10. 3 Web Hosting Interviews
  11. 30 server porn pictures posted
  12. 63 Tweets & up to 180 followers (@serverbear)

Exclusive Coupons for October

We had great success in October getting some exclusive coupons for our users, I really feel like unique coupons that you can’t find anywhere else really adds to the experience. There’s nothing better than finding a plan that meets your needs perfectly then also finding out that you can get 30% off for life.

This months exclusives:

Atlantic.net Coupon: $25 Trial Credit
DigitalOcean Coupon: 1 Month Free (On smallest plan)
PrismaVPS Coupon: 50% Off First Month
Hostgator Coupon: 25% Recurring Discount
SiteServing Coupon: 25% Recurring Lifetime Discount
StormVZ Coupon: 25% Recurring Lifetime Discount

Web Hosting Interviews

Over the last few months I’ve seen a few hosts really do things differently so I reached out to them & asked for an interview. The idea was that I’d ask completely custom questions to try & uncover more about how they run their business.

The hosts we interviewed last month:

Hopefully the interviews should give you some insight into how hosts run their business & also the things they do to provider additional value to customers.

Next month we have locked in SecureDragon plus possibly a certain Pony.

Popular Hosts & Plans

Most Benchmarked Plan: Linode 512
Most Popular Benchmark: 24khost Base Package
Most Popular VPS Host: RamNode
Most Popular Dedicated Host: OVH
Most Popular Cloud Host: GridVirt
Most Popular Plan: Kimsufi Micro vKS
Most Popular Category: Coupons (followed by IO Benchmarks)
Most Popular Blog Post: RamNode Interview
Most Popular Server Porn: Google’s Backup Tape Library

Affiliate Signups

Huge increase this month in the number of affiliate signups, we’re still pushing the majority of our traffic through hosts that don’t have a program but that’s fine, as long as our users are happy :) The residual earnings from the referrals are increasing month on month, but will probably take 6-12 months to really be significant enough for us to focus on ServerBear full time.

RamNode – 42
PhotonVPS – 22
BudgetVM – 22
ChicagoVPS – 15
URPad – 9
WSWD – 9
Front Range Hosting – 8
Hostgator – 4
VPS.net – 3
Dediserve – 3
GridVirt – 3
SiteServing – 3
Hawk Host – 2
Hostigation – 2
ReThinkVPS – 2
64u – 1
Linode – 1
SecuredServers – 1
MediaTemple – 1
Atlantic.net – 1

Total of 131 signups this month, that’s a 40% increase on last month. The unique conversion rate figure has tanked this month, mostly due to most of the traffic going through the Server Porn part of the site. I’ll most likely split the traffic out so I can report separately for next month.

Development & New Features

Development has made good progress in the last month, but it’s been a frustrating 4 weeks for both myself & John. We both took a weekend away from the families at the start of October to do a bit of a hackathon, on the Friday we spent the day co-working with Glen (@glenmaddern) & John (@johnbarton) from GoodFilms. We were both showing stories of our viral success in recent weeks, plus I got introduced to a new type of alcoholic ginger beer which is quite delicious.

John (@ponny) also had a week off his normal day job this month to work exclusively on ServerBear, so whilst it might not look like we’ve released as many features as previous months, that’s because we’ve spent time working on a few larger features that take a decent chunk of dedicated development time.

New Plan Pages (with Graphs!)

In the past the only way to look at the performance of a plan would be to look at the benchmarks tab for a particular host (i.e. Edis), however you see a list of all benchmarks & all locations. So our main focus for those few days was to build out a page to give more detailed insight into the performance of each plan, by location.

Now you can drill down into each plan & see more detailed insights:

  • See the specs of the plan at a glance.
  • Look at the average/aggegrated performance of that plan across all locations.
  • See what percentile that plan ranks for various performance & specification metrics
  • BearRank (more on this below)
  • Graph of UnixBench, IO & Network Speed for all locations or filter by location. If you filter by a location you’ll also see the list of benchmarks for that location below the graphs.

BearRank (Experimental)

You might be wondering what the heck BearScore is, firstly let me say that this is currently an extremely experimental metric. The idea behind it is that we wanted to be able to score a plan out of 100% based on its value & performance, so we look at what percentile that plan sits in for:

  • UnixBench
  • IO Benchmark
  • Network Benchmark
  • HDD Allocation
  • RAM Allocation

We also then look at what percentile of value that plan provides for each of those metrics (for example a cheaper plan with a high RAM or HDD allocation will score higher here). The data then gets rolled up into an overall percentage score out of 100.

Top 10 Highest BearRank plans:

The way we calculate the score definitely currently favors VPS nodes, which we are aware of. We will probably calculate the score independantly for each type of server, so Cloud plans will only be compared with other Cloud plans & the same for Dedicated Servers. We’re also planning a BearRank leaderboard!

Uptime Monitoring Benchmarks

John has spent the majority of the month working on our strategy for monitoring uptime in a reliable way, we initially had 20 OpenVZ monitoring nodes but MongoDB was not playing nicely with that particular virtualization (constant segfaults) which meant I had to cancel all the existing plans & find KVM nodes instead (this probably lost us a day or two). We now have 7 redundant stable KVM monitoring nodes in various locations globally, we have also automated the addition of adding new nodes:

Our current reporting method checks pings (or http) at intervals of 30s, we don’t report a downtime unless it’s for more than 5 seconds & registered on 3 redundant nodes (to prevent false positives). Since we report back by location we are not currently reporting downtime on individual nodes (we do want to do this in the future though) but downtime that affects a location as a whole, this involves working with hosts to monitoring as many of their nodes as possible. The more nodes per location we monitor the better we can report on location downtime.

In the coming month expect to be able to view a host to get a live view of their current uptime/downtime status. We’ll also have a leaderboard showing hosts with best uptime & also live tracked outages. If you are a host & want to donate either a monitoring node (KVM/Xen preferred) or want to give details on your nodes for monitoring please get in touch via our contact widget on the right (please note we are prioritising hosts that we have already listed on ServerBear).

WHOIS

We now pull & store the WHOIS info for hosts. Initially we’ve used this to show you how long a particular host has been in business.

You can see this data on the All Hosts page.

Exclusive Coupons Filtering

If you use our coupons page a lot, we now show you which coupons are exclusive just to ServerBear.

Better Navigation (Work in Progress)

I’m currently working through improving the navigation on all of our benchmark & comparison pages. Plus adding new relevant pages that people have been asking for (i.e. Storage VPS Plans).

Wrapping Up

It feels like we’ve been doing this much longer than 3 months (officially) & right now since we’re bootstraped we not under and financial pressure to increase signups or do anything out of the ordinary. We’re both happy to see people finding ServerBear useful, this is probably the first real project where users actually give us great feedback on what we’re doing – and really that’s all the motivation we need to keep improving. So please, don’t be afraid to get in touch to tell us what you love or hate about ServerBear we will always take critisim with a smile & try to turn any negatives into a positive that can help us improve the service.

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