Veridian’s Diary: Investigating an ‘explosion’ in collection web traffic via Google Analytics

Veridian provides support for Google Analytics for many of the collections we help build, making it easy to track and report on how many visitors an online digital collection attracts. Many clients keep a close eye on the data, such as user sessions, and this is what led to the discovery of ‘The Explosion.’

The team at the Library of Virginia, whose collection houses over 1.7 million pages of Virginia and West Virginia newspapers, were completing a regular check-up when they discovered a massive spike in traffic to their collection last October. While they generally average between 350 and 750 sessions per day, one day (17 October 2020) registered almost 6,000 visits.

To uncover the reason behind this, Newspaper Project Director Errol Somay contacted our team to investigate. After looking into the data and dismissing ‘scraping’ by an online commercial news publisher and bot traffic, we determined that the source of the hits were mostly organic searches between 8am and 11am that day, located in Harrisonburg, VA.

The article that attracted most of the hits detailed an explosion in Harrisonburg in 1947. After some Googling, we learnt there had also been an explosion in Harrisonburg on the day when traffic spiked in 2020. While the collection’s search result was now at the bottom of the results page, it became clear that at the time, the local news media in 2020 would not have had time to write the stories that were now registering at the top of the search page. 

Thus, the residents of Harrisonburg, upon hearing the explosion, had Googled to find out more and instead arrived at a newspaper detailing a similar explosion in 1947, housed in the Library of Virginia’s collection.

With that, we considered the case closed. Here is Errol’s full blog post on this event.

Please note that the above image is not the actual gas explosion discussed in this article.