Sunderland and Salut: how do we regain our Quinn/Drumaville peak?

John McCormick:
John McCormick:
Looking for answers

Colin Randall writes: it is not just Sunderland AFC that knows the meaning of struggle. Salut! Sunderland has its moments, too. I am talking readership levels. Victory – and defeats for those who remember them – in the Wear-Tyne derbies always boost numbers, though not as much as they once did. So do John McCormick’s statistical epics on relegation prospects among the bottom eight (or so) clubs. When Monsieur Salut, John or deputy editor Malcolm Dawson come up with a catchy headline, the effect can be the same because of the way website aggregators work. The common denominator, I am sad to say, is other clubs. We often draw big hits when the content, and therefore the headlines, mention them. Purely Sunderland-themed articles do not, with honourable exceptions, have the same effect.

This suggests we are not quite getting it right for SAFC supporters. Our Facebook group has more than 500 members but there are some days when we do not attract even that number of visitors to the site. Here, after John McCormick has set the scene, is your chance to tell us what it is we are doing wrong, what we should be more or better, what we should not be doing at all …

Do you remember Monsieur Salut’s posts towards the end of June 2011? SAFC were on the verge of signing Connor Whickham, Salut Sunderland was on the verge of reaching one million hits.  We probably reached that milestone early in July but no-one was keeping watch so we don’t know exactly when, not that it matters.

Move forward a couple of years, to June 2013, and M Salut was posting again as we reached two million hits.

Why, then, you might be thinking, did we not reach the three million mark at the latest in June but, given the previously accelerating pace of growth, a lot earlier?

It took over four years for the first million hits  but only two for the second. If we had retained that rate of progress we’d have hit three million a while ago. Why we haven’t is a mystery and we need your help in solving it – even if we do now find ourselves hobbling towards the milestone with hits, at the time of writing (Monday evening) on 2,957,063 – in other words fewer than 43,000 to go. Not a figure to be sniffed at – and we are grateful to attract such interest – but it just seems we should be doing a lot better.

So please bear with me as I use some graphs to show you what’s happened.

First up is a bar chart to show the hit totals since 2009. M Salut started his epic journey in 2007 but for some reason the stat counter doesn’t go that far back:

Salut Sunderland. Hits per year since 2009
Salut Sunderland. Hits per year since 2009

Our peak year was 2011, the same as Sunderland’s. Do you remember Drumaville and Sir Niall Quinn? We finished 10th that year under them, even after selling Darren Bent in the January. Ellis Short came in a few months later and soon replaced Steve Bruce with Martin O’Neill. Need I go on?

As SAFC have declined so have we. Is there a link? We now get about half as many hits as we used to. In 2011 there were rarely fewer than 1,000 hits per day and we passed 7,000 a couple of times. Now, unless we’re facing the likes of Man U or Arsenal, or we’ve done something like win our sixth derby in a row, we rarely pass 3,000 and the the number of hits per day is broadly consistent with the number of members on our Facebook site, which has just passed 500.

Salt Sunderland hits, Aug-Sept, 2011 and 2015
Salt Sunderland hits, Aug-Oct, 2011 and 2015

The football club, in contrast, doesn’t get half the crowds it got in 2011. There are more people going to the SoL now than there were in 2010-11. It might be a small increase but it is nonetheless a definite increase, and you might expect this to be reflected in visits to Sunderland fan sites and blogs. It isn’t, at least not in visits to our website.

Maybe fans are abandoning us for other places. Or maybe, as I suspect from my own browsing, fewer people are visiting fewer websites, and doing so less often. Are blogs suffering as small screens make it more difficult to surf and 4G or Wifi hotspots allow streaming, so that surfers spend less time on static sites?

Alternatively, are we doing something wrong? It might seems strange asking you – you’re here. But we’re sure you visit other websites, and that you have reasons for your choices.

What are they?

What’s good and bad about our site? What attracts you to it? What turns you off? What don’t we do that others do? We’d like to know. Let us have your comments, good and bad, and let’s look forward to that three millionth hit. at a guess, it will happen before the end of this month or in early December.

To mark the milestone, Salut! Sunderland will offer a prize to whoever comes up with the best response below – provided there is a reasonable response, that is. Be as critical as you like. The nature of the prize will be announced later.

28 thoughts on “Sunderland and Salut: how do we regain our Quinn/Drumaville peak?”

  1. I read Salut! Sunderland more than any other SAFC site. I find it well written, erudite, amusing and articulate. It is not a rehash of other websites and I like the originality of many articles.

    I read this and The Grauniad (sic.) more than any other web pages. Louise Taylor in the latter is insightful and writes very well. Her match reports are very good, as are her general articles about our club.

    I don’t think you go on about France much at all.

    Maybe the decline in hits is due to Sunderland’s poor performance over the years, and nothing to do with Salut’s quality.

    If the timed out problem persists, people could write the post elsewhere – a Word document – and then copy and paste it here.

    I think more competition from Twitter, something I don’t use myself, being too much of a Luddite, and other such places must affect the number of people reading this site.

    Writing as someone who enjoys the site very much does not make it so easy to highlight any faults. Is it possible for you to contact former readers who no longer come here? What about looking back at people who left replies in the early days but no longer do so? Offer them a prize for the best response to see what they think. Maybe this is impossible or too labour intensive.

    Well done and keep up the great work!

    • Drummer wasn’t the only one. Mick Goulding was similarly affected. It’s happened to me at Facebook and other sites and I know how infuriating it is.

      I did raise it. Some twiddling was done by the man I was talking to, none of which I remotely understood, and he thought this might help. So I am lingering longer than usual over this comment to see whether I am “timed out”. So far , so good though I’d be grateful for feedback from others.

      If it doesn’t work, it;ll be back to the drawing board.

      He could do nothing about the ugly error message you see at the top of the page. That seems to be a matter for Sam, our previous web guru who did promise to fix it as his parting gift but has been overwhelmed by proper work. I will remind him gently and see if it can be removed – it appears to be something to do with the “theme”, the design he installed two or three years ago when the site changed from its old layout to the one we have now. I fear if I try to guess how to deal with it, I’ll just make matters worse so patience until Sam if free to have a go may be the only answer.

      On a more positive note , I have been typing for some time and not been timed out

  2. I’ve just typed a lengthy response that has been timed out and lost in the ether , here lies a major problem Colin .

  3. Another factor is there are more sites now than ever before, so the readership is spread thinner. We Are Wearside for example is only a couple of years old. It would be interesting to know if our “rivals” peaked around Wembley and have struggled to get back to those figures since. And of course, eighty years of under-achieving is a massive obstacle to maintaining enthusiasm.

  4. Jake’s point is valid, but doesn’t explain why once people find the site they seem not to re-visit, or at least not as often.

  5. Where was Colin’s take on the furore over the Luke Edwards/Daily Telegraph (and others) insinuations after the derby. Colin’s views on this would have made very interesting reading (him being ex-DT press man). I’m sure many people came here looking for his take on this to be very surprised to see nothing at all. Short catchy articles may bring people to the site but most of your regulars return for what the other sites don’t do.

    • Another good point. I can only offer the general get-out – I have only so much time I can devote to the site. The paid work I do – which does not include Salut! Sunderland – is demanding and can be landed on me at short notice. Work pressures are probably no worse for me than anyone else but yesterday I was juggling a Southampton preview for ESPN and a news story on the Egyptian president’s visit to London with updates on the Sinai air disaster while also planning a visit to the Calais jungle, a think piece about ISIS and a lighter column on French pop music. There was also the Saints Who are You? to finish off, post and promote but fortunately I’d done most of the work already. In another week, I might have no work and all the time in the world to devote to the site -but find little or nothing to get my teeth into.

      All that said, I have taken on board your closing remark about most of our regulars returning for what the other sites don’t do.

  6. I know nothing about setting up a website and I don’t know how search engines work but it may be in the name of the site, and the tag (if that’s what it’s called) that is attached. In Salut’s case it’s “A Site Better”. I just did a test search for “Sunderland Supporters” and “Sunderland Supporters Blog”. Salut came below Ready To Go, We Are Wearside, A Love Supreme and Roker Report, none of which include Sunderland in their title. So it must be something in the description of these sites that put them above us in a search. For example where we have “A Site Better” ALS has “The Independent Sunderland Supporters’ Magazine & Website”. I may be barking up the wrong tree here but it may be worth looking at.
    When I think back, I was wandering around the web for quite a while before I found Salut, in fact I found it by chance on Facebook. So making it more findable on Google could help, I think it’s that rather than the always excellent content which may be the problem.

    • Good point. “A site better” was a half-decent pun but, as dissidents at my old folk club in Bishop used to say, “a good turn but on ower long”.

      Just changed it to “A quality site for supporters of Sunderland AFC – and lovers of good writing”

      A bit long but I like to stress our openness to fans of other clubs

  7. If you take the money, Pete, in no time at all you’ll be riding ex-police horses and hob-nobbing with Andy Coulson. Perhaps even a pig’s head might feature.

  8. I’ve had a wander around the wordpress dashboard trying to find and change timeout settings for comments. It looks as if we’re not able to – it appears to be a server side setting.

    At least that’s what I’m picking up from this forum.

    I’ve also been timed out when working on pages as an administrator

    If anyone out there can suggest a remedy we’d like to hear from you.

    John Mc

  9. Perhaps some (cheap) advertising is needed. Does ALS ever give you a plug? Can the programme spare a line or three? Would it be possibe for the Sunderland Echo to mention your name? What about those worthies on Total Sport or perhaps Benno could give you a mention during a lull in his commentary? What percentage, I wonder, of visitors to the site are local to Sunderland, and how many are exiles? My brother lives in Sunderland and has never heard of Salut Sunderland, let alone visited. (And yes, I was timed out. Bugger).

  10. ‘Caviar to the general’ Colin. Seriously, the range and intelligence of most articles is too much for many who prefer ‘four legs good, two legs bad ‘ approach. Pete’s match reports are the best you’ll find anywhere ( I do like Sobs’ efforts on ALS though ) containing analysis, allusion, anecdote and entertaining digression, all of which is too much for some. And despite the temptation, not a swear-word in sight.Stick with what the site is good at and dont follow the dumbed down approach which the superficial BBC News for example, has followed.

    • What I hope, Ken, is to strive for excellence while also trying to attract as many as possible, especially our own fans, to the site. If ever Salut! Sunderland dumbs down it will because Murdoch has bought us out with £1m cheques for Sixer, Malcolm, John Mac, Jake and all.

  11. The success/failure hypothesis has some mileage. Hits between 15 Feb and 15 March:

    2013 Total Page Views 22,621 Average 755

    2014 Total 33,366 Average 1,113

    2015 Total 25,981 Average 867

    guess when we went to Wembley

    • At Twitter, I said/chanted “Three million hits – and you still don’t sing”.

      Maybe my obsession with numbers is needless. My main concern is getting more Sunderland supporters to come along here.

      It’s all very well hearing nice words of praise from fans of other clubs but our mission has to be defined by our support for SAFC. It would be great start if every one of our 500+ Facebook group members (, and all my 1,900 or so Twitter followers ( though not all will share our SAFC passion) came here as well as there.

  12. Before the breast beating and the soul searching I would need to know what’s happening on other comparable sites. Have the blogs for the West Broms, the Stokes and the Villas seen a flattening off or a decline? Surely the Mags must have suffered at the hands of “The True Geordie”. More info needed before a revival campaign can start.

  13. Yeah, that’s something else you could perhaps try to change – posters getting timed out (after what seems like not much time at all). It’s very annoying.
    (It just happened again in the short time it took me to type the above!)

  14. That was annoying – I got timed out!!
    I will try one finger typing faster this time.
    I really like the site and regularly wear old shoes so this probably won’t help you at all. I particularly enjoy the openness with which it embraces other teams supporters comments and contentious issues.
    If you really want/need to get more hits then I guess you need to attract younger readers – probably by lowering the age of your contributers.

  15. Good points, Bill (and I’ll bear Smoggie’s in mind. Honestly).

    One problem is that no one connected with the site has unlimited time. They have lives to lead, families to spend time with, hobbies to pursue, paid work to do even.

    And that goes even more so for contributors. I ask around for material from time to time but can only publish what is received apart from what i generate myself.

    Beyond those whose much welcomed words appear here regularly or from time to time, there are several others who have offered and even appeared enthusiastic about writing only then to disappear. I do not criticise them because I understand how other pressures work against the best of intentions.

    We also lack at least one more editor/moderator, someone willing to share the work Malcolm, John and I do to publish what you do see on these pages. Three is not really enough even now and we’d be overwhelmed if there was a surge of extra content to deal with.

    But your thoughts will be considered carefully, Bill, because where there’s a will ….

  16. A combination of factors, I think, not least of which is the club’s continued lack of success and tenuous grip on the Premier League. Even a cliffhanger loses its fascination when it’s repeated year after year. I wonder, in fact, if Salut! Sunderland might not do better if we were at the top of the Championship rather than the bottom of the Premiership. People grow tired of bad news and relentless, often unconvincing, optimism. Pessimism, of course, is even worse. Week in, week out of hoping for the best and anticipating the worst grows wearisome.
    There’s some truth to the small-screen theoru. I know I hate coming on here when all I have is my cell-phone. Reading a single post is annoyingly labour intensive. But I also think – though I have no figures to back this up – that blogs as a whole have passed their peak.
    A blog such as this one has to be somewhat repetitive – Guess the Score, WAY, Sixer’s Sevens, Sixer’s analysis, the manager’s excuses… they all have to be there. But I wonder if there isn’t a way to introduce some variety – not only new features but a new way to present the regular material.
    Salut! Sunderland seems sometimes to be as comfortable as an old shoe. A little pinch here and there may not be a bad thing…

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