Blogging Update: Big Day for Psychohistory, and Updated Stats

So, let me just be blunt here.  If you find my posts about the statistics for this blog boring, you’re not going to find this post very interesting.

However, I am writing this blog for a reason, and that reason was to learn  about the medium.  I’m a big believer in learning about technology through experimentation, and this blog was originally meant to be a 30-day test.

Of course, that was about 7 months ago.  Look where we are now.

Anyway, today happened to be the biggest day, from a page view standpoint, in the history of this blog.  1953 page views in one day, nearly half of them going to a single post.  The post was my first one on the mint errors for the new dollar coins, from March 2nd, about 5 days before the major news coverage began.

Makes the rest of my days look puny, although I’ve been hovering around 300-500 page views per day this past month.  Amazing when I think about the first month, when I thought 10 page views was a big day.  Right now, my run rate is likely 250,000 page views a year.  Not a small number.

More and more people seem to be reading me through RSS Feed Readers, programs or websites that let you get my posts directly, rather than visiting the website.  I was surprised to see that roughly 100 people seem to be reading my posts that way.

If you are interested, here is the breakdown of the types of readers people are using.  An awful lot are using websites, but there are some common names in there.  A lot of people using Google.

Not surprisingly, my top posts are now skewed towards coins.  Here is yesterday’s top 10 posts:

Until recently, however, my top traffic driver was still the Harry Potter posts, with American Idol, Battlestar Galactica, and Coins all bringing in significant visits as well.  Personal Finance has been a steady performer for me, and the most requested.  However, it’s not generating the page views.  Here are the top posts from the last 30 days.

Finally, my favorite little insight, the search engine terms that people are using to find my blog.  It looks like I no longer get much traffic from people looking for Seema Shah… they seem to find her own blog directly now.  Yesterday was all about the dollar coins.  Look at the search terms.

Over the last 7 days, it has been a little more balanced.

Right now, I’m finding that I don’t have enough time to post on all the topics I’d like to.  I’m going to likely have to start focusing a bit more on certain topics, like personal finance, and indulge a little less in the “news of the day”.

Easier said than done.

I hope this information is somewhat interesting for the other newbie bloggers out there.

Looking at Prices for George Washington Dollar Coins, and How to Search eBay Like a Champ

I’m not sure, but I think the storm of interest in George Washington Dollar Coins peaked yesterday. At least, based on sales on my rolls, and looking at prices, it seems like today was not a bigger day than yesterday.

One of the most common questions I get about eBay is how to use the site to research what the “fair price” is for an item. There are a lot of reasons people ask this question:

  • They are looking to buy something, and they want to know what a fair price is
  • They are looking to sell something on eBay, and they want to know what to expect
  • They are looking to sell something off eBay, but they still want to know what a fair price would be.

I was looking over the prices tonight for dollar coins, and I realized it’s a pretty good example to work from.

The first magic trick to figuring out prices on eBay is a good search. Yes, you read that right.

The hardest thing about figuring out pricing on eBay is the fact that it is just incredibly big. There are millions of different types of products sold on the site, and there isn’t a catalog in the world big enough to hold them all. If you go to the Apple Store, you would see all the current products that Apple sells, in all the configurations they currently offer. On eBay, you might likely see every model that Apple has ever has sold, in every possible configuration that Apple ever offered, and even configurations they didn’t!

The key to good price research is a good result set, and that means getting good at eBay search.

eBay search is actually incredibly powerful. There is a syntax to it that is very easy to learn, and can take your use of the site to a new level. eBay has a help page on the topic, but here are some of my tips:

  • Start with basic keywords. It may sound counter-intuitive, but don’t start with categories. Start with simple keywords from the homepage. Sometimes sellers put your product in categories that you might not expect. It’s best to start with some keywords that fit what you are looking for, and then only using categories to filter if you are seeing unrelated items from other categories.
  • Look at the result set. There is no magic right answer to the perfect query – a big part of the process is doing a search, looking at the items, and learning from them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a search for something, like a piece of computer equipment, and then seen result titles that include the part number. I then do a search on the part number, and I find items that didn’t show up before. The marketplace represents the aggregated human intelligence of millions of people – learn from the keywords in their titles, and your searching will reach a new level.
  • “Or” is your friend. Sometimes, there are multiple words that represent what you are looking for. Laptop or Notebook. Roll or Rolls. PowerMac or Power Macintosh. If you enter a search on eBay for “Laptop Notebook”, you’ll get very few listings – only the ones that actually put both words in the title. But if you put the two words in parentheses, separated by a comma, like this: (Laptop, Notebook) – eBay know to look for listings with either “Laptop” or “Notebook” in the title. This is the most powerful trick for truly exploring the marketplace, especially as you learn new words from the item titles of the listings you find first.
  • Don’t like some results? Remove them! eBay search has another great operator, the minus sign. Just put it before a word, and eBay automatically removes any item with that word in the title. Incredibly powerful for “cleaning” your results. For example, let’s say you do a search for “Apple” hoping for computers, but you get a bunch of apple-scented lotion and candles in your results. Changing your search to: Apple -lotion -candle will all of a sudden clean your results to remove all lotion and candle listings.

So, when I wanted to explore the pricing of George Washing Dollar Coins, I ended up starting with this search:

Washington Dollar

Yikes. Too many individual coins. I’m selling rolls. So I added two good words for roll:

Washington Dollar (roll, rolls)

Much better, but I was still seeing some junk. So I minused out some of the worst offenders:

Washington Dollar (roll, rolls) -single -1982 -quarter

Much cleaner. Almost every listing was for a George Washington Dollar Coin Roll. Now to be picky, I could have refined it further for mint mark and for mint vs. bank roll, but this was good enough for my purposes. There is a always a trade-off between precision and recall. The more you sharpen your query, the more likely you are excluding some good listings with the bad. There is somewhat of an art to saying, “it’s good enough”.

Now, for the second magic trick: searching completed items.

That’s right. eBay allows you to search roughly the last two weeks of closed listings. You can see if they sold or didn’t sell, which format they were in, and what price.

All you have to do is click the little checkbox in the lower left, and sign in. eBay restricts this feature to registered users. However, registering is free, so I recommend it highly.

Now, a few years ago, this was the best you could do. These days, there are a number of third parties who sell tools to help you price different items using eBay data. eBay also has a tool which is available for a very low fee ($2.99 for two days, or $9.99 per month for the basic version) that lets you use advanced, user-friendly tools to go through data.

Here is a screenshot of the prices from tonight for my search, using eBay Marketplace Research Pro, the $24.99/month professional version of the tool. Notice that it lets me save my search, so I can easily check back on the prices for it with one click (awesome).


How cool is that? It uses flash to show you the breakdown of prices day by day, format by format. Super cool. You can also see volume numbers – almost 3,000 listings sold in the eBay core marketplace, and about 200 sold from Stores. Not surprising for a popular product like this. You’ll also note the prices between the two differ. Some people think you pay more when you shop in an eBay Store than bidding on an auction, but when products are hot, that isn’t always the case. Here, the average price for a winning auction is over $52. The average price in an eBay Store is just $40.

Looking at the charts, there has been quite a ramp in the last two days in volume and price. Not surprising given the press coverage.

Now, these type of searches aren’t perfect. For example, this search includes all types of sellers, some with good reputations, some not. Some who accept PayPal, and some who don’t. Some who charge fair shipping, and some who don’t. Lately, I’ve been using eBay Express to also get a sense for what more professional sellers are charging for item. There is no completed items search on eBay Express, but since it is all fixed-price, it’s easy to see what the “going rate” is for a product.

In any case, with some of the tricks outlined above, pricing a product using eBay does not have to be black magic. Knowledge is power, and being able to search eBay well is definitely a skill worth having.

Update (3/17/2007): If you are looking to buy original, unsearched bank rolls of the new George Washington dollar coins, I have procured a box of 40 rolls, in a box certified as wrapped on December 7, 2006. They are availablehere on eBay Express.  Sold out!  Will get more soon!
Update (5/24/2007): For a limited time only, I am now carrying unopened, original John Adams Presidential Dollar coin rolls in my eBay Store. Click here to buy them on eBay Express. I also have a few more original bank rolls of the George Washington dollar coins.  Click here to buy them on eBay Express.

If you are interested in the other rolls I am carrying, click here for all the coins I am currently selling on eBay Express.

Who Is Voting For Sanjaya? (American Idol, Season 6, Top Twelve)

Funniest thing about today. It was a record day for my blog, almost 2,000 page views. I’m going to write a separate post about the metrics because they were pretty interesting.

The funny part is when I checked the #1 search term from outside search engines to my blog before watching the Americal Idol, Season 6, Top 12 announcements today, I found this phrase:

“who is voting for sanjaya”

Number 1 search term! Hilarious. All the hits went to this post.

Well, I don’t know who is voting for Sanjaya, but he’s now in the top twelve. Wow.

Really, I don’t know what to say. Maybe someone has actually figured out how to “crack” American Idol, kind of like the Google bombing from a few years ago. I can see some clever hackers laughing about it:

“Hey, what if we bring American Idol down?”

“How can we do that?”

“We’ll rig it so that Sanjaya wins”

Well, whatever Sanjaya has, I’m going to have to watch him sing at least one more time. Ouch.

Update (3/9/2007): The answer was found on Blogging Stocks. Apparently, there is a growing movement (as I suspected) to damage these shows by voting for the worst contestant! There are actually sites that are encouraging people to “Vote for the Worst”. And I was just kidding when I wrote this post originally!

Update (4/7/2007): All of a sudden, this blog post is getting thousands of hits a day again. I guess it is because we still have Sanjaya to kick around! The comment trail has become hilarious, so I’m approving them as fast as I can. Just for the record, it’s now well known that Vote For the Worst isn’t the only contributor here. Howard Stern on Sirius Radio has been stumping for Sanjaya with his millions of fans. Also, there definitely does seem to be a very real Sanjaya fan base, as embarrassing as that might be for those people.

Update (4/11/2007):  Nice coverage of the Sanjaya phenomenon on Newsvine, including a link to this post as one of five primary points outlining the causes.  Special kudos in the post to the elaborate comments here on Psychohistory…