If you've perused the WonderProxy website, you may have stumbled across some of our server pages. Each server in the WonderProxy network has its own page on our website where we detail the proxy's hostname, the services it supports, how many IPs are available, and provide links to check how some popular GeoIP providers locate it. There are also a few paragraphs of text and a map, just in case you don't know off the top of your head where Vilnius or Tirana are located.
This blog post is about the few paragraphs of text and how they come to be.
When I came on board at WonderProxy, there were tens of servers… maybe 20 or so? It was a long time ago. Paul, our co-founder, had written the content for each server's page.
Joao Pessoa is one of our early locations that retains its original description. It was Paul who wrote the following paragraph and set me upon the road I continue to tread six years later:
This server enjoys surfing, lazy afternoons on the beach, and enjoying the local produce. It's ideal for testing your GeoIP applications in Brazil specifically, and in South America more generally.
Now that you know that Joao Pessoa enjoys surfing, spending time on the beach, and fresh fruit, you might logically ask "Why? Why anthropomorphize the servers in your network? How it this going to help with business-y goals like conversion and retention and ROI and stuff?" A good question! Also: good use of "anthropomorphize"!
When we started out, WonderProxy's public-facing website was pretty minimalist: we didn't discuss much beyond the services we provided and how to sign up and pay us – even the docs were only visible when you were logged in. Having a page for every server made (and indeed, continues to make) the servers easier to find for prospective customers and their search engines of choice. A prospective customer may know that they need a server in Lima or Berlin, but probably doesn't know that they could be Googling for a "global proxy provider".
So that's the rationale for each server having its own page, but why the (hopefully) clever descriptions? Search engines! It's easy to run into problems when you have tens or hundreds of pages that are identical save for a few words: Google isn't on board with those shenanigans, thankfully. So, we wanted to customize each page a little bit. Writing cute server descriptions to make every page unique started as a fun project when we had seven servers, but has grown substantially now that we're past 200 and sometimes have multiple servers in close proximity.
When we first started out, we'd just think of something that a person in each city might like to do - surfing on the coast of Brazil, for example - or make up a hobby that the server could possess (baking, cycling, crochet, etc.), write a sentence or two, and move on. As the network has grown, and as we've added more servers in locations we're less familiar with, a surprising amount of effort now goes into crafting (hopefully) clever copy.
Unless I've been somewhere and have a good idea of a fun fact or cool activity, I end up researching each city we add to the network. I read the Wikipedia article, Google "fun things to do in ____", or read Trip Advisor. For cities that are major tourist destinations, this is pretty easy! For a tiny town in the middle of the Czech Republic that mysteriously has a data centre but only 4 lines on English-language Wikipedia, it's more of a challenge. This is occasionally reflected in the length of the clever copy, alas.
The number of servers we have in a given country or state can also complicate things. Early on, we often mentioned about a fun fact about the country, since we probably only had one server there. Happily for our users, this is often no longer the case, but it does mean that we have to put more effort into describing locales. For example, in the last while, we've grown our offerings in the Netherlands from 1 server in suburban Amsterdam to servers in 7 cities dotted around the (rather small) country. One can only talk about canals and stroopwafels so many times before it comes boring and repetitive.
Similarly, we have a lot of servers in the US, and often multiple servers in a state. For example, we have 4 different locations in the state of Ohio: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo. Fun facts about Ohio aren't going to cut it for each description! So we talk about how Cincinnati is apparently the Chili Capital of the World, mention Polish Boy sandwiches for Cleveland, Columbus's rich aviation history, and allude to John Denver's apparent dissatisfaction with Toldeo's nightlife.
Since we added a full time front-end developer to the roster and got our house a little bit more in order in terms of SEO and Google Analytics and such, we see that people actually do find us by googling "proxy server in [cityname]". People search their way onto the server pages, and then click through to sign up! Success! In fact, over the past 28 days, server or country-specific landing pages have accounted for over 30% of our incoming traffic!
I like to think that our users as delighted by our charming and quirky servers' adventures as I am, though that's not something that Google Analytics can tell us just yet. It does help to motivate me when faced with writing descriptions for four new servers in the same country, though.
And that, dear readers, is why our servers have hobbies, dreams, and aspirations.