October 11, 2006

Scalzi on the Big Post

Admit it, we're all at least somewhat obsessed by our hit and subsciption statistics. I am, you are, we all are. Science fiction writer John Scalzi is obsessed too, and a little while back he had a great post on The Big Post. You know, getting Slashdotted or BoingBoinged, driving up your stats by several orders of magnitude for a day or two.

Scalzi starts with a couple of ideas about things we can do to increase our traffic

1. Update frequency: Updating daily matters in terms of readership.
2. Enabling comments: People who comment feel attached to the site; people who don't comment get updated content when they click through.
3. Quality of content: Putting in interesting stuff so people have a reason to click into the site daily.
Which is nice but pretty basic; I've certainly made an effort to post a bit more regularly the last month or so and the numbers have gone up a bit in high-post weeks. Next he talks about, in great length, about those things that we can't control that can boost our traffic, the Big Post.
A big post, very simply, is a post that more than the usual number of people link to, thus bringing in an entirely different audience of readers. Most of these readers will be one-time readers -- they click through to the link, see it, and click out, never to return -- but some small proportion will root around, enjoy what they see (due to you working on the factors you can control), and put you on their daily reading list. Bang, you've got new readers.

Big posts can happen when one or more of the following conditions exist:

1. You write or create something unusually well-written about a current news event or other hot topic.
2. You do something unusually stupid and/or funny on your site.
3. You are linked to by one or more high-traffic sites (Fark, Slashdot, Digg, Boing Boing, Instapundit, Daily Kos, etc).
He talks a lot about some of his own big posts, ranging from sincere posts about his own life that became popular to obvious gag posts (ie. taping bacon to his cat) that must have been at least somewhat calculated to try and generate a big post.

This is a really interesting post on a generally excellent blog, with lots of good points on different types of Big Post, gaming the system and turing Big Post traffic into regular traffic. What are the lessons for our own scitech library blog community? Hard to know, we're already a small tidal pool in an already small pond of library-related blogs. Scalzi's cat bacon post generated 67,000 hits in one day, several times more hits that the last few years of this blog put together. Personally, I think you just have to concentrate on your core mission and let the traffic stuff work itself out, doing lots of gimmicky stuff has to be a bad idea. If the Big Post comes, so be it. If not, presumably we're not in this for publicity anyway but to contribute to our profession and if we do good work on our blogs, the readers will find us.

My own Big Post? The closest I've come was when I was mentioned in the Internet Resources Newsletter a few years ago, and that generated about 250-300 hits. The "My Job in 10 Years" series was fairly popular, causing small spikes (yes, I will finish it one day). The summer reading poll, 100+ hits, but I didn't really publicise it that much on sf-related sites that might have generated more visits.

Some suggestions related to my own experiences:

  • Put the most important information about what your blog is about in the blog title. This blog is about being a science librarian, and I get lots of hits on just that search term.
  • Have the word "confessions" in your blog title. I get a lot of hits from people just searching on the word "confessions." Not a great strategy long term, as most people who get here via that search are probably pretty disappointed. But hey, a hit is a hit.
  • Link to the Official Google Blog, as that's a really high traffic site and anything that shows up in the "links to this post" is bound to generate a few hits. I found this out with a couple of recent links to that blog. Let's see how this link to the post of their word processing/spreadsheet apps does...
  • Misspell an actor's name in a common way. A couple of years back I mentioned The Librarian: Quest for the Spear with Noah Wylie. And spelled his name "Wiley," you know, like the publisher. Believe it or not, that generated a few hundred hits by other people that can't spell. Of course, it's hard to know if spelling his name properly would have generated more or fewer hits.
  • That Academic Blogs Wiki is already generating a steady trickle, so getting in any kind of relevant directory or listing is a good idea.

Added extra: read about Chad Orzel's experience getting Slashdotted.

No comments: