The Thought Refuse

A Virtual Repository for the Mind

Why Your Blog Hits Aren’t Really Yours

with 6 comments

With the explosion in the number of blogs littering the internet, every blogger takes extraneous efforts to increase their visitor count.  The all important hit count is the singular indicator whether your blog is popular or not.

There are blogs dedicated soley to advising bloggers on who to get their blogs noticed, and attract a larger share of readership.  Focusing on key words, interlinking blogrolls, content distribution, and comment links in other blogs are all part of the “how to get your blog hits” mantra.

You’ve followed all the steps to get you blog hits – selected a topic to focus on, included important key words in your tags and post titles, built a nice shared blogroll with other blogs, and politely commented on other blogs to get the word out about your blog.  After all these steps your blog is averaging a couple hundred hit per day.  All things considered, you’ve done fairly well for yourself.  But your blog is middle-brow.  One of among tens of thousands of other blogs that suffer from medicrioty in terms of hits.

There are two different ways your blog can rise from this muddled trap of being average.  Both rely heavily on chance.

If you examine the top blogs of 2008 according to eBizMBA, you’ll find a general symmetry in the types of blogs.  Plenty of technology and celebrity news blogs litter the list.  Why does one technology blog, like Gizmodo, collect a vastly superior number of hits then that technology blog you’ve never heard(precisely because it never had enough hits to become popular)?

It’s not the particular topic.  They both reported on the 3G iPhone release in 2008.  It’s not the writing style.  Superior writing skill isn’t evident in journalistic reporting.  You just report.  It’s not the website design.  Web design has become so wholey ubiquitous it’s difficult to tell one site from another.  There is no appreciable qualitative difference between that blog you visit daily to get the latest celebrity news from the eternally flamboyant Perez Hilton or the one that fell by the wayside(the loser).

The reason why one particular blog within the same topical realm ascended to the top of the heap over the hundreds, thousands of others was pure luck.  That winning blog was lucky enough to have a mainstream media reporter stumble across the blog on a snowy, miserable December morning while sipping on his premium blend coffee while nibbling on a lox covered bagel.  Or just happened to attend the same dinner party attended by an influential media magnet.  That magnet really liked the blog owners custom Italian suit and his affable nature that when the blog was mentioned inauspiciously in conversation, promised to promote the blog across his myriad of media outlets.

From here momentum takes over.  The blog owner isn’t required to do anything more then continue to do what he has always done – make posts on his blog.  Power laws begin to take over.  Increased exposure draws more readers to the blog.  Those readers post reviews or comments across the web, on their own blogs, or in small talk conversations with friends.  The incredible power of social influence does it’s thing, and suddenly a blog goes from a couple hundred hits per day to well over ten thousand.

This first happenstance of chance is incredibly common and often confused with networking(call it whatever makes you feel in control, but you nor anyone knew which one of the countless people you come across during the course of life would be the ones to present an opportunity for success to you).  The second circumstance in which your blog is struck by successful randomness is social trends.

Your a housewife living in Texas.  You’ve been a housewife for the better part of your life.  With your children out of the house, you have plenty of time on your hands.  Your children, sick of listening to you bemoan the boredom that besets you as you lounge around the house with no one to pick up after, suggest you start blogging about the one thing you really love to do – knit.  Slightly intimidated, you dive into the world of blogging only to find that it’s so user intuitive you hardly have to do anything other then type.  You make post after post on a daily basis sharing various knitting designs and tricks that you’ve accumulated from well over 30 years of knitting.

You get at most a hundred visitors per day to your knitting blog.  But your not concerned with where your blog ranks on Google when someone searches for “knitting techniques”.  You just do it for your own pleasure and to pass the time.  You know knitting is stereotyped as old, and is an activity banished to simpler times.

During the summer of 2008, mega-super star tv host Oprah Winfrey starts a series on her favorite at home activities.  Her first show is entirely dedicated to her love for knitting.  Oprah tells wonderful tales of how when she was a child living in poverty, her mother and grandmother taught her to knit.  She reminiscences about Sunday afternoons spent with her family creating a homegrown, cultural relevant afghan depicting her African roots.  She even brings out some of her favorite pieces of knitting she has made.  Her guest for the show is an expert knitter putting on display magnificent knitting pieces so tightly woven they look more like oil paintings then loosely intertwined yarn.

Suddenly, knitting becomes popular again among women.  Hobby and craft stores see their knitting supply sales rise.  A book written during the Great Depression about knitting is in demand, and skyrockets from the basement of Amazon’s inventory to the top 200 books sold.  And your previously insignificant blog is now getting a thousand hits a day.  All of this happening without even the slightest effort on your part.  You were just kept doing that you enjoyed doing.  The only variable that changed was the social interest in knitting.  Without explanation, knitting became cool again.

Do not concern yourself with trying to calculate the probability or improbability of knitting becoming a cultural phenomena.  The most salient point to remember is that the benefits of the improbable vastly outpace the slow, cumulative points gained via the probable.  Your best bet to superstar success is by being struck by an unimaginable event.

We are terrible predictors of the next fad, of what cultural wave will strike the world next.  Ask the creator of icanhascheezburger how he benefited from the popularity of pictures with cats in compromised positions layers with bad English if he knew his blog would end up in the top 30.

Don’t concentrate so much on the minutia of technicalities to scrap together a few more blog hits here and there.  Your path to reaching the apex of blog popularity(or even approaching that curve) lies with being the lucky recipient of a chance change in social interests and bumping into the right person at a dinner party.


Written by huxbux

January 12, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Posted in Business, Logic, Philosophy

Tagged with , ,

6 Responses

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  1. Very nice article – I think much the same could be said of other things, like movies or music. Millions can be spent promoting movies that just about break even and a little known, low budget one can make millions and no-one knows how.


    January 12, 2009 at 8:02 pm

  2. Thanks for taking the time to stop by mostrim.

    The effect of chance is definitely present in anything entertainment related – movies, music, books, and art. In these areas, it’s more pronounced then in the blogging world, where consumer choice isn’t as rigidly limited and exposure to potential strokes of luck are greatly increased.

    What’s amusing in all of it, is that a movie can emerge out of left field and launch an actor’s career into the stratosphere, thereby completely changing our perception of his skills from obscurity(mediocrity) to stardom. Was that actor really any better or worse at his trade before a movie cashed in at the box office? Not really. One blockbuster leads to more movie roles, and we come to think of that actor as superior to other actors.


    January 13, 2009 at 2:17 pm

  3. This is very disconcerting, particularly what you say about the quality of the writing having no importance. I’ve always taken refuge in the idea that, however small, something must represent your blog from the rest in its niche. Of course some blogs are unique, but their reasons for being so are not justified. But saying everything is luck, makes it difficult to continue to care.

    David Lamb

    January 14, 2009 at 5:16 pm

  4. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to post, David.

    I am saying that “skill” is not a major variable in anyone’s success(keep in mind I am talking about monstrous success and not mediocrity). However, “skill” is necessary to help you survive, in order to have the opportunity to be exposed to chance.

    If your a poor writer, you won’t be dedicating your time and energy in maintaining a blog. Writing is a chore and seems more like a hardship for you. Conversely, if your particularly good at writing, you draw pleasure from consistently making posts on your blog and responding to the few comments you might get.

    The inherent property of the “loser” is that he doesn’t continue to pursue an avenue where he might be struck with luck, and reap huge benefits. In any field, you’ll only ever hear from the “winners”. “Losers” just don’t have a voice.

    And when your dealing with a pool of “winners”, it’s terribly difficult to distinguish one is appreciable better then an another. Those who strike is rich will tell you different. They’ll tell you that they are “experts” and offer up their advice on how to better yourself in his field of expertise. The “expert” is no better then the “non-expert”. They both survived against a minimum level of “skill”, but the “expert” was the chance beneficiary of luck.

    Does Brad Pitt’s superior acting skills explain why he enjoys far greater success then Daniel Day Lewis in the movie industry? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m fairly certain there are plenty of starving actors in Hollywood right now more “skilled” then Brad Pitt, who just haven’t gotten a lucky break for a role in a movie that may or may not turn into a blockbuster(Interview with a Vampire perhaps?).

    Skill allows you to stay in the pool of potential “winners”. You need to have it to be exposed to luck, but skill isn’t going to propel you to the top of the heap(and make you an “expert”).

    As for finding a niche, the more obscure the niche the better chance you have at finding success. You are far more likely to reap massive rewards if your blog focuses on knitting rather then celebrity news. Your competitors are larger in the latter then former, and if social trends take a wild left turn, your more in a better position to cash in on that cultural outlier.

    It’s all extremely disconcerting. Our brains don’t seem made up to deal with randomness. We much prefer the terms cause and effect, history, and correlation over such words as chance, luck, and randomness. In almost every field humans engage in, we write clear cut narratives explaining away the why and how. We need to know everything, and box it in a neat, concise package to ingest. Think of anything humans can’t quite yet explain. We are terrified, almost cripplingly fearful of that which we can’t spin a story to(take aliens for instance). We aren’t constructed to deal with randomness, much less incorporate it into our lives.


    January 14, 2009 at 6:03 pm

  5. Agreed, but luck/fortune/randomness/chaos is a reality that sucks to admit. I’d much rather go on living my life the way you suggest people would–when something bad happens, it’s cause you’re unlucky, when something good happens, it’s merited.

    David Lamb

    January 14, 2009 at 10:08 pm

  6. We can’t live base our entire functions on luck. There are areas where it has minimal impact. Anytime a chance outcome will cause a small impact, it’s not too worrisome. It’s those lucky/unlucky events that would greatly impact you that everyone should take into account.

    My personal philosophy towards life is “don’t sweat the small stuff, focus on the big stuff.” The small stuff can’t hurt you, but that one, big impact can either make or break you.


    January 16, 2009 at 1:21 am

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