The Difference a “Big Post” Makes
Posted on June 26, 2008 Posted by John Scalzi 27 Comments
A couple of years ago I talked about the concept of “Big Posts” — posts that draw in more than the usual number of readers to a blog — and what they mean for growing the readership of a blog over time. If you’ve not read that post, click that link and check it out, because it’s on point to what follows (Note: if you’re not a huge blog stats geek, don’t feel you have to bother, or to bother continuing to read this post, because it’s all blog stat geekery from here on out).
Caught up? Okay. I note this because this month I had a “Big Post” with the Michelle Obama/Fox News thing, and it resulted in a fairly instructive example of how a Big Post works for a site, in terms of building readership.
First, a graphic:
This graph charts the number of unique visits the site has gotten daily (so far) here in June. I’ve broken up the data into three sets. In yellow are the data representing daily uniques prior to the Big Post readership spike (11 days); in red are the data representing the Big Post spike (2 days); in green are the data post-spike (12 days). For reference, the day of the actual Big Post was 6/12; anecdotally I’ve noticed that readership spikes for Big Posts are spread out over two days rather than one, so this two-day spike period is actually pretty typical.
For the first 11 days of June, before the Obama/Fox News post, the average daily unique visits is 32,890; interestingly this average includes one minor readership spike (on 6/7) when a group of folks newly discovered, and linked in to, my “Being Poor” entry (lesson: some Big Posts continue to draw even years after their original appearance). For the 12 days after the Obama/Fox News post, the average daily unique visits is 35,773, with no noticeable additional readership spikes. This is an average gain of 2,883 unique visits, or a gain of about 8.7% in daily unique visits since the first part of the month.
What’s interesting (to me, anyway) is that the usual upper bound of daily uniques (40,000) has stayed the same; what’s changed is that the lower bound seems to have hiked up. Prior to the big post, the lower bound was around 25k unique visits (lower bound days are typically on Sundays, which are generally my lowest readership day of the week); afterward the lower bound looks like 30k. And, of course, daily unique visitorship is up in general on a day-to-day basis.
Now, whether this average boost in uniques persists over time is another issue, although experience teaches me that typically speaking readership here has trended up rather than going down. For example, I’d note that the high point of “Being Poor” readership spike back in September of 2005 was about 25,000 unique visits, which today represents the lower bound of daily visits for the month. Basically, if you’re updating daily (and being at least marginally interesting), I don’t think you decline in readership. Of course, it’s the constant updating that’s the catch, isn’t it.
You ask, well, if you know how to bring in more folks, why don’t you do it on a regular basis? But that’s the thing about Big Posts, as I noted a couple of years ago: It’s not up to you to decide what’s a Big Post. In the case of the Obama/Fox News post, I benefited from having Daily Kos, John Cole and Andrew Sullivan linking in unsolicited, which each funneled thousands of probably new folks into the site, some of whom, presumably, have since stuck around. Now, I’m not stupid: I’m aware that when I write about politics here, there’s a good chance it’ll generate discussion and some links. But you never know what’s going to work for people more than usual and what’s not. I don’t typically solicit links these days (and didn’t for the Obama/Fox piece), so essentially I never know who is going to link in or why. It’s a crap shoot, and besides, I’m aware that the single most successful post I ever did, visitor-wise, was of me taping bacon to my cat. You can’t know what’s going to work, in point of fact, and trying to game all the time it will drive you nuts.
What you do is what you should be doing anyway: writing interesting stuff on a regular basis. That way, when lightning does strike, and the curious new reader looks around to see what else you’ve got, you have stuff that will make them realize the Big Post that got their attention wasn’t just a one-time fluke. The Big Posts bring them in, and that’s their value; it’s everything else you’ve got that keeps them coming back, and that’s the value of the blog as a whole. Jot that down, folks.
And hey, if you’re one of the new folks around here: Thanks for coming by, and welcome.
I hope you one day surpass the popularity of bacon cat.
Nothing I do will ever be as popular as bacon cat.
Well, since Elroy is a dead-ringer for that mat of hair stuck in the sink, he’s decided that I should bookmark this site so that he can check in from time to time.
And Elroy sez he came to ur site from his best other favrite bloger Mr. Cole….
I’ve seen similar trends with SpaceWesterns.com
I’ve had two “big” features that have driven quite a bit of traffic: Space Western Holiday Specials and The Battlestar Galactica Code: The Last Cylon
They’ve both helped raise the profile of the site tremendously, and a fair number of people have been sticking around.
I’ve noticed that contests (Space Western Senryu Contest) seem to bring in a larger than usual crowds as well. What do the contests on Whatever do to your traffic?
My co-bloggers and I are dealing with a very different scale — a big day for us is 2,000 hits — but seeing very similar issues. Like you, I have a sense of when something is going to generate a lot of traffic (for me), but sometimes I’m wrong. I’m sometimes surprised when a post doesn’t generate traffic, but rarely surprised when it does.
I’m still small enough that search engine hits can make a big difference, and search engine optimization (mostly with WordPress’ SEO plugin) substantially enhances that.
I’ve become fascinated with various tracking programs that display hits, which to some extent help shape my blogging behavior (or at least how I use the SEO program). I’m in the Woopra Beta; it’s got bugs but is the most pretty and feature-rich. Google Analytics is slow and not pretty but a reliable workhorse. The WordPress stats dashboard plugin is handy because it’s right there in your face. Together, they enable one of my favorite recurring blog features — the “Road to Popehat” column, which lists the most freakish search engine queries that have brought people in.
I can just see Zoraster, Abram, and Buddha all sitting around talking on a similar topic but instead of “Big Posts” they used the term “Revelation”.
Nathan E. Lilly:
Contests get a lot of comments but don’t move the needle in terms of visits. Which is fine; they’re mostly for the folks who are already here anyway.
One question: When you retrieve these unique visitor stats, do they include unique visits by Googlebots, Yahoo bots, etc.?
They do, but they’re not a significant percentage of the total; GoogleBot visits, for example, are less than 1% of the June total.
Huh. I was the one who commented about the Fox post at John Cole’s Balloon Juice in an open thread, shortly after which Cole made a new thread quoting and linking to the post.
Of course, I only found Whatever through a big link at Daily Kos or someplace in the first place (although I had read Old Man’s War without knowing Scalzi blogged), so it’s all circular.
I don’t know how precisely your book sales are calculated, but I’d be interested to see if Big Posts have an effect on them. I’d never heard of you prior to the Fox/Obama post, and after reading that and surfing through a few weeks of other posts, I bought the Old Man’s War series. I’d be surprised if I were the only one.
It’s something that would be hard to quantify. Also it works the other way, too: Some people have bought the books, come here, and have been so offended by what I’ve written here that they’ve declared that they’ll no longer buy my books.
I would imagine that your sales in the community of kosher/halal cat fanciers has plummeted.
I don’t know. I’m not saying everyone should tape bacon to their cat.
Hi, John. I’m one of the newbies here, but I’m pretty sure I wound up here through a non-political BoingBoing link, rather than the Michelle O/Fox post. That said, the sci/fi and liberal politics made your site a good daily for me.
PS – Do RSS readers count toward ‘unique visits’? I ask because I generally don’t click through to sites that provide full-post feeds unless I feel the need to read comments.
You could have at least cooked the bacon first. Raw bacon taped to a cat is just Wrong.
I run a blog that is essentially a silly links blog, with quotes but little to no commentary. Yesterday I posted a link to a webcomic pointing out that the awesome band mentioned in it is not, in fact, real.
This morning I found TWO PAGES worth of comments (I usually get something like 1 comment every week or two) of people also moping that the band is not real, and one person going, “Where’s your site meter? Did you just get a bunch of hits from this one link?” Okay, not remotely a “Big Post”, and god knows it has nothing to do with any work I actually put into, but it’s a weird experience anyway. Especially since in the blog world, I try to float under the radar so I don’t get a fat hosting bill or something.
Anyway, it was funny to me that you posted this today!
“Nothing I do will ever be as popular as bacon cat.”
I’m trying to decide if this is a self-fulfilling prophecy or simply a ratio of BaconCat to Scalzi fame, meaning, BaconCat fame is an exponent of Scalzi fame.
Not unless John is using a very different traffic counter than I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure that feed readers pull the content into the user’s reader, and that whether or not the user scrolls through the items is not reported back to the source. You’d only get a traffic hit if you click through. It’s a frustration — I have no idea how many of my feed readers are actually reading.
Agreement. Big posts are random strikes of fortune. Some of the biggest on SFScope have been for news items that I thought were minor when I was posting, but either tapped into sub-communities I didn’t know about, or were earliest appearances of the news (which I didn’t realize at the time). I also have to concur on the two-three day spike they draw.
Unlike your experience, however, my daily hits seems to drop back to the average range, though it’s usually a week or two later. What I notice, however, is an increase in the number of subscribers getting the daily e-mail with the headlines and excerpts. (Gotta ask Al about the number of RSS subscribers.)
There’ve been times when I’ve said to myself “I gotta come up with a Big Post,” and others when I’ve said “This is going to be a Big Post.” Usually, I have no luck with either. The Big Posts come when completely unexpected. It’s a source of frustration with my partner (he’s the back-end of the site; I’m the content): he asks me to tell him about a big article coming up a day or two before-hand, so he can do an advertising push on it (however he does that), but I honestly have no idea which will be the big ones. Frustration. I am, however, open to suggestions.
I don’t know. I think it’s pretty easy to predict what is going to be a “big post.” For instance – anything having to do with Carrot Top = “big post.”
I am kidding, of course, but I happened to post something about the freakish nature of Carrot Top’s appearance about week ago, and it’s still drawing about 60% of my traffic. The guy’s s a force of unnature.
It seems SCOTUSblog has had a BigPost day due to their DCvHeller posts. (Wasn’t sure which thread to post this on…chose this one.)
If (Scalzi ????????) then (Neo-Tokyo is about to explode!)
Hi. I’m one of the “poster children” for this blog stats post. I arrived via Angry Black Woman who linked to you like this:
So I was going to comment on the racism that’s flying fast and furious at the Obama’s this week. But then John Scalzi went off for me. So since I don’t have anything to say that can top this beautiful beatiful rant I’m just going to share the joy with you. Try not to read it anyplace where you cannot lay in the floor and laugh like a hyena.
After reading your post, I bookmarked you right then and there, and even put you in my elite “Daily” blog file. I’ve seen some lovely photos here, and even though I’m no scifi geek I did have fun learning about the term “Nerdgassing”. I’m definitely sticking around to find out the winning caption on the bath toys photo contest. Too many cutsie cat photo posts may get you demoted from my prized “Daily” group, but in any event, you’re probably bookmarked for good.
Oh, and thank you for that wonderful Fox/Baby Mama post.
I discovered “Whatever” by a different path. I bought a copy of OMW and decided to Wikipedia the name Scalzi. Just curious, you know. There it was, a link to Whatever at the end of the article. I’ve never been the same since.
heh… my big posts number about 200 visitors :) you’re really a role-model for aspiring bloggers like myself… and i’m not kidding at all!
in other news: soon, expect good news concerning the romanian edition of OMW :)
As someone who religiously checks her stats, I really enjoyed having a chance to hear from someone who can actually quantify the longterm effect of spikes on his traffic. Sadly, you’ve got about three zeros more than I do after your numbers, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love every visit I get just the same! Because I’m writing about theater, my spikes come when I get reviews in really early about popular shows – but I don’t want to change when I see a show based on when I can optimize traffic to my blog.
Most hits ever? The day a Japanese website linked to my review of a Russian ballet company’s Giselle. Why they picked me, I don’t know.
Most popular article? “Top 12 ways to get cheap theatre tickets in London.” This one was written to drive traffic to my site and the topic was suggested by my husband, who does SEO stuff for a living and felt sorry for me. I wouldn’t have written it unless I found the topic interesting, though.
Finally: a guy who writes for the Guardian wrote a hysterical article called “Online POKER marketing could spell the NAKED end of VIAGRA journalism as we LOHAN know it,” which basically says that inserting juicier keywords and, perhaps, writing about stuff like Twin Towers conspiracy would be just the trick to jack up your stats. But …. fuggedabout it. I’m having too much fun doing what I want, cultivating my writing style and saying what I think to want to futz with things like that. It’s shocking, though, to think that the effects of inserting keywords like this is actually causing the writers at the junkier rags to change what they say just to drive traffic.
Anyway, thanks for the article, and I’m sorry to say I linked back to your bacon cat post instead of this one on my other blog – it made three people burst out laughing simultaneously so it obviously still deserves pimping.