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May 07, 2006

How Readers Find Blogs

There are five basic ways that readers find new blogs to read: recommendations by strangers aka social tagging services (see immediately below), recommendations from friends, recommendations by robots, links from other blogs, and search engine queries.


This chart shows “walkin” readers to Fractals of Change; these are readers who click on a link or type in a URL to get to the blog.  The vast majority of readers are subscribers but that’s not what I’m blogging about today.  Readers become subscribers after they walk in.

There was a huge spike Friday (actually late Thursday nite) in walkin readership.  It was all because of a social tagging service called reddit. A user named lupin_sansei submitted my post from last Monday on why a great programmer is worth 50 good ones.  Zoom.

When a post is tagged on reddit, it gets a few seconds or minutes of fame up high on the new list page (depending on time of day and day of week).  Reddit users watch this page and a number of them apparently scrutinize each article.  Registered users (registering just requires setting up a username and a password) get to vote articles up or down. 

Some function, which I haven’t been able to reverse engineer, of time and net votes (plus one for up, minus one for down) determines how high on the reddit hot list the reference to a post is.  Only 25 entries per page so there is a high value to being on the first page.  If your post doesn’t quickly get on the first page, it quickly disappears from view. The entry for this post stayed on the top page for almost a day before sinking down to page two, page three, etc.  It is now ranked two hundred and something and fading to oblivion.

Members have an incentive to vote because the service uses their up and down votes to deduce a personal profile and make recommendations which take this into account.  I haven’t used reddit long enough to accumulate a profile so don’t know how well this works.

Two other social networking services are digg and del.icio.us.  I posted about them here and tried to get readers to use them to demonstrate support for another post of mine to the FCC.  Didn’t work.  People tag what they feel like tagging and I’ve never been able to guess what posts of mine will have temporary tag fame and which won’t.  Nor have I been able to influence this.

Fred Wilson posted recently that “user tagging is fundamental.” He was talking about services like those above.  I suspect he’s right.

The second way blogs get new readers or one time readers is through recommendations from friends.  On Friday between about 10AM and midnight only about 17% of the visits to the post on programmers were directly from reddit; 74% of the links were from an “unknown” source which almost always means that someone emailed someone else the URL of a post.  Since traffic was at about eight times its normal rate. These email references to this post (which was not my most current post by this time) were almost certainly as a result of the reddit entry at one or more removes.  But, even on a normal day, many readers come to the blog because a friend told them to.

The third source of blog traffic is by robot referrals.  Memeorandum.com and its brother service tech.memeorandum.com are two such.  Both of these calculate the ranking of a post depending on the number and authority of the links to that post.  “Authority” is a mysterious function of both readership and whether the author of the linking post is a recognized authority on the subject of the post he or she is linking to.  I sort of count as an authority on telephony stuff but not on politics (more the pity).  The last time walkin traffic on my blog soared to ten times normal levels was when the robots which are tech.memeorandum decided that there were lots of important links to my post on AT&T overcharging soldiers for prepaid card calls from Iraq and Afghanistan and featured my post on its front page for more than a few microseconds.

The only other time there was an order of magnitude increase in walkin traffic was when BoingBoing, the granddaddy of all blogs in readership, linked to a post of mine about John Battelle.  Zoom went the walkins.  Links from other blogs are the fourth way that blogs get new readers.

My blog and many others got initial readership from links.  Bloggers Fred Wilson, Brad Feld, Jeff Jarvis, Jeff Pulver, Michal Parekh and many others have been very generous with “link love.”  Clusters of bloggers with similar interests (but not always similar points of view) link to each other frequently so, after a while, we are already sharing many readers so are not as good sources of new readers to each other as we once were.

Plenty has been written about search engine optimization (really optimizing your site so search engines will find it).  I don’t do that; it’s hard enough just to write the posts.  But, on a normal day, about half my walkin readers come from search engines.  May be because I write on a lot of different subjects.  I still get a lot of hits from the word “pornography” because I posted that Pornography Drives Technology back in March of 2005.  Wonder how many of these stick around to become regular readers.

Somewhere in all this may be the secret to blogging fame and fortune.  But notice in the graph above how fleeting fame is.

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» How Readers Find Blogs from noturnonred.org - Blog, Photography & Visual Merchandising by Tom Sullivan
As a blog author, I am always trying to increase my readership. In our blogosphere, there are tons of articles and resources devoted to ways that blogs can increase readership. But Tom Evslin has put together an informative post over at the Fractals ... [Read More]


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