Home > data science, rant > Quantitative theory of blogging

Quantitative theory of blogging

December 3, 2011

Once you start blogging, it turns out you can get quite addicted to your daily hits, which is a count of how many people come to your site each day, as well as to the quantity and quality of the comments (my readers have the best comments by the way, just saying).

WordPress even lets you see which things people read, and how they searched google to find your site, and what they clicked on. It’s easy enough to get excited about such statistics, and the natural consequence is an urge to juice your numbers.

What is the equivalent of Major League Baseball steroids for bloggers? I have a few suggestions:

  • Post about something super controversial, i.e. something that people care about and are totally divided about. Once I heard a sports talk radio host give away this trade secret on his show, when he said, “okay folks let’s talk about this next question, which when polled was split down the middle 50/50 among people…”. I think I hit on this once when I posted about how I think math contests suck. Lots of strong feelings both ways.
  • Post about something involving people that others consider kind of crazy. Once when I posted about living forever, I was kind of responding to this idea of the Singularity Theorists and their summit. Turns out some people don’t want to live forever, like me, and some people really really want to live forever. It’s like a religion.
  • Then there’s the celebrity angle. My posts about working with Larry Summers have generated lots of traffic, although I like to think it’s because of what I said in addition to the star power in the title.
  • I’m convinced that adding images to your posts makes people more likely to find them. Maybe that’s because they appear bigger when they are shared on Facebook or something.
  • If you are fed up with people arguing with each other on your comments pages, then another totally different way of getting lots of hits (and even more comments) is to post about something that allows people to tell a story about themselves that probably nobody else wants to hear. For example, you can write a post entitled, “did you ever have a weird experience at a doctor’s appointment?”. I haven’t done that yet but it’s tempting, just for all the awesome comments I’d get.
  • Finally, you can go lowbrow and talk about sex, or even better give advice to people about their weird sexual desires, or even better, make confessions about your weird sexual experiences. Also haven’t done that yet, but also tempted.

I’m a data modeler, so of course it makes sense that I’d try to test out my theoretical signals. So if you see me writing a post in the future about the sexual adventures of me and some nutjob celebrity (update: Charlie Sheen) when we went to the doctor’s together, complete with graphic pix, then you’ll know to click like mad (and comment, please!).

Categories: data science, rant
  1. December 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Yeah, I completely agree with your first point, but you don’t even have to be super controversial. Peter Woit’s blog is a good example. Recent posts on Scott Aaronson’s blog give a different kind of example. If you are good at stirring up trouble you could conceivable generate interest in your own math research (random example) by having a blog with both controversial posts and posts touting your own research. Hmm…

  2. JBL
    December 3, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    For what it’s worth, I think that there must in some sense be fewer images on the internet, and/or that Google image search is drawn disproportionately to images on blogs. On my (basically unread) blog, I find that a significant fraction of web searches are people who come in through an image search and are looking at the pictures in posts, not the posts themselves. (At least, this is my interpretation — the wordpress data is not good enough for me to be absolutely sure.)

    • JBL
      December 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm

      Update: I can now confirm that leaving a link to one’s own blog on a better-read blog, while drawing attention to the fact that one has a blog, can result in a measurable traffic bump ;)

    • JBL
      December 5, 2011 at 7:52 am

      Okay, more substantive: this particular blog obviously has many good things going for it (like the absence of graphic Charlie Sheen pics); one notable one that Cathy didn’t mention is that it’s updated regularly, which means there’s a lot of incentive to check in on it frequently to see if there’s anything new. (Ok, maybe I’ve just given myself away as the last person in the universe not using a newsreader of some kind, but whatever.)

  3. JSE
    December 3, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    Here is what I have learned.

    1. Controversial and/or gossipy posts about the profession are extremely popular.
    2. Posts that are the only thing on the Internet about a nice topic are popular (e.g. I wrote something about the toilet-training video Potty Power! and a couple of posts about the Bilu-Parent theorem and both of these get hits from basically anyone who searches for these.)
    3 Technical math posts are more popular than I would have thought.
    4. Nobody gives a shit about the Baltimore Orioles.

  4. bertie
    December 5, 2011 at 5:35 am

    I think i found this blog via a link from Peter Woit, I’ve read his blog for years

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