The “search phrase” experiment and what makes a popular blog post

Part 1: What makes a popular post?

Fellow bloggers, humour me for a moment and consider the following: Which posts are your most popular? Which posts are your most searched? Which of your posts draw in the most comments and likes? If the answer to these questions is usually the posts that you don’t expect, then you likely blog for yourself first, and the audience second.

Do you find that you write a more personal piece, and it is barely read, or commented on? Yet you write a light hearted piece on a men’s magazine that contained the headline “Tina Fey is hot” and it pulls in more views, likes and comments than you ever considered. Why is this? Perhaps in one sense you don’t know your audience, or perhaps you might just be discovering it. Blogging is a learning game after all.

In my brief experience of blogging (about four months now), I’ve noticed the following:

  • If you gain some regular readers, the more personal posts will invite comments and likes from them. They have gotten to know you a bit through your posts, so the personal ones are giving them a bit more, rewarding them a little in that way, and building on that relationship.
  • On the other hand, the personal posts will generally not draw in many readers as they don’t have the personal connection, aside from the odd passing “tourist” who may have a connection in some way, and will therefore be drawn in.
  • Posts which are on a specific subject, e.g. writing tips, will draw in readers looking for the specific thing. Or they may have some experiences of it, that they may wish to share or can contribute to the subject.
  • Posts which are a bit more general e.g. about blogging, provide a common experience for all sorts of bloggers, so it will be easier for them to interact with your post, and be more enticing to new readers.
  • Posts which are more general still, e.g. The Rolling Stone top 500 albums ever, might draw in more views via search engines, but not the interactivity. This is also to say that the searcher may be after one thing, and not the thing the way you have written about it, which by the way, is not a criticism. Or a reader might like it, but have no wish to comment or press “like” (see the next point).
  • The “comments” and “like” functions are the tools of the reader from the blog community, but not necessarily everyone else. You may have some RSS readers, or readers via search sites who read some of your posts then leave. I know I do this when looking up certain subjects via google, but I don’t want to sign up to whatever web community it might be, and make a comment on it. I just want the written info.
  • If you are lucky enough to write a personal piece, but on a subject which many people are interested in, then this will be likely be the one which draws in “comments” and “likes”, but also a lot of views.
  • If you join some sort of competition, or writing group type challenge, e.g. monthly ROW80, you will get other like minded individuals who have also joined, as readers, and perhaps a few more additional interested ones (not that I would know having not joined one, but I was informed this was the case).

Part 2: The “experiment” in viewing figures

In some separate posts by myself and by blogging friends, the subject of popular search terms has cropped up. Terms that frequently appear in your stats, but seem to have little in common, other than a phrase, with the subject posted about. Plus there is a few odd ones which seem to have nothing in common at all other than two or three words occurred in a post, often paragraphs apart. On this blog “soft splats” is one example. So we discussed whether including a bunch of popular or odd search things would boost the viewings on a post, or indeed whether it would have any impact at all.

So let us assume for a moment that I want to be a blog whore. I want to put it out there, I want the viewers, I want the readers. Generally, I don’t, I’m ok with the amount of readers and views I have, but for this post I want to be different. I want it, and all of it. I want to put it about. Mmm, I hope this isn’t a choice I come to regret, but I digress. Sure there are many ways to help build an audience for your blog, WordPress themselves did a posting on this, see how to get more views, and how to get more comments. I see no reason to cover that ground again and that is not what I’m after here. I want the viewings first, and any new readers, “comments” and “likes” are a good bonus. So the experiment is thus, add in to this post, some commonly used web browser search phrases or other things that I’m guessing may turn up, and see what it does to the views on this post. See what crops up in the search terms in the stats. It will be an artificial boost somewhat, and it is not to say that part 1 above may also draw in some additional readers. But let us see what happens, so let us cover some search terms with added brainsplats nonsense here:

Some random popular search terms

  • Harry Potter is about being a nerd. I never read the books but I saw some of the films. School appears to have changed since I was there.
  • You can check some popular trends here: http://www.google.com/trends/hottrends  – I decided to pinch (and add):
    • Kate Upton is popular. I have no idea who she is
    • Rodney King sadly took one beating too many.
    • The NBA finals have just finished with Miami winning. Sports channels like to talk about LeBron James especially now he has his first championship. I would not have mentioned him but he has a minor share in LFC.
    • The European championships (Euro 2012) are on. Steven Gerrard (LFC captain), is the England captain. Roy Hodgson (ex Liverpool manager) is the England manager. England have thus far done better than expected (we all thought they were crap).
    • What do Lindsay Lohan, the returning TV show Dallas, Miley Cyrus, and Kim Kardashian have in common? – Nothing that I am aware of.
    • Wimbledon Tennis starts soon and True Blood is back on. Both feature pasty looking people knocking things around a bit.
    • Pacquiao got robbed against Bradley meaning the fight against Floyd Mayweather will likely never happen. If this was the UFC, they would have faced off when they were at their respective peaks, a few years ago.
    • Tina Turner is still alive apparently, where as Henry Hill (of Goodfellas fame), is not.
    • Game of Thrones and Mad Men, are great sunday night shows that have ended their current seasons. The returning Falling Skies is a big slab of cheese in comparison.

Some random nonsense (assuming the above isn’t)

  • Purple Bananas wibble and wobble their way to squiggle and squelch land of the springs, where beds and fresh water run hand in hand.
  • I like random writing terms like paragraph, full stop, blog post, words to avoid, number of words, writing inspiration, writing prompt, author, artist, writer, and notepad.
  • Is it more fun to insult people from Belgium or Germany (in a non racist way of course)? Or come to think or it, the Irish or the Welsh?
  • I ought to mention Apple, ipod, ipad 2 and ipad 3, and the new iPhone 5. Plus I want a new Macbook Pro retina screen model. Well it is Apple isn’t it?
  • Add to that these random things – Disney, Pixar, Toy Story, DVD, downloads, MP3, Music, dance, jiggly, underwear, jockstrap and monkey.

Part 3. The mini conclusion

So I have a post of two parts. Hopefully part 1 will be of interest to many bloggers and blog readers. These are simply my thoughts on blogs posts, I make no comment about whether writing for yourself or an audience is better other than to say as far as I’m concerned either approach is fine, it depends what you want out of your blog.

Part 2 may be of interest to no-one other than me, or people who want to know what daft search terms crop up, if any. I shall monitor the stats of this post, and do an update in a week or two. Does all this nonsense boost the viewing figures, if only for a day or two? Does it do nothing? I shall find out. Feel free to enter your thoughts in the box below on either part.

Lexicon word of the day: incommutable.

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34 comments on “The “search phrase” experiment and what makes a popular blog post

  1. Smaktakula says:

    Henry Hill is dead? Why is it always the sweet ones? On the plus side, that former publicity-whore-in-hiding is pretty darn safe from his enemies down in the festering pits of hell.

    You really don’t know what LiLo, Kardashian, Dallas Opus II and Miley Cyrus have in common?

    It’s their earth-shaking worthlessness, of course.

    • Elliot says:

      I didn’t know Tina Turner was dead, then not dead either until I looked up popular searches.

      I made that point in a slightly different way!

      • Smaktakula says:

        Yes, but I like to riff off other people’s good jokes and make it seem like they were my own. In this way I haven’t ever had to think of something original.

  2. crubin says:

    I’ll be interested to hear the results of your experiment. I really don’t understand the whole idea of optimizing a post. Like you, I prefer to write about what I want to, not what I should. I’ve noticed some of my more personal posts, especially the ones that have to do with writing, often generate the most responses.

    Interesting post!

    • Elliot says:

      Actually there where two points I meant to add to the top section but I had forgotten them prior to finishing and posting:

      1) Posts about writing tend to draw in more comments from bloggers (we all have writing in common).
      2) Longer posts tend not to get read properly, and skimmed through.

      Do the ones with the most responses tend to be from readers you already have or new ones?

  3. jmmcdowell says:

    It’ll be interesting to see your results. I don’t get all the “SEO” stuff, and I really don’t care about accumulating views. (Although this summer decrease is a bit painful.) But I’m curious how many “hits” you’ll get based on those test search terms.

    I think one thing that factors into some posts getting a higher number of views than others comes from WordPress’s email notifications to a blogger when someone likes a post. WP includes 2 or 3 posts from the “liking” blogger that they recommend to you. They don’t change those every day, so they do lead traffic to some posts more than others.

    Beta reading and blogging/social media posts have been the biggest audience draws to my blog….

    • Elliot says:

      I’m also curious to see what effect, if any there is to the views. Mine have dropped with having less posts, but after the pain of the first few days, I soon got past that.

      It is interesting that you mention the email notifications when someone likes a post, I’ve never used it so know next to nothing about it.

      I think posts about blogging and writing will always be popular with other bloggers as it is something we all have in common.

  4. Great blog insights. I wrote a piece on nerds and one short that I had tooth pulled and not post several days. I get the most hits on these searches. Crazy, huh?

    • Elliot says:

      Thanks Carl. Yes there are some odd search hits. I still get a lot of “gypsy wedding” searches even now, after featuring it in a tv vegetable post a few months back.

  5. This is helpful. I will be interested in hearing how the stats fare with this post. How search engines work is a topic that I’m interested in. I have blogged about it a time or two, from a complete amateur’s viewpoint.

    • Elliot says:

      I’ll be interested to see how the stats come out as well. It just dawned on me that in using too popular terms I might not be ranking high up the search charts i.e. because there is plenty of competition.

      I may try a second attempt with more niche like searches.

  6. rtd14 says:

    What a great post! Blogging has been an experiment for me, but it is fun. I’m still learning what makes a good search term. Growth comes in good time. Thanks for sharing!

  7. robincoyle says:

    I used the words “Just Do It” in a title and that post has had WAAAAAYYYYY more hits than any other post. From now on, I am doing product placement in everything I write.

    Kidding.But I do wonder what someone looking for Nike sneakers thinks when their search leads them to my post about entering a writing contest.

    • Elliot says:

      I forgot about advertising slogans. I think there might be a follow up post to this, prior to a results post, to collate a few more points about blogging and to add in some other search phrases, which would make a good comparison.

      I wonder what people who are looking for “my big fat gypsy wedding” think when they get my tv vegetable post on it. That is still one of my most popular searches now, although it does not invite many comments.

  8. legionwriter says:

    Fascinating post. I look forward to seeing what comes of it.

  9. Eric Alagan says:

    Like quite a few comments here – looking forward to the results.

  10. So, has this post been popular? Lol 😉

    Xx

  11. Jeannie says:

    You’ve already got results–just look at these comments! On most days, I’d say I’m not in touch with my readers or the general public at large. I have no rhyme or reason to what I post except if it appeals to me in some way. When I search I’m pretty specific to help weed out false leads to info so who knows how your experiment will turn out? I’m no expert, that’s for sure…but I know what I like. 🙂

    • Elliot says:

      I think the comments prove some of my points in the first part, but we shall see what happens on the search terms for the second part.

      I would say for the most part, what I post is mainly for me primarily. There are a few topics I’ve posted about which were specifically to see what reaction it got e.g. the one about the “like” button, but the rest are just what I fancy doing. So long as it has some readers that is ok, but I’m not specifically after big numbers day to day.

  12. Dan says:

    One of the most popular posts on my blog is this one. I hesitate to link to it because it already gets a disproportionate number of hits.

    http://dancpharmd.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/tall-people/

    It frequently gets 30-40 hits a day. It was certainly not one of those posts that I would have predicted would be so popular. I did a little bit of evaluation in the stats and it is image searches that are driving people to that post – particularly the one of Jack Skellington, but Robert Wadlow holds his own.

    I get tired of it being such a popular post, especially because I know people are finding it because they’re looking for pictures, not because they want to read what I have to write.

    Additionally, I think it’s harder to generate traffic to a personal blog. I would say that yours qualifies as a personal blog and mine definitely does. I think it’s harder to engage people in the daily goings-on of one’s life, although I will admit to being much more interested in personal blogs than I am in themed and news type blogs. So many of the blogs I read overlap in their content that reading things that that are of a more personal nature is refreshing, especially after I’ve gone through the whole “familiarization” process.

    • Elliot says:

      I agree that I think it is harder to draw traffic to a personal blog. I think when people are browsing for new blogs they tend to be looking for a specific thing or subject, so a personal one has to have something that the person can connect to, which gives them an entry point. Otherwise, they just pass on to the next.

      The blogs I read are a mix of personal and specific things. Some writing blogs for example, are good, but there is cross over with subject matter, and the best ones tend to mix this with personal experience.

      It is interesting the post which is the most popular on yours, perhaps because you hold a niche for the images there, and don’t have much competition in that sense. There will be a part 2 to this post prior to results. to add some additional search nonsense. Either way it is an interesting subject.

  13. DyingNote says:

    I’d think this is one of your most popular posts. Is it? Popular or not, I find this one of your best written

  14. It always surprises me what search terms bring people to my posts. And which posts get the most reactions.

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