Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Data Sniping: "This Young Economist" Search Traffic

Have you ever wondered how people find a blog if you just started? Sure, you can advertise and promote to your friends and family, but there has to be a way to get your words to a wider audience. After social networking sites, attracting search engine hits is the most promising way to promote your blog.

In my last post, I wrote about how Google Analytics can be useful for bloggers. Here's a case in point. Google Analytics gives detailed information on the searches and web traffic from searches on my website. For example, here are the top 10 searches that brought people to my blog during the month of June:

1. Melissa Rycroft (6)
2. Ross Landfried (6)
3. Groupon (5)
4. Wet cell phone (5)
5. Noah Landfried (4)
6. That versus which (4)
7. "Companies I Love: Apple" (3)
8. Empirical observation (3)
9. Marijuana cost (3)
10. Math magazine (3)

This list teaches me a lot about what people wanted when they searched the Internet and stumbled upon my blog. In fact, these are the precisely the words people typed into Google (or Bing). From this list, I learned three things about search traffic and my blog:

First, my "how to" articles score big on search engines with two of the top 10 search queries: wet cell phone and that versus which. This makes sense; I often consult search engines to learn how to do something.

Second, writing about controversy generates search hits. Among other articles on marijuana legalization, I wrote an article questioning the examples some commentators use for "jailing peaceful druggies." I questioned whether Ross and Noah Landfried, two brothers who ran a fairly extensive drug trafficking ring in Pennsylvania, were truly "peaceful druggies." Plenty of people want updates on the Landfried brothers; even more people are interested in articles on marijuana legalization.

Third, variety attracts different searchers. My blog has touched on a number of different issues and topics. The top keywords reflect that.

What articles were most popular with search engines? Here's a list of articles that attracted ten or more search hits during June:

1. Marijuana: The "estimated" cost savings from legalization (23)
2. Marijuana II: Does the ban on marijuana put peaceful druggies in jail? (14)
3. Saving a wet cell phone (14)
4. Why is Melissa Rycroft famous? (13)
5. Rules for Driving in Chicago (10)
6. Twitter: Do you follow? (10)

Again, this list taught me about my search audience.

First, although lots of people conduct searches on marijuana, the most engaging topic is How much can legalization save? The peaceful druggies search was probably driven up by people who know the Landfrieds.

Second, my audience is looking for something specific and useful. Consequently, my "how to" articles do well. Want to know about Twitter? How do you save a wet cell phone? What are the rules for driving in Chicago (it isn't a "how to," but search engines don't know any better)? My blog has you covered!

Third, celebrity articles can get search hits. Although I wouldn't recommend the strategy of writing on celebrities, the Melissa Rycroft article has gotten me a fair number of search hits.

What have I learned from this? At the very minimum, these data have given me an interesting snapshot into who reads my blog and why. But, there's more to the search data. Analyzing the search data from my blog tells me what people find interesting. That's information about my audience that I didn't have before I looked at the search results.

The number one rule of good writing is to write to your audience. For this, it helps to know who your readers are and what interests them. With Google Analytics, you know your audience. You have the tools. Now, get out there and write.

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