Content Tails

I like statistics and patterns so I am going to talk about some. You know what you’re in for.

Every so often, I like to go through what my most popular posts are and see if I can determine any patterns. Not all popular pages are created equal–they have “tails” of varying lengths. By this, I mean that they continue to attract search traffic and other clicks to different degrees over time. Some have short tails, meaning they get a lot of hits up front but then very few or none at all, and others have long tails, which get traffic on a consistent basis long after their original posting.

Looking at the top 20 posts, I have the following:

  1. Stellaris: Slavery and Racism in Space
  2. Why are Americans so Sick?
  3. Autism: Beyond Awareness
  4. Whitesplaining Berniebros
  5. Child Support Debit Card Nightmares
  6. Is Donald Trump a Fascist?
  7. Daughter Dating Declarations Deconstructed
  8. Bruenighazi, Harassment, and Twitter Hell
  9. Indiana to New Jersey: A Culture Shock
  10. Self-Driving Cars: Pros and Cons
  11. The Problem with New Atheism
  12. Money for Sex: A Double Standard
  13. Things That Shape History… That Aren’t White Men
  14. Brotherhood of Kings: The United Nations of the Ancient World
  15. Organizational Dysfunction: Cause and Effect
  16. The Student Loan Scam
  17. Tea Party Disasters: America’s Future?
  18. Confessions of a Former “Nice Guy”
  19. Constructivism in a Nutshell
  20. Thoughts on Borderline Personality Disorder

One thing I like about this list is the variety: there are current political topics, social justice topics, some general interest pieces, some health/healthcare writing, and so on. No one theme seems to attract all the clicks. It must be pointed out that theĀ Stellaris post is by far the most popular, though, likely due to my posting it shortly after the game’s release and the post involving discussion of game mechanics that many people are probably curious about.

But let’s put aside total numbers of hits and just look at patterns. Which of these have long tails and which have short ones? I’ll consider a long tail any post that continues to get some kind of traffic, week after week, well after it was posted.

Long tails:

  1. Stellaris: Slavery and Racism in Space
  2. Why are Americans so Sick?
  3. Child Support Debit Card Nightmares
  4. Is Donald Trump a Fascist?
  5. Bruenighazi, Harassment, and Twitter Hell
  6. Indiana to New Jersey: A Culture Shock
  7. The Problem with New Atheism
  8. Money for Sex: A Double Standard
  9. Organizational Dysfunction: Cause and Effect
  10. Tea Party Disasters: America’s Future?
  11. Confessions of a Former “Nice Guy”
  12. Constructivism in a Nutshell
  13. Thoughts on Borderline Personality Disorder

Short tails:

  1. Autism: Beyond Awareness
  2. Whitesplaining Berniebros
  3. Daughter Dating Declarations Deconstructed
  4. Self-Driving Cars: Pros and Cons
  5. Things That Shape History… That Aren’t White Men
  6. Brotherhood of Kings: The United Nations of the Ancient World
  7. The Student Loan Scam

With this information in hand, what determines which topics get long tails and which get short ones? I can zero in on a few factors pretty easily:

  1. The Whitesplaining Berniebros post was very topical during the primary elections, but isn’t very relevant now.
  2. Autism: Beyond Awareness benefited from a highly visible inbound link shared by a third party, and such traffic dropped off precipitously once that link became old.
  3. Popular posts are specific, have broad appeal, but may lack for extensive, quality writing online.
  4. TheĀ Stellaris post seems to be a fluke. You will note that none of my other gaming-related posts show up in the top 20 at all.

Beyond that, it’s hard to speculate. It seems likely that the posts with short tails quickly become crowded out by other, similar writing on other sites. Inbound traffic from search engines is always a matter of competition–if you are one of the links on the first page of results, you’re in great shape! If not, though, you can forget seeing much traffic. Search engine algorithms are both proprietary and always being refined, so efforts to game them tend to be of transient value–which is why I don’t bother. (You should see how often my SEO plugin yells at me because my content isn’t “SEO-ready” enough. Oh well!)

For contrast, I’ll take a look at the bottom 20 posts in terms of views and attempt to speculate on why they may perform so poorly:

  1. Hillary’s Victory, but Bill’s Spotlight — Fierce competition. Everyone wrote about this.
  2. Ends and Odds — A meta post. These are never popular!
  3. The Red Bead Experiment — Extremely niche topic based on a decades-old thought exercise.
  4. Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! — Competition and niche topic.
  5. Belligerence Toward Russia Won’t Help Anything — Posts on international issues are always unpopular here, for reasons I have never figured out.
  6. A Change of Trend — Another meta post.
  7. Save the NHS? — Probably killed by competition.
  8. Back in the USA — Meta.
  9. Institutional Resilience — Another niche topic and probably too generic to attract anyone.
  10. Link Roundup: May 21, 2016 — Who knows? Link roundups usually do better than this.
  11. The Deadliest Shooting in US History — No doubt buried under competing and highly similar links.
  12. Link Roundup: October 15, 2015 — Another link roundup, obviously. They do tend to have very short tails because of their date-sensitive nature, and I think collections of links tend to be penalized in search results.
  13. Here and There and Everywhere — More meta.
  14. Identity: Descriptive vs. Prescriptive — Brand new, so I don’t think we can hold that against it.
  15. America’s Deep State — Also new this week.
  16. Link Roundup: August 27, 2016 — Link roundup and new.
  17. Private Prisons, Organization, and Accountability — Another one struck down by competition, I reckon.
  18. Climate Change: Good News from Paris? — Another international story, and one without any real outrage factor to drive clicks.
  19. Free Speech in the UK (and Europe) — Another international topic. Really, all of my posts from when I was in Scotland fared badly, I think.
  20. Link Roundup: December 19, 2015

I can’t say most of these were surprising in any way. It’s good to understand what’s working and what isn’t. At this point, I have a good idea of what topics will attract traffic and which ones won’t. But then I don’t choose what to write about based on that. It just helps me predict what their performance will be like.

If you read all the way to this point, I hope you weren’t bored. I commend you for sticking it out. Have a good week!

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About the Author

James
James runs this blog and likes to write about society, culture, politics, science, technology, social justice, and pretty much anything else. Rumor has it people read his posts sometimes.

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Content Tails

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