Posts Follow Pareto, Not Gaussian, Distribution: Ten Lessons From Four Months of Blogging (Part VIII)

Another important blogging insight is that a very small percentage of your posts will generate a disproportionate number of your page views. In other words, the number of page views per post exhibits the characteristics of a power law (sometimes called a Pareto) distribution rather than a Gaussian one like the bell-shaped normal curve most people encounter in basic statistics and probability.

A Pareto distribution is a special case of a power law distribution which follows the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. This rule stipulates that “80 percent of consequences stem from 20 percent of causes.”

We see power law distributions everywhere we look. Movie revenues follow this pattern as do venture capital investments. We also see it in wealth distribution and population density. Apparently, we also see such a pattern in the relationship between page views and blog posts.

The pattern reveals itself in my own data. After four months of blogging, 8.4% of my posts accounted for 58.7% of my page views, which is consistent with a power law distribution. Below is a graphical display of this data with the percentage of posts and hits displayed by percentage of the total on the y-axis and the various buckets of hits by range. For instance, 22.9% of posts generated less than 10 hits, accounting for 2.3% of the total.

Page Hits vs. Posts Follows Power Law, Not Normal, Distribution, Source: ©Reflections of a Rational Republican

Other than providing an interesting factoid for cocktail parties, why is it important to know that blogging follows a power law distribution?

The answer is simple. If you can figure out which posts account for the majority of your page views, you can study what made these posts successful, and replicate it in future posts.

I examined what distinguished my top posts from the others and discovered that like a new movie, there are two ways for a blog post to be successful. In the movie business, some blockbusters pop on their opening weekends after a studio launches a massive promotion effort. The second way a movie can be successful is if it goes viral.

Remember the Blair Witch Project?

Similarly, you can get a quick pop in page views by providing a title for your post that lands a top spot on a major search engine, or you can generate content that goes viral. I have inadvertently done both.

Hitting the Search Jackpot

As you may recall from my “Title for Search When You Search for a Title: Ten Lessons From Four Months of Blogging (Part IV)” post, one way to generate outsized page views is provide your post with a search-friendly title that garners it prominent real estate on a search engine. The problem with this approach is that it may be good for a one-time boost, but it may not generate many hits over the long-run. You can see this effect clearly in the chart below.

Source: WordPress

However, if you are fortunate enough to stumble onto a topic that goes viral, you will likely generate page views for weeks, months, and hopefully, years.

Going Viral: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

While surfing the web, I noticed that liberal bloggers were showing the number of private sector jobs lost during 2008 (Bush’s worst year in office) and contrasting it with Obama’s first two-plus years in office. Obama’s employment record looks terrible, but compared to Bush’s last year in office, it appears to be moderately better.

So to help balance the debate, I gathered the data for Bush’s entire eight years in office, put it in a chart, and compared it to Obama’s two-plus years in office. I did not make any strong judgements on the numbers, I just put them out in the blogosphere.

Soon other bloggers – both left and right – were linking to my site because my data was conveniently available in an intuitive and easy-to-understand format, and my post went viral.

As you can see from the chart below, this post still continues to get page views long after I posted it.

Source: WordPress

How can you write a post that will likely go viral?

Become an Information Arms Dealer

Become an arms dealer and supply ammunition for “nerd fights” in the blogosphere.

The beauty of being an arms dealer is that you need not choose sides, you simply present publicly available data from disparate sources and display it in a visually appealing and intuitive way. The Economist does this better than any other news source, which is one of the reasons why that publication is so well-respected.

As long as wars are fought, you profit.

And fighting wars of ideas is a big part of what the blogosphere is all about.

So feed the beast and reap the reward.

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
This entry was posted in Blogging, Business, Education, Mathematics, Media, Predictions, Thurston and Talbot, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Posts Follow Pareto, Not Gaussian, Distribution: Ten Lessons From Four Months of Blogging (Part VIII)

  1. pino says:

    I did not make any strong judgements on the numbers, I just put them out in the blogosphere.

    Fascinating distinction.

    Love this series by the way!

  2. Scott Erb says:

    My top posts all time are “Freedom and Risk,” at number one, coming primarily because of a picture on the post of a young Laura Ingalls Wilder. A lot of Laura Ingalls Wilder fans visit — the post is about the link between freedom and the willingness to engage risk, comparing her era with ours. The second most views was “Spinoza, Free Will and Quantum Mechanics,” followed by “Obama the Anti-Christ.” Number four was “Topless in Farmington” (about a topless parade here in spring 2010).

    • I used the word “porn” in one of my posts once. Apparently, that post has a ton of impressions on Google, but a near zero click-through rate (because, of course, there was no porn on my site).

      I can see why Obama the Anti-Christ got a lot of hits: it is easy to type in Google. I am guessing you probably got a lot of angry comments from the right on that one. 😉

  3. Moe says:

    Sean – what are you defining as ‘syndicated views’?

    I’m loving htis series too.

    • Sometimes these show up on WordPress. They don’t count as part of your official hit rate. However, They result from people who view your blog via Google Reader or an RSS feed.

      I had no idea what they were either, but WordPress has a good description of them here.

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