What people search for online

When you’re writing a blog, you should check your stats from time to time (I’m not as obsessive about it as some are) to see what people are reading, where they came from (referrers), what they click in your posts.

Search terms are especially interesting to me. They don’t exactly correlate with the most-viewed posts on a blog.

Chart: Total Visits by Search Term

I find the popularity of the search terms timeline, timelines, and — check out the detail list! — the Chinese characters for “timeline” to be mystifying. When I do a Google search for timelines, my post about that topic doesn’t even appear on the first two pages of results.

That brings me to a key observation about paying attention to your stats. If people are coming to your site because of a search, you should think about whether you might want to offer them more on that topic. I don’t mean you should add stuff that doesn’t match the mission or purpose of your blog — but think about whether it makes sense for you to beef up your content to satisfy those searchers.

Early in 2011, I looked at my blog stats and saw that a large number of searches then included the word timeline. So I searched my blog and found I didn’t have any posts devoted to the design or production of timeline graphics. So I made a mental note to get around to that, someday — because those graphics are part of teaching about online journalism.

Later that year, in April, I was asking students in a journalism course to create an interactive timeline graphic in Adobe Flash. I wanted to show them examples, so I dug into my bookmarks — and then I had the material for a blog post about timelines (already linked above). I suppose that accounts for the extraordinary dominance of related terms in my stats for 2012.

There are hundreds of search terms (in my WordPress stats for this blog) that resulted in fewer than 40 site visits in 2012. If I did a text analysis of all the search terms (maybe using a clustering algorithm from Overview?), maybe I would find others in the 200-300 count range, or even higher, but I’m not that into it. I had enough interest to paste the top search terms into Excel and generate the chart you see above — which took a lot less time to do than writing this post!

Take a look at your blog’s search stats — if you’re serious about blogging.

Update: Total search terms that people used in 2012 to come to Teaching Online Journalism: 498 (my WordPress logs do not show any terms that were used fewer than 5 times). Total visits from those search terms: 10,837. (So the people who came for timelines may represent about one-fifth of all who came via search.) Total site visits for the year: 99,567.

6 Comments on “What people search for online

  1. There are two sets of search stats of interest: search terms from search engines that bring people to your site, and search terms from *your own site’s search engine*. Don’t ignore the latter: That will give you an idea what people already on your site want to read more about.

  2. Thanks, Sharon! To clarify, this post is about search terms from search engines that bring people to your site.

  3. Are you not on Facebook? I think your visitors are searching for Facebook Timeline, it’s a layout implemented on that social networking site last year. They’re not, I reckon, looking for the kind of historical timelines with which we journalists might be more familiar…

  4. David – I’m pretty sure they are not searching for the kind of timelines I wrote about! But if they were searching for info about Facebook timelines, they are rather stupid to click a link to my post (“Timelines in journalism: A closer look”) — which they did.

  5. The un-intended-for search referrals also happened to my blog: I once wrote a post comparing Wix and IM Creator in creating multimedia reporting packages. Somehow this post tops searches related to wix and im creator – especially IM Creator. But as you said, writing more about IM Creator doesn’t match the purpose of my blog.
    PS: search “wix vs im creator” or “im creator review” and you’ll see my post.

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