Inbound Links and Popular Posts

If you run a content-based website, you expect your most popular posts to be the ones that attract the most links and the most traffic. If your site uses a system that lets readers or members rate content, you also expect your most popular articles to receive the most positive ratings. A recent post on SEOmoz, however, showed that this isn’t necessarily so.

Kudos to Jen Lopez for putting in the work to examine the top blog posts of 2010 on SEOmoz. She faced the question of defining popularity. “How do we determine what a best post is?” she asked. Does one look at the amount of traffic generated by the post? Or is the number of readers who gave an article a “thumbs up” a better indicator of quality? What about the number of linking root domains – isn’t that the real gold standard?

Working like a scientist, Lopez looked at all three of these. She didn’t find nearly as much overlap as you’d expect. Only half of the posts that received the most thumbs up also made it onto the most trafficked list. For the linking root domains list, the disparity is even greater; only two of the articles on this list made it onto either of the other lists.

What can we learn from this? Lopez noted that the first list, with the most thumbs up, matched up well with the topics in which readers expressed the most interest on a survey the site conducted back in April. Clearly, if you’ve built up a regular community, it’s worth surveying them to find out what they’d like to see on your site.

Why did the list of articles that received the most traffic not match the first list more closely? Lopez notes that these articles were not on topics in which the community indicated an interest. She interprets that to mean that the traffic to these articles “mainly came from new visitors or non-regular mozzers.”

It’s particularly telling that their most trafficked blog post of 2010 didn’t make the top 10 thumbs up list. Titled “Launching a New Website: 18 Steps to Successful Metrics & Marketing,” it sounds like the kind of post that might attract readers who are relatively new to the field of online marketing and SEO – unlike SEOmoz’s regular audience of seasoned SEOs. The take-home lesson? If you run a content-based website for seasoned veterans, an occasional article for the relative newcomer might help your traffic.

But what about that third list? Lopez herself isn’t sure why someone would link to an article without also giving it a thumbs up. Here’s a possibility, though: in order to give an article or a comment a thumbs up or down, the user needs to be registered with the site and logged in. True, it’s free to register, but it is an extra step, and may perhaps be seen as an extra “commitment” from a casual reader. If you’re linking to an article, you don’t have to part with your email address, provide a password or give away any personal information. Given that there’s so little overlap between this list and the other two, it probably represents the greatest number of new (as opposed to regular) readers. It could be a good list to mine – judiciously – to come up with topics to attract new readers and more links.

If you run a content-based website, why not consider doing a similar year-end inventory? You might learn some interesting things about what your readers like, and what kinds of articles attract the most traffic and links. Good luck!

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