July 18, 2007

Not All Links Are Created Equal

There's all sorts of hubbub on the blogosphere in the last few days, over how one ranks authority of bloggers' influence. It is in the aggregate number of links, or the aggregate number of individual sites linking? Should all that be discarded due to the advent of microblogging? Given the current thinking is to throw out total page views in favor of total minutes on a site, as well, it seems the whole concept of how we measure authority is in flux. But while most argue tit for tat on whether a blurb on Twitter counts as much as a link from another blog, there should be no secret that not all links are created equal.

In fact, while one blog could dedicate its story to you, it may not result in 1% of the traffic you can expect from another highly trafficked source, whether it be Digg, or StumbleUpon, TechCrunch, TechMeme, Scoble, etc. Compounding this issue, there is a significant population of Web sites that don't even enter into the radar of statistics aggregators like Technorati, due to the fact they aren't classified as blogs or "the live Web".

A few self-focused examples:

1) Today, my site traffic spiked in the middle of the day to about 8-10x normal traffic. Instead of 100+ visitors per day, my norm, I saw 100+ just between 1 and 2 this afternoon, only to see the one-time spike go away, and traffic return to normal. Was there new content? No. Was there any reason the content got less relevant in the space of an hour? No. So what happened?

A StumbleUpon user found my story from last week on Facebook where I suggested the site would go the way of Friendster and GeoCities before it. Submitted to the popular service, I was seeing 25-40 concurrent visitors on the site, with new ones every minute. Then, as quickly as the spurt arrived, they vanished. Yet, the one link had given me a boost of 100 visitors, not exactly chump change.

2) On July 5th, we saw a similar spike in traffic, to about twice normal, thanks to 100+ visitors coming to the site to see my simple comments that I had gone a full week without filling my need for an iPhone. Again, without any promotion on my part, the visitors came. So what happened?

MacSurfer happened. MacSurfer posted a link to the story, sending all sorts of Apple afficionados my way. Like Digg and StumbleUpon users, those one-time visitors are a cheap date. They show up, don't comment, and move on. But there's no better place to drop a Mac link than MacSurfer, the granddaddy of all Mac link aggregation sites. Of course, MacSurfer doesn't even hit Technorati's radar, so they had no idea the link had occurred.

3) Just two days prior, on July 3rd, we had another spike, thanks to Robert Scoble's mentioning my post on addicting games that can reduce productivity in a story he had written on the Web-based game phenomenon. Interestingly enough, though the Scoble crowd dropped in to the site in strong numbers, not even his A-list credibility could send me as many unique visitors as MacSurfer and StumbleUpon in this round. His crowd was more in the 80-100 range.

It's hard to determine what posts will get traffic, and which ones won't, or which ones will draw comments, and which will be ignored. There's also always going to be interest from people to determine what the most successful, influential, or highly trafficked sites are. It's clear that a link from me to Scoble would drive maybe 1-3% the traffic his way as he could drive mine, so anybody in the business of counting links and assuming they are all equal is absolutely off their rocker. Not all links are equal, and someday, somebody will come up with a great algorithm to show just how much "more equal" one can be versus another.

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