One of the best things about actively blogging is being able to look at your blog’s referrer list. This is very interesting for a number of reasons.
Most of this discussion will be about the referrers lists that are available through TypePad. I also have experience with Radio Userland’s referral system (using the Salon community server), but my memory of that is fading now. But I do remember two negatives: the Salon blogs referrers list is public (click on any of the hyperlinked blogs to see the referrers) and only the top 100 blogs would get one.
The most important thing is not to take the referrers lists very seriously, especially the total numbers of hits. Really, you have no idea what was going on at the other end to cause those hits.
That said, it can be really nice to get numerical feedback about which particular posts are being read. If you’re seeing a post appear again and again in your referrers list, that might be a sign that the post has made more of an impact than your other posts. Maybe there is a relationship between a post’s popularity and its quality, or maybe it was just on the right topic at the right time.
Browsing through a referrers list can sometimes lead to some very interesting things. Finding kindred spirits in the blogosphere, catching up on a good blog who’s only flaw is that it lacks an RSS feed. There’s a lot of potential for serendipitously finding ideas for new posts. I am still curious by the role of serendipity in blogging – see more in this somewhat dated article.
Most of my referrers come from Google, with the remainder coming from other search engines and other blogs. As a librarian, it is fascinating to click on those search engine links and see real (albeit anonymous) people’s web searches which lead them to my blog. It gives me some insight into how a wide range of people try to find things on the internet. Sometimes I can guess that my blog might have been able to answer this person’s question. There are other times when I am quite amazed that they would have chosen my blog on their list of results.
When Google links to the permalink of my post, things work out fine. But sometimes they just link to the category or even the main page. When this happened, the post they were searching for has often fallen off the screen and the poor buggers probably cursed my blog for providing them with a false hit. Of course, using the cache would remedy that problem, but I doubt that many people remember to do this.
As a reference librarian who is interested in the authoritativeness of information sources, it is quite disturbing to see one of my posts appear above the newspaper article or A-list blogger’s post which I linked to and spent most of my post talking about. Last year, there a was quite the discussion about blogs being over-represented in Google’s results. I know that sometimes my blog has contributed clogging up some one else’s search – through no fault of my own, of course. On the other hand, anecdotes like this only show when Google is not working properly. How many times has my blog appeared on the 10th page of results, was never looked at and so I never knew about it?
Maybe I should be grateful to Google for sending so many referrers to my blog. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to be buried and never read. I just feel uncomfortable that sometimes my blog may have got in the way. Of course, this is a very silly thing to think. Finding authoritative and high-quality information that's on topic can never be totally automated.