Search Engine Bias

12/04/2012 08:35:00 PM
I keep noticing that my post on Romney's record at Bain Capital continues to get by far the most hits of any post on this blog so far, which is a bit strange because, not only do I consider that one of my least interesting posts, the election is now over, yet it still continues to get the most hits.

This is a pretty consistent theme I've noticed--the posts I think are interesting don't get as many hits as the completely inane ones. And I have a theory why: search engine bias.

See, the problem with modern search engines is that they presume that the user has some minimal level of knowledge about the subject they are searching. However, almost by definition, the most interesting blog posts are ones on topics people don't already know about. The fact is that by far most of my blog hits come from people searching on google, which means that inane, commonly talked about topics like Bain Capital will give me far more hits than interesting topics like, say, applied mechanism design techniques for formulating optimal tax policy. The more I say "Bain Capital" in a post, the more hits I get. Bain Capital.

I wonder if this produces an inherent bias in the modern internet world. Just as I have an incentive now to talk about Bain Capital more often to attract hits, other internet authors are being incentivized to write about things that the public already knows about, adding little to the discourse, rather than illuminate far more interesting and important topics that people don't know anything about.

Ellie K 1/14/2013 06:58:00 PM
I notice a similar effect, on my blogs. A compelling word or phrase, be it "Bain Capital", or in my case, "hedge fund", seems magnetic. The latter appeared recently as part of a post I wrote, and experienced the same reader activity spike as you had with Bain. It is persistent, too. Hedge fund was an accident, and accompanied my post about relative advantages of POP3 versus IMAP, and casual observations about changes in URL structures over time (probably less fascinating to most than hedge funds, so maybe not the best example).

I do know what you mean, yet I'm uncertain if it is due to search engine bias. Here's another plausible driver: Search engine users search for, and gravitating to what they presume will be the most entertaining, or at least current events related. Now it isn't an absolute rule, as some people do search for specific or unfamiliar things e.g. your post about enabling LaTeX on blogger, which I enjoyed, brief as it was. Here's one more like that: On my other blog, former users of Google's discontinued service for Arab language transliteration, Tashkeel, continue to visit my post about its final days, even 14 months later. I feel so sad for those people, as they valued the service, and there is nothing I can do to help them, nor does Google seem to care.

Drastic measures: I finally deleted my three-line book review of "Microwave Cooking for One", as it seemed to exert an irresistible gravitational pull on my blog visitors for years.

Your last paragraph is likely to be correct, depending on how much you write for yourself, or for your readers. One can hardly judge harshly if you write for the pleasure of your readers though! As a result, there will be further reinforcement, a feedback loop, that will inevitably lead to a blogosphere full of posts about Bain Capital and Microwave Cooking for One... until some new topic of the day arrives, which is highly likely!
P.S. I found my way here from Interfluidity's blog. I visit occasionally, but noticed your comment. I've interacted with SRW online via Twitter for awhile. He is tolerant and patient, even with me, for which I am grateful!
P.P.S. I like your blog color theme! Shades of navy with orange contrast is simple but effective. Blue is my favorite color. The LaTeX experiment from your prior post seems to be working.