The Long Tail of Disappointment

ML Aug 7, 2006

Have you signed up for HitTail only to be crestfallen about how little activity is actually happening on your site? Wondering why HitTail appears to be underreporting compared to your actual log file, or search activity that you know for a fact is taking place?

Welcome to another aspect of why HitTail is not analytics. We go to some lengthy measures to make sure that your own search benchmarking activity is filtered out of the Search Hits tab. Likewise, if a competitor is doing aggressive keyword testing and clicking on your site over and over, we’re only going to record them once. And if a genuine qualified visitor is doing heavy research, searching on every keyword variation they can think of you and continually rediscovers you, we likewise only record them once.

This is part of the HitTailing philosophy. The first word that a person things of is the only gut-honest one. We postulate that there are many more people who, given the same thoughts, will grab for the identical keywords. With each successive search, you’re just repeating and refining a concept that ALREADY led to you. By taking only the first, the Search Hits tab is a much more honest representation of the number of people discovering you through search hits and links: one entry under the Search Hits tab, one visitor.

And yes, this errs on the side of under-reporting uniques. And yes, this is a major disappointment to people who thought they had boku more traffic, based on the prior click-stuffing they were observing in their analytics software, but which was coming from very few actual competitors, yourself, or likewise obsessive individuals.

And the other side of this crestfallen experience is that if your site is generating many fewer uniques than you thought, your site is also going to generate many fewer suggestions than it might. This is all a symptom of insufficient seed-content on your site, or perhaps not adhering to SEO best practices (wrong choice of blogging software). The solution is to blog your heart out. Get enough seed content out there to spike the HitTailing process. The HitTail website has only recently just achieved that sort of self-sustaining momentum where the suggestions coming have surpassed my ability to keep pace. That took 2 months of heavy blogging.

Lesson learned? Among the many other benefits of the HitTailing process is an honest appraisal and ongoing insight into the actual volume of unique traffic you’re receiving. Often times, this is much less traffic than one would hope for or expect. But it is yet another example of why big sites with constant flow of new content have the advantage.

So, don’t slink away with the long tail of disappointment between your legs. Instead, build yourself up into an expert in your field by choosing interesting and timely topics that may require a little extra research–topics that you’ve really been meaning to blog about anyway and won’t have time for later. Get the snowball rolling.

  1. Avatar
    Arnie McKinnis

    Mike – the problem is, Blogging takes both time and effort!! As you mentioned, there is a correlation between the amount of time spent and the results. As with most things, “people” the generic “they” are don’t want things to take time – we live in the microwave world, the 60-second segment – a world filled with summaries, opinions and summaries of opinions.

    Keep up the good work – my own blog sees very little traffic unless I’m out there actively doing two things – writing new blog posts and reading/commenting on other blogs. In the world of the long tail, time has a tendency to zap enthusiasm.

  2. Avatar
    mike simonsen

    The first word that a person things of is the only gut-honest one.

    I’m not sure I agree with this. I think a lot of folks (myself included) are lousy searchers. I never know where to begin. It usually takes me asking my wife for the right phrase before I find anything meaningful.

    Or does HitTail say, “No, Daniel-san. There are no bad searchers. only badly optimized sites!”

  3. Avatar
    Mike Levin

    Mike, it’s a good point. We looked long and hard about how and what to filter. It turns out that the activity created by the SEO benchmarking activity by Webmasters and their competitors can account for many times more traffic than genuine visitors. We wanted HitTail to be a window into the mind of genuine visitors, and know we’re leaving some word combinations on the table. But we feel the trade-off is worth it, turning HitTail’s feedback into some of the most pure and honest in any tracking system.

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