Friday, December 09, 2005

Simon Baker's Speedos

About three weeks ago I worked out how to add a site meter to my blog. Out of curiosity, I wanted to know how many people were taking any notice of my foray into the blog world. I’m not sure whether it’s the most accurate measure; I have attempted to set the meter so it doesn’t count my visits, but a bit of clicking back and forth reveals I haven’t been terribly successful. The counter still seems to click over. At least 25% of the total must be me checking that my updates have been effective. Despite the likely inaccuracy of the visitor numbers, the site meter offers various other statistics which I have found quite fascinating. The best of the site meter’s services is that which lets you know how people are navigating to your site. As might be expected, some visitors are referred by direct links from other blogs—thank you to those bloggers for the links. It is, however, those visitors who make their way to my site via a Google search with whom this post is concerned.

I’m intrigued by the search terms people enter that bring them to view my pages. The whole process sparks my imagination; something I’ve mentioned in passing appears in the excerpt provided with the search results and it’s clearly promising enough for the searcher to follow the link. For a moment my prose glimmers like gold dust and it is seized upon in the hope that one click will reveal a golden nugget and fortunes will be answered. A few people were referred to my blog after Googling ‘Matthew Arnold’. In this instance, as someone who has marked over 60 essays on Arnold’s ‘The Function of Criticism’, I speculated that students were looking for an accessible summary of Arnold’s work. I’m not sure what can be inferred by the addition of ‘Views On Television’ to the first search’s terms. Arnold certainly wouldn’t have had any concept of television.

Recently, someone from Western Australia has been looking for ‘Simon Baker Speedos’. I was concerned that their visit to my site would have been disappointing and fruitless, so I used the scanner at the University to copy a picture from the Who magazine that I mentioned, which would have brought the individual to my blog. On this occasion I can be thankful that making a career out of researching popular culture justifies activities such as the scanning of semi-naked men with University resources. I did find myself having to explain my activities to a couple of my colleagues in response to half-raised eyebrows, knowing grins and exclamations of ‘Alright. Hard at work?’ I hope you appreciate my sacrifice, dear reader.

While I may be sympathetic to anyone wanting to have a gander at the delectable Mr Baker (it’s all in the way he moves, I think), unless the searcher looking for ‘Young Model Strip Off’ is satisfied with the picture above, he or she is destined to remain disappointed at this site. The picture left is the extent of the nudity you’ll sight on this blog.

Even just taking three examples of the search terms people have used which have lead them to my site, a theme of disappointment is clearly emerging. Those looking for an elucidation of Matthew Arnold would not—if they are students—have found anything worth quoting. (And—wearing my academic hat now—if you think you did, cut it out of your essay right now. This is not a refereed source; my musings on the pervasiveness of Arnold’s legacy in contemporary critical practice do not resemble the measured scholarly contemplation on the topic you should be taking the time to engage with). The people looking for more information on Christina Aguillera’s wedding will not have found anything beyond the observation that she got married, which obviously they already knew, although I will add that her hair looked pretty. And, while I’ll talk about my wooden puzzle collection, I’m sorry, but I’m never going to offer the solutions. I don’t want to ruin the puzzle solving experience for anyone, in the same way that I hope I’ll resist ever revealing the end of any film I talk about. At least never without a Spoiler Alert.

The disappointment that undoubtedly ensues after the people doing such searches begin reading my blog, raises some questions about the efficacy of Googling. Of course, the results are determined by the terms entered into the search engine, which implicates the searcher. How is it possible for the searcher to express his or her query in a few words that will produce a useful result; that is, one where the search mechanism will discover the words within a context that matches that desired by the searcher? For example, when I was updating the ‘Cathode Ray’ list of my current television viewing, I searched for ‘Surface’. One of the sponsored links offered to sell me a whole range of laminate surfaces. A link to the television program did appear on the first screen, suggesting that the search engines do have a degree of discrimination, especially when it comes to titles. In the instance of those trawling the internet for free porn such as the ‘Young Model Strip Off’ searcher, however, I’m sure the results are often quite anti-climactic than not. In addition to my site, I like to think that a whole host of paint re-surfacing options for late model vehicles were also included in those search results.

The notion of the unsatisfactory referral returns me to the question of the reliability of the site meter’s counter as an indication of the level of engagement with my blog. Other statistics provided by the site meter show that most of the above searchers didn’t read my blog for longer that it took to ascertain that they’d been enticed by ‘fool’s gold’. Since the statistic for the duration of the visits isn’t displayed on my blog, no-one could necessarily confirm that only a handful of people are reading my site in any depth, nor could they deny that 100 people might buy a t-shirt on the strength of visiting my site. Aside from my ego, there isn’t anything contingent upon whether or not my site is seen to attract a large number of visitors. But the question of the affect of site meter counts and what one might do to artificially inflate them is pertinent. I’ll conclude this rather long post with an illustrative anecdote:

During the last Australian federal election, The Australian newspaper published a list of the top ten political websites published from Australia. I first encountered this list because it was stuck on the wall above the photocopier at the University. Someone had highlighted the 6th website listed, M/C Media-Culture, and written a delighted note that it was more popular than either the Green Party’s or the Democrats’ campaign sites. To think that a journal that had originated in our School was so apparently influential in the day to day concerns of the nation was, naturally, perceived as an enormous endorsement of the efforts of past and present contributors. Furthermore, the endorsement was lent further weight by the publication of the list in the only national daily newspaper. It was a heady time.

Well before the lead up to the election, The Vagina Monologues was playing at the Powerhouse Centre for Live Arts and not long after the performance a review of the production appeared in M/C Reviews, entitled ‘C*** Get Enough of the Vagina Monologues’¹. I am reliably informed by the review’s author that, according to the journal’s site statistics, it is the most viewed piece in the history of either the M/C Reviews journal or the M/C Media-Culture journal proper. E is very proud to proclaim that a Google Australia search on ‘C***’ yields a list on which her article is ranked first, thus making her’s the number one ‘c***’ in Australia! Pussy Power indeed.

1. I have no objection to the omitted word, it’s just I know its full inclusion will completely screw with my statistics.


dogpossum said...

three words: statcounter dot com

Galaxy said...

Thanks. I will investigate. Meanwhile on the subject of Google Rankings I have discovered a very witty blog by a former employee of Google.


Lucy Tartan said...

Nice post. I think someone should look into the google-disappointment matter. I've noticed too that very few searchers arriving at my blog find what they seemed to be looking for.

The three or four notable exceptions were clearly teachers looking for the source of plagiarised sentences - you will know exactly the kinds of searches a teacher performs to find teh source of obvious cutting and pasting.

I like the searches where they've apparently been looking for something else but have been momentarily distracted into clicking through to me though my material is clearly inappropriate. Mission accomplished.

I generally read you via Bloglines and only click through to read comments or use your links - maybe you have other readers who subscribe to RSS feeds and so don't contribute to the traffic counter.

Galaxy said...

I learn something new everyday in this blog endeavour. I set myself up a bloglines account, so now I know what you're all talking about. (I'm very late coming to all of this) And I can see how much easier it is to read more blogs using bloglines. Thanks.

Lucy Tartan said...

Yes - much easier to read MORE blogs - not entirely a good thing!