Last week, when Waldo Jaquith and I appeared on the "Charlottesville Live" program guest-hosted by Coy Barefoot on WINA-AM radio, I noted somewhat ruefully that, after blogging a few months, I was surprised about which topics attracted the most readers. "When I began blogging, I thought that I would get a lot of readers interested in Stephen Sondheim," I said. "Instead, my most popular posts are about pop stars and teen idols like Aaron Carter and Dave Moffatt."
Now I find that I am not alone in this situation. In last Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, regular columnist Joel Achenbach observes in an article called "The Tail That Wags the Blog":
As an artist, my normal impulse is to write things that people don't care about and, ideally, can't even understand. Gibberish. But my freedom of expression is hampered by the blogging software that tracks every page view. In the old days, the age of print, a journalist had very little data on how many people read a particular story. Now I can track readership second by second, eyeball by eyeball. It's obvious what people want: political screeds and celebrity gossip. A few weeks back, I blogged three paragraphs on Karl Rove. Someone at Google News linked to the blog, and a Rovestorm erupted, a festival of vituperation, with a commensurately outstanding number of page views. Now I pretty much have to write about Rove all the time. (Contrary to what you may have heard, my blog item "Karl Rove Linked to Hoffa Disappearance" was completely fair.)
The continual focus-grouping explains why most bloggers write as though their primary goal is to rise in the Google search results. The more you mention people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the more readers you will have, and the more links, and the more you will rise in Google's estimation. I have nothing really to say about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and am not even remotely interested in Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but I know that my blog will be read by more people if it mentions famous celebrities who might be secretly boinking, such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
And let me just add, purely for the sake of Google: sex, alien abduction, Oprah, Tom Cruise, Lindsay Lohan, jumbo hooters the size of watermelons, Dick Cheney, Mark of the Beast, Armageddon, free money.
I haven't written about Brad and Angelina -- or even Brad and Jennifer, for that matter, though I may have once mentioned what a rotten movie Troy was -- but I'm glad to know that I am not the only blogger who attracts readers who are most interested in celebrity gossip. I just hope that that once here, they linger to read other posts on other topics. There's a lot to choose from, and I have nothing against cherry picking.