On Less Wrong traffic and new users -- and how you can help

by Kevin1 min read31st May 201031 comments

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This is a breakdown of Less Wrong's recent new user traffic, data sourced from the Less Wrong Google Analytics account.

67% StumbleUpon
16% Google
5.4% Reddit
3.6% Hacker News
3% Harry Potter story
0.7% Facebook
0.3% Overcoming Bias
4% "The Long Tail"

The 16% for Google is artificially high because many of those hits are users that are using Google as an address bar by searching for Less Wrong.

So we get an order of magnitude more traffic from Stumble Upon than anywhere else -- sometimes thousands of new users a day. Stumble Upon has been Less Wrong's biggest referrer of new users from the beginning of the site. That was surprising to me and I suspect it is also surprising to you. Some of our very best users, like Alicorn, came from Stumble Upon.

Why does it matter?
Imagine your life without Less Wrong... now realize that the overwhelming majority of humans go through their entire lives without ever thinking of Bayesianismfallacies, how to actually change your mind, or even philosophical zombies. Seriously, try to picture your life without Less Wrong. An article that recently made the rounds on the internet claimed that one real way to make yourself happier was to imagine your life without something that you liked. 
We try to take existential risk seriously around these parts. Each marginal new user that reads anything on Less Wrong has a real chance of being the one that tips us from existential Loss to existential Win.

What can you do?

  1. Sign up for Stumble Upon and start "thumbs up'ing" or likeing LW articles that you sincerely like and want to recommend to others. You could start by stumbling one of my favorite Less Wrong articles on the power of a superintelligence and the real meaning of making efficient use of sensory information.

    In order to get maximum Stumble power, you can't just stumble LW articles and only LW articles. You need to use Stumble Upon for a minute or two every now and then and vote up or down the random links it gives you. I know, it's annoying, but what are a few dust specks when we are talking about saving the world?
  2. Help our Google traffic by linking to Less Wrong using the word rationality. Less Wrong is the best web site out there on rationality. We should rank #1 on Google for rationality, not #57. At this point in Google's metaphorical paperclipping of the web, some evidence of effort going into increased inbound links is a sign of a high-quality site.
  3. When you stumble something on Less Wrong you like or post a link to Less Wrong on the greater Internet, post here. You will be rewarded with large amounts of karma and kudos. Also, cake.

Thanks to Louie for help with this post.

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When you stumble something on Less Wrong you like or post a link to Less Wrong on the greater Internet, post here. You will be rewarded with large amounts of karma and kudos. Also, cake.

Haven't been Stumbling anything (I may start), but I've been sneaking LW links into Reddit comments from time to time. Mostly on /r/atheism when I notice fellow atheists not being as rational as they think they are. (It's a good place to spread advanced rationality because it's a group of people who are already mostly trying to be rational, if not always succeeding, or people who at least realize that science and rationality are good ideas. e.g. I'll link to The Bottom Line if someone's gotten into a silly Facebook-comment debate and they've come asking for help thinking up arguments for a conclusion they've already decided. Or when a debate over the definitions of "atheist" and "agnostic" starts up (this happens about fifteen thousand times a day), sometimes I'll point people to things like Disputing Definitions and other things in the Words sequence. I've also been trying to propagandize transhumanism a bit when there's an opportunity to do so non-obnoxiously/fanatically, e.g. when a discussion of death comes up and the "yes, death is obviously a bad thing" side is underrepresented.)

(I can haz caek nao?)

[-][anonymous]11y 0

OT As far as I remember, the cake is a lie.

Fair warning: Stumbleupon is perhaps not TV Tropes grade, but it is a definite life-eating hazard. It is a very good way to fill out your collection of pictures of kittens, though.

I don't know their current algorithm but last time I checked StumbleUpon used to divide all votes by number of urls user submitted from a particular domain, so what you're suggesting in #1 has zero value - upvoting 100 links from lesswrong or 1 gives identical result (or even less if thet have spam detection on top of that).

If you're trying to outpaperclip SEO-paperclippers you'll need a lot better than that.

I'm not suggesting people go through and upvote every Less Wrong article; they can distribute their new votes however they want. So if that algorithm is correct, the impact would be for new people that sign up for Stumble Upon to sometimes vote for LW, or people that have dormant SU accounts that can log in and vote for Less Wrong. This is a bit different from an organized ring of people stumbling low quality content -- my intention is to create a culture of people on Less Wrong stumbling articles that they like.

Where did you get info about that algorithm? The last time I was actively stumbling things, for my old biology/genetics blog, it didn't seem to work that way. That algorithm doesn't quite make sense to me, as it implies that sites will start getting less and less traffic as they write more blog posts -- and with that old blog, stumbling new articles as they came up seemed to make a difference.

If you're trying to outpaperclip SEO-paperclippers you'll need a lot better than that.

I doubt LessWrong has any competitors serious enough for SEO.

Yudkowsky.net comes up as #5 on the "rationality" search, and being surrounded by uglier sites it should stand out to anyone who looks past Wikipedia. But LessWrong is only mentioned twice, and not on the twelve virtues page that new users will see first. I think you could snag a lot of people with a third mention on that page, or maybe even a bright green logo-button.

I am an SEO. (Sometimes even we work for the Light, by the way.) Less Wrong currently isn't even trying to rank for "rationality". It's not even in the frigging home page title!

Who is the best point of contact for doing an SEO audit on Less Wrong? Who, for example, would know if the site was validated on Google Webmaster Console, and have the login details? Who is best positioned to change titles, metadata, implement redirects and so on? Woud EY need to approve changes to promotional language?

I'm who you want to talk to. Just sent you a PM.

Update 2012: First is Wikipedia, second Harry Potter, third a dictionary entry, and forth is yudkowsky.net. Fifth is some philosophy site, and sixth is an article "what_do_we_mean_by_rationality" from here. After that, a lot of other stuff comes.

Not so bad, but it could be better.

SEO paperclipping is result of two forces - websites trying to get better ranks, and search engines which build up their defenses.

We might have little competition for rationality, but getting through search engine filters is not as easy as it used to be a decade ago.

I agree that getting 100s of people to link to LessWrong with the anchor text "rationality" is unlikely to provide much of a benefit (though, hey, it might -- search engines are a big black box), but LessWrong is a reasonably well-trusted site (2k backlinks, most of them quite high quality, see here); having 10s of links (and given how much emphasis Google is meant to place on anchor text at the moment), it could give a substantial boost at the margins.

IMO, I think a better question to ask is how many people are searching for the search term "rationality"? Seems like a weird thing to search for.

The search engines have their own incentives to avoid punishing innocent sites.

I've been carrying out a minor LW jihad on Facebook, for what it's worth. Will join stumbleupon forthwith.

You mention an article making the rounds about imagining your life without something good. A quick Google search didn't turn anything up, can anyone provide me with a link?

A quick google search tells me that stumbleupon bots have already been written. This saves me several hours of coding time.

;)

The effectiveness of StumbleUpon can be greatly over represented by raw traffic. For example, I added HP:MOR. At the time of this comment, it has received 6704 views, but only 59 thumb ups (of which two are myself and MikeBlume). Stumblers will leave a site quickly for the next Stumble, if it doesn't grab their attention.

(Though I do consider it worthwhile to have introduced the fan fic to 57 people who liked it enough to give the thumbs up.)

I thought LW traffic was skyrocketing (there was a graph) because of the HP fanfic. Maybe not?

I was the one that linked the Harry Potter fanfic on HackerNews, I definitely wasn't expecting over 120 upvotes for it. I have linked other things there before and never gotten more than a handful of votes for them.

Added: for example, I also posted a link to A Different Spin on Ambiguity , which I thought was a lot more interesting than Harry Potter, but got not a single upvote.

I'm not sure about "a lot", but I do think the ambiguity article deserved more interest. ;)

I suspect the title may have had something to do with it, and have accordingly retitled it "This is your brain on ambiguity", which is somewhat more catchy.

I think the people who arrive from the HP fanfic (a) can't always be identified as such (they might read the fanfic, leave, then search for Less Wrong on Google later), and (b) are much more likely to stick around than people who arrive via StumbleUpon.

compete.com says so. Alexa is a little less clear. Not sure which is more reliable.

Compete is just wrong.

I've seen our actual traffic data. Compete is using an outside tracking method that both underestimates our previous traffic and overestimates our current traffic.

It is the case that the new users coming through from HP fanfic are more "sticky" than other users... meaning they are much more likely to use the site more. And they are a very diverse crowd from more geographical areas, which I think is how compete is overcounting them.

The 16% for Google is artificially high because many of those hits are users that are using Google as an address bar by searching for Less Wrong.

Can you break out the people searching for "lesswrong" or "less wrong"?

From http://siteanalytics.compete.com/lesswrong.com/

less wrong 38.66% reversed stupidity is not intelligence 7.41% akrasia less wrong 6.35% goodhart's law 4.86% hyperplane perceptro... 4.86%

I wonder if people are hearing the phrase "reversed stupidity is not intelligence" and then coming here, or have already been here and read that article and are trying to find their way back.

That's percentage of all hits-via-google, not new users, right? So it's not surprising that lots of them are "using Google as an address bar." But 16% of people with a google analytics cookie come via google and we'd like to know how many of them are really new users.

As you say, it is not obvious for some search terms whether the users are new.

Incidentally, alexa has wildly different (though less plausible) search terms and numbers.

I frequently use Google for a specific search term on websites that I'm already generally reading. Google is especially helpful for finding statements in comments threads.

Do you generally clear your cookies, too?

It depends on which machine. I don't do so as frequently as I should on my home laptop (maybe once a month or so) but frequently also use the campus library machines which automatically clear all cookies after each session.

Does linking to LW on facebook help?

Kevin, can you clarify what you mean by "real chance" when you say

We try to take existential risk seriously around these parts. Each marginal new user that reads anything on Less Wrong has a real chance of being the one that tips us from existential Loss to existential Win.

?

Your statement is clearly true, but so is the statement "there's a real chance that there are unicorns in Asia" which is nobody makes. How likely do you think it is that Less Wrong will prevent an existential risk?

For concreteness, I'll say that I personally view Less Wrong and the dating website OkCupid as having similar order of magnitude likelihood of making a difference. Both websites connect smart people. Less Wrong's population is smarter and more interested in existential risk than OkCupid's population. But OKCupid reaches many more people than Less Wrong does (having something like 1.2 million members) and I don't think that what people do on Less Wrong is so much more valuable than what people do on OkCupid for Less Wrong's superior content to swamp the size difference between the two communities.