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Horse Sex and What is Dictating Your Blog’s Content?

In a wonderful column by Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat called “Horse Sex Story Was Online Hit”, Westneat examines the top online stories for 2005. And it isn’t your normal look at a top 10.

The top stories were those that were posted online and got the highest traffic counts. In his words:

Only this list is not the usual tedious recounting by news editors or pundits who profess to speak for you readers. This is the people’s-choice list.

It’s not a survey of what news you say you read.

It’s what you actually read.

By tallying clicks on our Web site, we now chart the most read stories in the online edition of The Seattle Times. Software then sorts the tens of thousands of stories for 2005 and ranks them. Not by importance, impact or poetic lyricism, but by which stories compelled the most people to put finger to mouse, click, open and, presumably, read.

From all the stories that filled the news in 2005, and there were a lot of them, even in Seattle, Washington, my home town, you would think that the most read stories online would be about politics, war, terrorism, heroism, or something life changing. Not so, says Westneat. According to their website traffic, the number one story read by the most people online was….tah day….about a man having sex with a horse.

The story last summer about the man who died from a perforated colon while having sex with a horse in Enumclaw was by far the year’s most read article.

What’s more, four more of the year’s 20 most clicked-upon local news stories were about the same horse-sex incident. We don’t publish our Web-traffic numbers, but take it from me — the total readership on these stories was huge.

So much so, a case can be made that the articles on horse sex are the most widely read material this paper has published in its 109-year history.

I don’t know whether to ignore this alarming factoid or to embrace it.

You know, it really makes me wonder what goes through people’s head. As does Westneat. He goes on in this charming column to talk about the other most popular online articles, and a few of them also include animal sex.

I’m not going to go into the kind of minds that enjoy reading about animal sex, but speak to the larger issue. At the end of the column, Westneat mentions that a newspaper in Chile called “Las Últimas Noticias” was a non-event paper until they decided to let the readers choose the news.

Now every editorial decision is based on Web-traffic stats. Popular stories beget similar coverage. Unpopular stories get killed. Reporters are even paid by whose stories get the most clicks.

It sounds crass and shallow. It’s also now Chile’s most widely read paper.

I believe that we need to write for our audience, and sometimes even about our audience as we blog. I think we should pay attention to the facts and figures in our blog stats to help us continue to cater to their needs, but to actually dictate news content? Hmmm.

If there is a single theme that has run through 2005 for me associated with blogging and the Internet, I would have to admit it is the new trend in social control. A lot of what gets published and noticed is what is pointed out by people through social bookmarking and tagging. If I find something I like, I have almost a dozen places I can share my find with others like , , or . Other sites like and Tech Memorandum monitor post stats and bring you the top of the heap for you to examine, dictating what you see based upon blog and site traffic.

Is this a good thing or not, we will all have to decide in time. I think it is nice to let the public dictate many elements of it, compared to corporate and government control and censorship, which the US has been suffering from for decades. But do I trust the public to have the final say in what I want to know? What do you think about this? And will you writing more about horse sex in your blog now that you’ve learned how popular the subject is? ;-)


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, the author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.

9 Comments

  1. Posted January 17, 2007 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    The problem with ‘the wisdom of the crowd’ is that it produces as many George Bush’s as it does Bill Clinton’s (or vice-versa).

    Are you hinting that either is better than the other? In the end they are both politicians and largely detached from what the everyday person experiences. Writing a blog that tends more to the readers will, in the long run, net you more readers. People are more likely to suggest sites that tend to post whats popular with their audience. While the crowd may produce as many idiots as it does geniuses, a majority of the crowd will be that 90% of the people who are wrong. The other 10% is either too stupid to realize they are wrong, or too arrogant to admit they aren’t right.

  2. Posted February 27, 2007 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Well, I’ve read a couple of the articles on the horse sex in Seattle (really Enumclaw)theme.
    The problem with the statstics is they don’t tell you why or what people were interested in. It’s easy to assume that everyone who clicked on the story had some prurient interest but I don’t think that is the case. (I sure hope not anyway. How scary this world would be if that were so.) But the laws here in Washington state were changed after that story making that type of activity illegal. Those changes to the law were made pretty rapidly.(much faster than I’ve seen them act on most things) To me that would indicate that people were appalled enough to affect their legislators. The story definitely affected some social change.
    I personally read them to find out about the horses, what happened to them, were they being rehabilitated etc. (which no one has ever said) My interest as an advocate for the breed was to see what kind of damage control needed to be done. It seemed like everyone who wrote about it felt it was important to specify the breed as well as the act.(BTW I appreciate that you did not name the breed) What did that have to do with it? Between this scandal and the Michael Brown fiasco the breed has had enough slamming for something that has nothing to do really with the horse and everything to do with the people involved.

    My point is that high traffic to a story like this sex scandal doesn’t mean that you can jump to conclusions and turn your newspaper, blog, etc into a vehicle for that type of content and it will make you rich. You need to understand “Why” those people were really there.

  3. Posted July 12, 2007 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    People read the story because it was so unusual. If horse sex stories became as common as burgularies, people would eventually not bat an eye. Something like a supply/demand thing.

  4. Posted July 12, 2007 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Donnie:

    Yes, they may have read the initial story because it was unusual, but after two years with this post on my blog, it remains the target of search engine searches. It continues to be the highest volume search term and highest traffic blog post that brings visitors to this blog. They don’t hang around here long, though. It’s also the post from which the most traffic leaves the fastest. :D

    That means that the story wasn’t unusual or interesting. It means that these people typed in “horse sex” and it brought them to the newspaper and now to my blog. They were looking for horse sex not attracted by the story. Big difference.

    Not a bad difference. Just a difference. Anything that brings you traffic brings numbers not quality. I’m going for quality readers not quantity.

  5. Terra
    Posted July 27, 2007 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    It is funny how we find these things. I found this old site because every time I do research for keywords for our horse site, that is, I go to searches that tell me how many people looked up what words in the previous month, and the figure I am putting down are from June 2007. I typed in horse and the list looks like this 1- horse racing with 14,166,116 searches, 2- horse betting – with 9,022,048 searches; 3- horse @ 7,112,128 searches; 4- horse sex @ 1884032 searches; the list alternates like every 4th one being related to horse bestiality. When you look up horses – it is maybe every 6th search is related to this subject It is shockingly sad! So, today I looked, and was truly amazed at what I was reading in the site lists! I hadn’t realized that it was such a big …. uhk out there. I am happy to say that this site, and the article itself are on the first page of that search …. because maybe it will give ideas to others, who like me here in California are rather clueless, and give warning to those involved, that people are beginning to become more aware of this. And hopefully like a sleeping giant, the horse owners of the world will awaken and begin to move to protect our beautiful horse.

    The other factor I find difficult to swallow, looking at these figures is for those of us who are parents need to be aware that there are sites with content like that available onling. I didn’t look at them, so I don’t know how graphic they are, but …. I would never thought about it. But when your beautiful child loves horses …. they can find these sites. Make sure the blockers are on!

  6. Posted March 27, 2008 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t finish the article because I couldn’t stop laughing!

  7. Posted March 27, 2008 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    @ Jeffro2pt0:

    When we meet, I’ll have to tell you the real story behind this blog post. :D

  8. Posted June 29, 2009 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    I have been working as Web content manager for several years and yet I have no idea “horse sex” was America’s most searched article. (Glad I’m not living in the US, hawhaw.)

    I stumbled upon your blog from a mention by Hunter, whose blog on personal development is motivating, instructive and interesting (in other words, full of horse sense). Your blog certainly contains lots of horse sense and lots of hilarious stuff (that’s what makes it so fun reading what Americans wrote).

    Thanks for a great read! BTW, what gift you like from Amazon? I’m about to finalise my June’s book and movie purchases.

    • Posted July 1, 2009 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Horse sex is NOT America’s most searched article or keyword search. LOL!

      You do not have to give me anything from my gift list, but what is there are things I’d like. Thank you!


12 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Horse Sex and What is Dictating Your Blog’s Content? [...]

  2. [...] Still can’t guess? Well, the number one highest traffic, attention-getting article I wrote on this blog was…drum roll please…“Horse Sex and What is Dictating Your Blog’s Content?”. [...]

  3. [...] Horse Sex and What is Dictating Your Blog’s Content? [...]

  4. [...] Horse Sex and What is Dictating Your Blog’s Content? featured an article by Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat called “Horse Sex Story Was Online Hit”, explaining how the newspaper’s annual evaluation of their most popular online stories, the guideposts for writing future news stories, found that an article on a man dying after having sex with a horse (and the follow up articles) was so popular “that the articles on horse sex are the most widely read material this paper has published in its 109-year history.” My essay was on how while such evaluations are indeed helpful to dictate future content, do you really want to build a blog audience of horse sex fans? Is that what your blog is about? [...]

  5. [...] writing articles about horse sex might be great for your search engine traffic, but honestly, do you really WANT readers like that [...]

  6. [...] article I wrote, Horse Sex and What is Dictating Your Blog’s Content?, was about how to use your keyword, search terms, and most popular posts to determine which [...]

  7. [...] huh. And she said she ran a post about it on her blog, and her numbers went up so high it skewed her stats. She said it still spikes now and [...]

  8. [...] as she introduced us all to the concept of “distracting stats” and the power of horse sex. Frankly, she shook the foundations of my understanding of web analytics … in a good way. The [...]

  9. [...] Horse Sex and What is Dictating Your Blog’s Content [...]

  10. [...] Horse Sex and What is Dictating Your Blog’s Content? [...]

  11. […] Horse Sex and What is Dictating Your Blog’s Content? […]

  12. […] Horse Sex and What is Dictating Your Blog’s Content? […]

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