Like everyone else, I was disturbed and saddened at the Northern Illinois University massacre, which took the lives of six young persons, including that of the deranged shooter, Steven Kazmierczak. I posted about the killing spree yesterday, and through my digging I was able to break the name of the shooter on the Internet about 90 minutes before the police allowed the mainstream media release the killer's name.
As a result of this minor scoop, this website ranked at the top of Google Internet results yesterday for a number of search groupings, such as "Steven Kazmierczak" and "NIU Steven Kazmierczak." Now, while I create post titles and keyword hyperlinks with an eye toward search engine optimization (SEO), I did not go out of my way to maximize this blog's search rankings on the tragedy. In fact, beyond a relevant link at Toledo Talk and a submission of the post to Digg, I did not engage in the practice known as "blog pimping."
I did, however, take advantage of a trick I learned at Andy Beard's excellent site. I resubmitted my site's feed to Google as a site map after publishing the post, which caused the Google bot to crawl my site. Normally Google will visit your site on a predetermined basis, which in the case of this website is every 1-2 days. The result of my decision to resubmit my site feed was that Google placed Historymike at the top of the rankings when the AP first hit the wire with the name of "Steven Kazmierczak" as the shooter. For some search combinations, this site is still at the top of results over 30 hours after the story broke.
The results were quite impressive, as my site traffic jumped thirty-fold, moving from its previous 30-day average of 814 unique visitors per day to over 25,000 uniques yesterday, and visitors perused some 80,000 website pages yesterday. Over 200 visitors left comments on the post, and the number of people who subscribe to my Google feed increased as well, which bodes well for future traffic.
I would not recommend frequently using this technique, as Google probably recognizes that this can be a way to game the system. Still, if you have a time-sensitive post that could vault you to the top of search results - like a breaking news story on a previously insignificant person - this can bring you an impressive amount of site traffic.
Of course, there is something kind of creepy about "benefitting" from tragedy, but I do not get up in the morning and stick a finger in the wind to see what will draw traffic. I write about those topics that move me, interest me, or anger me, and I would have written about the NIU tragedy whether I had fifty readers or fifty thousand. Academia is a large part of my life, and the massacre served as a reminder that the college campuses at which I work and study have the potential to be killing fields.
Yet the nature of the Internet is such that every website owner has the potential to cover topics that are being ignored, suppressed, or buried by the major media. Conversely, information-seekers no longer have to wait for the media and governments to decide when we need to know a given piece of information, which brings an element of democracy to the news.