Increasingly, on newspaper websites, I see “Most Viewed,” “Most popular” and “Most Linked” lists. Having my own blog, I know that these types of features can help increase the amount of time that people spend on a site and interlinking helps spread page rank throughout the site.
But as a visitor to these sites, the lists leave me wondering. I want to know how they’re calculated, how frequently they’re updated and what span of time they supposedly cover. But I find that few, if any, sites that I was able to find, provide even a piece of that transparency.
For a lot of visitors, the technology behind a website could just as well be witchcraft. They don’t know the Java on their computer screen from the java in their cup. By the time they come to your site, many of them have already had mixed experiences with recommendation engines on sites like Amazon or Digg. I include myself in that category and I’m sure you could as well. I mean how many times have you visited Amazon only to be recommended a product that left you shaking your head and wondering what it had to do with you?
So what can you do?
First of all, if your site doesn’t already have a most popular list, get one going; it really can make a difference.
Secondly, make it clear what the list is — is it “Most Popular” of the day, week or month? For example, if you dig deeper into the New York Times’s list, you’ll find that they offer a 3, 7 or 30 day list as well as what I guess is a daily list. Now I’m not saying you have to go as far as multiple lists, but you can state the period it covers. Find a place on your site to explain how the list works and include how often it is updated.
Finally, cross promote it. There is no reason why you can’t include in print what the previous day’s most popular story was and where readers can normally find this information on your site. Doing all of this will help drive more traffic to your site, keep people on it longer, spread your page rank, oh and make me happy.