About Writing

I, Dobsonfly

The basic concept behind much blogging is easy enough to characterize as at least somewhat narcissistic. You (whoever you are, nobody special) write about whatever it occurs to you to write about — maybe yourself, maybe Volvos, maybe Kate Bush, maybe book publishing — and set it afloat into the internet. Maybe you name your blog after yourself. Maybe you’ll regret that lack of creativity later.

If you’re really into it, you imagine people reading your stuff, right? Even against all the odds, even adrift in that ocean of blogosphere, the very fact of your blog’s existence marks you as optimistic regarding others’ interest in you or your interests. Your blog is special. Your blog is funny/incisive/tearjerking/brilliant. It will draw readership using some kind of pixellated magneto-karmic force.

If you’re really good, or devoted, and/or the least bit tech-savvy, you know how to do things to increase the chances of the few who actively read blogs to read your blog. To increase your pageviews. If you’re me, that all seems a little exhausting. However, even a lazy, average-skilled, late adopter such as myself can follow the links on my own blog’s dashboard…and I find that there’s all this data in the form of “Stats” centered on “traffic–” the numbers of hits and comments, where they’re coming from, etc. The readership! (Another site I use, 750words, collects and displays “metadata,” about my most frequently used words, what “moods” I’m in when I write, what subjects interest me, what my syntax might say about me, etc. Me, me, me!!) Here at Word Press, the stats are focused not so much on me, but on the readership.

For some time now, since I first realized it, something buried in my own blog stats has bothered me. So of course I am going to blog about it. (Meta!)
One of the things Word Press keeps track of is the search terms used by folks who end up at your blog, on one of your pages. What are they searching for? What’s my blog about? Or, here we go: for what questions am I the answer? I started my blog because sometimes people at poetry readings or conferences would ask me about my website, or where they could find me online. And for the longest time I had no answer. So I made a blog, because I’m too lazy/cheap/slow to make a proper website. It’s supposed to be focused on my poetry — publications, readings, related writing stuff. Not so much the diarist, me. An answer to the question, “where can I learn more about this fascinating and gifted Liz Ahl character and buy her books?”

So. Search terms. Any guesses as to what the most common search terms that bring visitors to my (Liz Ahl Poetry) blog might be?

The largest number of views of my blog are the result NOT of excited responses to information about readings, publications, or other po-biz types of things. No. Indeed, most viewers of my blog are NOT even looking for ME. Not even looking for “Liz Ahl,” or “poetry by Liz Ahl” or even just “poetry.” No. They are looking for something else. And if I tell you, it’s possible that somehow, due to logorithms or algorithms or whatever it is that greases the gears of the souped up search engines (vroooooooom!), the problem will be exacerbated. I have discussed this with a friend who has strongly suggested that the “problem,” is not even a problem. Okay, though. I’ve started down this road. You’ve come along. I owe it to you, even though it will probably exacerbate the problem — I mean, opportunity — even further.

The problem is the dobson fly. Or the dobsonfly. In the summer of 2010, I was at the Vermont Studio Center and a male dobsonfly appeared in the writers’ studio. Dobsonflies are gargantuan. If you think you know what I mean, you don’t. I wouldn’t have. But now I have witnessed (and memorialized in blog form 4-eva) the dobsonfly. I put up a picture I took, and one somebody else took, of a male dobsonfly, wrote a sentence or two. One post about a dobsonfly. Why is the dobsonfly a problem? Okay. Really the dobsonfly isn’t the problem. Usually, I’m the problem. When I’m active on the blog (as you may have observed, I go through phases), I check in on my stats. Obsessively. With the click of a button, I can see how many views each post gets each day, and I can see where folks are “coming” from (usually Facebook and Google or a friend’s blog). And those search terms I mentioned. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t know that it’s YOU who typed “is liz ahl any good as a poet?” Or, if it does, it certainly isn’t telling ME.) It’s anonymous, I just know that someone, somewhere, typed a word or phrase and it led them to my blog.

Yes, Liz, are we getting to the point of this story?


The most frequently used term BY FAR, by those who end up glimpsing my blog, is dobson fly or dobsonfly. Not my name, not poetry, not New Hampshire poetry, well, you get the picture. I am not exaggerating. Here are the most recent numbers, for the top five search terms that result in hits at my blog:

#1 — dobson fly (1,945 hits)
#2 — dobsonfly (1,490 hits)
#3 — liz ahl (196 hits)
#4 — male dobsonfly (151 hits)
#5 — mandibles (100)

This dobsonfly business started to disturb me when I first realized the magnitude of the issue. It seemed deceptive. I felt badly for all the dobsonfly people — maybe they, like I had last summer, saw this freaky Jurassic insect on the side of their garage or, god forbid, INSIDE their garage, and were frantically Googling to find out what the thing was, and they end up in my so-so kind-of-poetry-focused blog. But no, that’s wrong. If they already knew the name of the bug, then maybe they were looking to do some more research. Pity the entomologist who washes up here, eager for scientific information, mating habits, wingspan, I dunno. And what does he get? Well, you see for yourself. So I was feeling a little badly for them, as if my blog had misled them. As if I had misled them. But also, I suppose, I was feeling a little badly for myself, as I read, daily, how many more people seemed interested in dobsonflies than they were in….me.

Oh, it’s shameful to write it. But as my friend pointed out, the entomologists might enjoy some respite from the usual search results. They might even read a poem, or make a comment. I guess that’s part of the appeal of the internet and of its endless blog flotsam.

I thought about deleting the dobsonfly post — the bait and switch. Then I might get more accurate stats about interest in the “real” subjects/themes of my blog. Accuracy is so important to my narcissism. But if I do that, I’ll hardly have any stats at all about which to obsess. What am I without the dobsonfly? Would I even exist at all? And of course now that I’ve completed this entry, with its dozen more uses of “dobsonfly,” I have further dobsonflied up my blog.

Aren’t they amazing, though? I still can’t believe insects that huge are real AND live in New England. And let me tell you, the internet is crawling with them.

3 thoughts on “I, Dobsonfly”

  1. Dobsonfly/Dobson Fly are great, and all, but I happen to think your #5 result is better. Who doesn’t love mandibles?

  2. I had the same experience with a blog post I wrote about working at Automattic (makers of WordPress) on a trial period. For years it was the single biggest driver of traffic to my website, with people coming from search terms like “automattic happiness engineer salary”. No interest in the dozen-plus novels I’ve written. Just how much Automattic pays. 😀 😀 😀

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