Why Bad Blogs Get More Readers (An Accidental, Secret Recipe for Massive Web Traffic)

I've often said that it bugs me to see a good blog go unread. It's one reason why I run Friday Links posts: it's my own small effort to put good stuff I find in front of more readers.

But today I want to ask the exact opposite question: why do certain really bad blogs get so much traffic?

An obvious example is The Food Babe, a site with an intriguing (and unintentional) recipe for wide readership. Deep down, we're all vaguely suspicious of modernity, technology and scary-sounding long words. If you play off these fears, worried readers come running to your site. Add in a conspiracy theory here and there for good measure, and things you write start to sound rhetorically persuasive.

Notice I said rhetorically persuasive, not scientifically persuasive. Or logically persuasive. But this is the key to the secret recipe! If you write something scientifically or logically laughable but rhetorically persuasive, you quickly generate a second-order readership. A second crew of readers, readers more competent in logic and basic scientific principles, will point out the scientific and logical flaws in your argument. Often with dripping condescension.

Then, the original readers, the credulous ones, argue back. After all, nobody likes being condescended to.

So, if there's such a thing as a typical Food Babe reader, it would break down into two general types:

1) Credulous first-order readers looking for new things to fear.
2) Second-order readers astounded at how dumb other people are.

So here's your business model: write posts for the first group, but make those posts unrigorous enough to attract the second group too. If you follow this secret recipe correctly, you get viral posts, exploding traffic stats, and some really entertaining comment wars.

This might be the only profitable business model in blogging--perhaps in all of online media. And it certainly helps explain the ubiquitous outrage porn, worry porn and political handwringing porn suffusing our overall cognitive environment these days.

And since fear-mongering and conspiracy-mongering are particularly effective forms of rhetoric, The Food Babe really cleaned up for a while there. That is, until her scientific incompetence became a little too obvious. When it got out that she wrote (but later deleted without comment or explanation) a post on the radiation risks of microwave ovens (it contained quotes like this one: "when you stand in front of a radar device you will start perspiring/cooking from the inside out, just like food is cooked in the microwave oven."), her already-tenuous credibility met its end. Fortunately for us, the internet never forgets. Eventually, goofily unscientific people get found out and exposed, even if they do try to scrub their sites of the most scientifically hilarious things they've said.

But! Some bloggers use these embarrassing things about themselves to grow their traffic even more. One of Tim Ferriss's best business insights back in the early days of SEO was to make sure he captured pageview traffic from the keywords "Tim Ferriss Scam."

So, he wrote a post titled, naturally, "Tim Ferriss Scam!" Interestingly, it doesn't rank as highly as it used to, illustrating yet another challenge of blogging: the ceaseless competition for traffic, everywhere, all the time, for any and all keywords.

Ironically, Ferriss' Tim Ferris Scam! post actually contains some excellent ideas (the quotes from Scott Boras and Epictetus for example), and it's a smart post from the standpoint of using a writer's time, since it mostly contains meta-content, content reused and retreaded from other posts and sources. Talk about turning your detractors to your advantage.

By the way, Ferriss has had a few Food Babe moments of his own. Readers here at CK will remember my extended criticism of the flaws in his book The Four Hour Chef, for example. Or his uproariously implausible post: From Geek to Freak: How I Gained 34 lbs. of Muscle in 4 Weeks.[1]

Much like a typical Food Babe post, From Geek to Freak is an (unintended?) masterpiece of meta-conversation. With its waxed and spray-tanned before-and-after photos and its 1,300 (and growing) comments arguing over whether it's possible or impossible to gain 34 pounds of muscle in a month, it all becomes a twisted game.

His game, that is. We're the suckers, expending our attention and our finite cognitive resources. We argue for him even when we argue against him. Savvy readers ought to be able to see a parallel--a direct parallel--that's been playing out over the past several months in our political media.

The Koontz Principle of Online Incompetence
Let's get back to the [Your name here] Scam post writing technique for a moment. Vani the Food Babe did one of these posts too, writing her own "Food Babe: Scam" post, and it's a veritable tour de force in unaware rhetoric [2] that drives home an interesting, if depressing point: the internet rewards incompetence. Write something incompetent, and people will read it, get mad, comment, and link back to you. Then, incompetent people read those comments, get mad, comment more, and link back to you. Competent people respond, comment more, write about you, link back to you, your search engine ranking goes higher and higher, and so on. Rinse, repeat... and sell ads!

If we carry this to its ultimate logical conclusion, we arrive at a useful general principle. Let's call it The Koontz Principle of Online Incompetence: The most divisive and incompetent content tends to rise to the top of all search rankings. Think of it as an informational equivalent of The Peter Principle.[3]

So, in a way, maybe it's not a bad thing that sites like The Food Babe no longer attract the attention and profits they used to, and likewise, maybe it's a good sign that our biggest media institutions--as they play the same twisted game with far greater resources--are losing readers and money too.

[1] Glass houses disclaimer: I've written plenty of posts that are bad, stupid, boring, unrigorous, wrong, etc., and I've also generated arguments between readers arguing for (and sometimes even against!) my incompetence. I try to do the best I can here at CK, but believe me, I come up short plenty of times too.

[2] Techniques include but are not limited to: using mean tweets against her (this is the so-called "tone fallacy": arguing that if you're not nice, your criticism is therefore disqualified); claiming "it's not about me" in a post self-evidently 100% about her, and using rhetorically powerful (but logically vacuous) phrases like "obviously, some powerful entities in the chemical and food industries have a financial incentive to try to discredit me" and "The bottom line is that many of these people who use this argument to discredit me, don't want the truth, regarding our food supply, coming out." One could easily write a satire using statements like these. Hey, wait: somebody already did!

[3] The Peter Principle states that every employee gets promoted up through an organization until he reaches a level where he's incompetent. Anyone working at any large corporation has seen this principle at work, and it is why, in the longer run, large organizations often tend toward generalized incompetence.

READ NEXT: Did Newark Mayor Cory Booker Really *Try* With His Food Stamp Challenge?

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Nine Terrible Ways to Make Choices (That You Probably Didn’t Know You Were Using)

This post blatantly steals ideas from an interesting and unusual little book: The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz.

There's a saying, often mis-attributed to Mark Twain, that goes "it is easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled."

Likewise, it's easier to fool ourselves than it to accept that we've done so.

So if you want to fool yourself--without discovering or accepting it later--one of the most effective ways is to enable conditions where your choices are artificially limited. In other words, we often covertly or subconsciously "stack the deck" in certain specific ways with our choice-making. This causes us to shut off possibilities and solutions that would otherwise be right there for the taking.

Let's consider some examples:

Choice by Limitation -- Choosing only from what currently seems possible or realistic to you. "I didn't think I could really learn to do deadlifts, so I didn't try. I just stuck to the nautilus machines." Or: "I read somewhere this great quote: 'cheap, healthy, delicious: choose only two' ...so it's obvious then that if you want to eat healthy and tasty food, it's is really gonna cost you." Note that reality doesn't care what you think, so why place arbitrary limits on it that you've totally made up?

Choice by Indirectness -- Choosing based on a process rather than by the result. Examples: choosing to go to law school/med school "to have a good career" rather than out of an actual desire for or interest in the subject matter itself. Or, in the domain of consumerism: buying a product or service to "make" you happy, rather than achieving happiness by directly satisfying the true underlying need (which ironically is usually free, or near-free).

Choice by Elimination -- Escalating a conflict such that you force an artificial or otherwise unnecessary choice. "I had to write him off, we argue way too much about politics."

Choice by Non-Choice -- Choosing not to make a choice, such that you give your power away to the situation. This is still a type of choice by the way, albeit a perverse one. Certain lifestyle anti-choices fit into this category, such as not choosing to make fitness, a healthy diet, or high-quality sleep a priority in your life.

Choice by Future Condition -- "When I reach my goal weight, I'm going to finally start on my dream of running a marathon." "When I get married, I'll finally get to..." etc. Sadly, these "choices" will likely never be made: they exist only in the future, never in the present.

Choice by Consensus -- Polling specific friends and framing the question to drive the answer you already want to hear. Examples: A woman asks her already-divorced girlfriends, "I'm no longer attracted to my husband, do you think should I divorce him?" Or: A frugal person asking her most hopelessly consumerist friend, "Should I buy this $300 dress? I really think it's cute." Um, what response did you think you'd get?

Choice by Reaction -- Whenever your situation or environment reaches a level of significant discomfort, making a reactive choice in order to lessen that discomfort. "You know, I never really started to deal with my weight until I started to have heart problems." You could easily argue that most human choices are made this way.

Choice by Adverse Possession -- Assuming if something happens to you, it's because, somehow, subconsciously, you actually wanted that thing. "I have hemorrhoids, therefore I must have somehow chosen them." You could also call this Choice by Law of Attraction.

Choice by Negation -- Instead of choosing to be healthy, choosing "not to be sick." Or, instead of making life choices with an intent to be wealthy, making choices so as "not to be poor." This may seem like merely a semantic distinction, but the negative option is typically a choice borne of fear and powerlessness, while the positive option is a choice based on true agency and power.

A Final Word
For me, the examples above collectively offer a lens I can use to evaluate the decisions and choices I make. Am I avoiding possibilities, am I needlessly limiting my options? Am I enabling circumstances to control me, giving away my power? Am I unknowingly letting someone else frame my choices... am I playing the game on someone else's terms?

Remember: the consumer marketplace, the food marketplace, the diet and fitness industry, the healthcare industry, the investment industry… all of these domains offer us all kinds of convenient-sounding default choices using systems, cues and various manipulation techniques to make us think we're really choosing for ourselves.

Often, the easy-seeming choices are the ones surreptitiously set for you by default. Don't give away your power and agency.

Readers, what do you think? 

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Recipe: Spicy Masala Chickpeas

Readers, thanks for indulging me as I took a short break from posting. I'm thinking it would be fitting to get back into the swing of things by sharing yet another healthy, delicious and laughably cheap recipe!

Today's recipe is so vegetarian- and vegan-friendly that it hardly even casts a shadow. It takes about 20-25 minutes to prepare and feeds 3-4 at a cost of around $1.25 per serving. Enjoy!

Spicy Masala Chickpeas

1 large onion, chopped
1/4 vegetable oil (we used canola oil)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 14.5-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Small handful of either fresh parsley or fresh cilantro, chopped

1) In a large non-stick pan, saute the chopped onion in oil on high heat for 5 minutes or so, until onions are slightly browned and caramelized.

2) Add the coriander, cumin, cayenne and turmeric. Reduce heat, continue sauteing the onions until nearly soft, another 4-5 minutes.

3) Add the rinsed/drained chickpeas, salt and pepper, fresh parsley (or cilantro) and 1/4 cup water. Deglaze your pan if any of the onion/spice mixture is sticking to the bottom. Saute for another 5-7 minutes. If the chickpeas appear to be drying out too much, feel free to add another few tablespoons of water if desired. Serve over rice.

Serves 3-4.
Recipe Notes:
1) Note that this dish is not meant to be a sauce: the chickpeas should be moist, but not in a liquid.

2) Spiciness: Wimpy spice readers can feel free to reduce the cayenne pepper to 1/2 or 1/4 teaspoon, depending on your level of wimpiness. We found 3/4 teaspoon gives the dish plenty of heat.

Read Next: MORE! Top 25 Laughably Cheap Recipes at Casual Kitchen

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Your Money Or Your Life: The Full Archive

Readers, here's a complete archive with links to every one of the posts on our series on Your Money Or Your Life.

Thanks as always for reading, and apologies in advance as I take a break from posting for the next few weeks. I'll be back with some new articles here at Casual Kitchen shortly.

And finally, I'd be truly grateful if you would share this series with anyone who you think might benefit from it. Thank you!

A Reprise of Your Money Or Your Life

Intro, Prologue and Preliminaries

Chapter 1: The Money Trap

Chapter 2, Part 1: Calculating Your Real Hourly Wage

Chapter 2, Part 2: Keeping Your Daily Money Log

Chapter 3: Where Is It All Going?

Chapter 4: Answering The Three Transformative Questions

Interlude: What We've Done So Far

Chapter 5: Your Wall Chart

Chapter 6: Valuing Your Life Energy By Minimizing Spending

Chapter 7: Redefining Work

Chapter 8: The Crossover Point

Chapter 9, Part 1: The Fatal Problem with Chapter 9

Chapter 9, Part 2: What To Do With Your Money: Alternatives to Treasury Bonds

Chapter 9, Part 3: Capital, Cushion and Cache

Becoming Sophisticated Investor: Six Steps

The Official "Your Money Or Your Life" Reading List

Your Money Or Your Life: The Ultimate, Final Review

Your Money Or Your Life: The Ultimate, Final Review

Readers! This is the final installment of our in-depth, chapter-by-chapter analysis of You can buy YMOYL here, and you can find the first post in the series here.


Consider this hypothetical situation: What if you could easily surmount all your current financial challenges--and begin a surprisingly rapid journey towards financial independence--if you agreed to do just two things:

1) Carefully read a book and execute nine simple steps of financial awareness.
2) Spend 2-3 minutes each day tracking your spending, and 5-10 minutes each month putting some marks on a chart.

Would you then do these two things? Would most people do these things?

I can't predict what you (or any specific reader) will do, but I can speak to the average person's general tendencies. And those tendencies are not good. My anecdotal experience suggests that less than half of the readers who pick up a copy of Your Money Or Your Life will actually do all the steps. A meaningful percentage won't do any of the steps. Sad, but true.

Then again, I didn't write this series for the average person. I didn't write it for someone who would pick up one of the most important personal finance books of all time and not bother to follow the advice in it.

On the contrary, I wrote this series for readers with a sincere desire to get on top of their financial challenges, who have an anti-excuse mentality, and who are willing to identify and overcome any limiting beliefs and mental blocks standing in their way.

These readers will choose a mindset of financial awareness and consciousness. If they feel a bit little silly tracking expenses or calculating their real hourly wage, they quickly get over themselves. And they make sincere efforts to apply tips and advice, rather than concocting phony reasons why that advice can't work for them. Most importantly, they recognize and stop all ego-defending behavior, because they understand that our egos often make psychologically convenient rationalizations at the expense of our financial health.

To those of you willing to dedicate your attention to this book, who put time and effort into executing each of the nine steps, and who are willing to go beyond the book and read most (or preferably all) of my Post-YMOYL reading list, I offer you a solemn promise: you will all become rich--in the best and broadest sense of the word. And it will happen sooner than you think.

More importantly, you will have profoundly rethought the entire nature of personal fulfillment. I sincerely hope by now that you realize this book is about more--much more--than just money.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. People pay thousands of dollars--even tens of thousands of dollars--on financial workshops, on debt counselling and on financial planning fees to learn a fraction of the things you learned from a ten dollar book. From the bottom of my heart, I congratulate you for what you've done.

Now get back to your Wall Chart!

A Postscript
I'd like to offer readers a grateful thank you for indulging me over the course of this long series. Correction: over the course of this preposterously long series.

It was by far the most challenging thing I've ever done here at CK--partly because I wrote everything on short deadlines, partly because it's a new and different subject for me, and partly because there's a whole lot to say about all of the various issues that arise in the world of personal finance.

When people discuss money, spending, saving and investing, all sorts of emotions come into play, both above and below the conscious level. That's why these posts often delved into psychology, limiting beliefs, self-fulfilling prophesies, and our unending battles with our egos (an aside: for me as a writer, this was one of the most interesting and challenging aspects of this series). And of course there was also plenty to say about the various day-to-day mechanics of managing and executing each of Your Money or Your Life's various steps.

That's why these posts were long, some well over 2,000 words. Once you add everything up, the series in total easily exceeded 25,000 words. And this isn't exactly easy reading: some of these posts are densely written, many contain difficult and challenging subjects, and a few will probably make readers downright angry and defensive.

In other words, this is one of the most ambitious writing projects I've ever taken on. And at the risk of sounding like an arrogant douche, I'm really proud of it. There are a whole lot of insights and information here that you simply won't find anywhere else in the world of personal finance.

One last thought, a humbling one, about the readership and pageview patterns of the YMOYL series. Normally when a new post goes live here at Casual Kitchen, there's a burst of pageviews on day one and day two after publication, followed by a gradual decline. By now, readers here know pretty much what to expect with my editorial schedule: a post every Tuesday, a Weekly Links post every Friday and--once in a while--a bonus post some other day during the week.

But the YMOYL posts had a completely different readership pattern. The pageviews were much lower in the first few days after publication, running at less than half my normal level. Sometimes way less than half.

In fact, in the fourth or fifth week of this series I was really getting depressed with the entire project. I was spending mountains of time pounding out these posts each week, but as far as I could tell, nobody seemed to care. [PS: A special and gigantic thanks to Laura for bucking me up during those discouraging weeks with an always-well-timed "Keep writing Daniel, your stuff is good. Keep putting it out there."]

Well, it turned out that these posts just had a delayed readership pattern, and in the three or four weeks following publication, pageviews began growing dramatically. Perhaps readers were saving the posts for later (especially the longer, denser posts), or perhaps readers needed to get their hands on a copy of the book first before they could get started. Whatever the reason, I'm thankful so many readers took interest.

As always, keep those comments, emails and tweets coming. And if you have any lingering questions, issues, complaints or subjects you'd like to see addressed, I want to hear about it! Once again, I'm profoundly grateful to my readers.

One final, final, FINAL word: Our in-depth series on Your Money Or Your Life attracted a ton of new readers, but I feel like this post series is a powerful resource that should get in front of still more people. I'd be truly grateful if you would link to this series, or if you would share it with anyone who you believe might benefit from reading it. Thank you!

Coming Up: Your Money Or Your Life: The Full Archive

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!