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Causality and Correlation

Causality and correlation. Ah, the scientist’s friend. Mixed up so many times, the cause of so many arguments, the rock on which we stub our intellectual toes.

What is this concept and why should bloggers care?

Causality is the relationship between cause and effect. That is, for a given effect, you could find the cause.

Correlation is the degree to which two events are related. That is, two things exist together but one does not necessarily cause the other.

All too often people mix up the two. They think because they were holding a rabbits foot when they won a bet, that the rabbits foot is somehow lucky. Take this tongue in cheek quote from Freakonomics also:

Chicago’s beloved Mayor Daley is trying to think of ways to increase the likelihood that the Bears win the game. He’s noticed that whenever the Bears win, people in Chicago are happy. Which sparks a great idea: decree that all Bears fans have to be happy on Super Bowl Sunday. It has always been true in the past that winning games and being happy go together, so by demanding the Bears’ fans are happy, it will cause the Bears to win the Super Bowl.

Be Careful What You Copy

Blogging is still new, so bloggers are still constantly learning what works and what doesn’t. This goes for all of us.

We look for clues around us, and especially the people who have gone before, people we admire, or people who have had obvious and visible success. Then we cherry pick ideas to see if they will work for us.

  • Seth closed off comments and is successful, I will do that
  • I hear many blogs are personal and written like diaries, my topic is serious, therefore I shouldn’t blog
  • So-and-so is popular and snarky, so I should do that
  • TechCrunch posts multiple times a day and is popular, I should do that
  • Some internet marketers have not been able to sell using their blogs, therefore blogs don’t work for attracting sales
  • A particular blog is ugly and super successful, my blog should be ugly too
  • The blogs I have seen are rushed and poorly researched, therefore all blogs are like that

Unfortunately it is not always easy to see why or how someone achieved success or failure. Even more unfortunate, just because something works for one blog, doesn’t mean it will necessarily work for your blog and your audience.

As with most things, be very careful about dealing in absolutes. Don’t take things at face value, investigate. Most of all, see what works for YOU.

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Comments

  1. This is so true! I see the same thing in search engine optimization, as well — “I did action ‘x’ the site ranked well, therefore action ‘x’ is required for a site to rank well”. I guess it’s part of human nature, but it’s good to point it out so perhaps we can try to compensate for the tendency.

  2. This is so true! I see the same thing in search engine optimization, as well — “I did action ‘x’ the site ranked well, therefore action ‘x’ is required for a site to rank well”. I guess it’s part of human nature, but it’s good to point it out so perhaps we can try to compensate for the tendency.

  3. Chris

    Lots of success gurus will tell you that if you want to be successful copy what successful people do. But in the case of blogs I think you are right on point….Even if I had a hugely successful blog it may not work for someone else because of what I believe is the voice of the blog. Nobody writes with exactly the same voice, even if their style is similar. So someone could copy the layout but we all have a unique voice in our writing style which isn’t easily copied.

    Just my humble opinion…

  4. Chris

    Lots of success gurus will tell you that if you want to be successful copy what successful people do. But in the case of blogs I think you are right on point….Even if I had a hugely successful blog it may not work for someone else because of what I believe is the voice of the blog. Nobody writes with exactly the same voice, even if their style is similar. So someone could copy the layout but we all have a unique voice in our writing style which isn’t easily copied.

    Just my humble opinion…

  5. Chris, I just finished writing an article on this as it relates to finding out what makes companies successful – so I give you a big “right on!” because you’ve applied this so well to misconceptions business blogger make when it comes to blogging.

    As The Blog Squad my partner Denise and I hear our clients say some of these things, only doctored up so they actually sound a little reasonable – but there’s no difference.

    I don’t think business professionals think things through and because it’s so easy to set up and start blogging, they don’t take the time to learn what best practice are OR what would work for their business when it comes to smart blogging.

    Thanks for bringing this up!

  6. Chris, I just finished writing an article on this as it relates to finding out what makes companies successful – so I give you a big “right on!” because you’ve applied this so well to misconceptions business blogger make when it comes to blogging.

    As The Blog Squad my partner Denise and I hear our clients say some of these things, only doctored up so they actually sound a little reasonable – but there’s no difference.

    I don’t think business professionals think things through and because it’s so easy to set up and start blogging, they don’t take the time to learn what best practice are OR what would work for their business when it comes to smart blogging.

    Thanks for bringing this up!

  7. Probably one of the most famous examples of this confusion is from cargo cults. The story is that island natives during WWII saw than when cargo planes landed, people were lined up along the runway and doing certain acts. So, they figured if they built an approximation of a runway and lined it with people in as exact of an imitation as they could muster, they would cause the cargo planes to land.

    You can guess the result. I bet a lot of bloggers feel that way after they try something that doesn’t work.

  8. Probably one of the most famous examples of this confusion is from cargo cults. The story is that island natives during WWII saw than when cargo planes landed, people were lined up along the runway and doing certain acts. So, they figured if they built an approximation of a runway and lined it with people in as exact of an imitation as they could muster, they would cause the cargo planes to land.

    You can guess the result. I bet a lot of bloggers feel that way after they try something that doesn’t work.

  9. I find a high correlation between checking my blog stats and punching the computer screen. Your article reminds us that that does not mean that one is necessarily the cause of the other. I might be punching the computer screen simply because I am a jerk, which, of course, would have nothing at all to do with my weak traffic results.

    But your insights are well-taken. I’ll now turn my attention to increasing my snarkiness and spending more time doing poor research.

    However, I am not sure I can make my blog any uglier.

  10. I find a high correlation between checking my blog stats and punching the computer screen. Your article reminds us that that does not mean that one is necessarily the cause of the other. I might be punching the computer screen simply because I am a jerk, which, of course, would have nothing at all to do with my weak traffic results.

    But your insights are well-taken. I’ll now turn my attention to increasing my snarkiness and spending more time doing poor research.

    However, I am not sure I can make my blog any uglier.

  11. @Patsi – you are so right! So many people want to set up a business blog because they hear it is good for their site’s search engine rank, or because it is a good marketing tool, or whatever, but they don’t think about the effort it takes to have a good blog, or whether that is the best fit for their needs. (I do think a blog of some sort can work for almost every business if they adapt the concept to fit their objectives and industry, however).

    @Diane – you, also, are so right! Once something becomes considered “best practices” in SEO, most SEOs do it whether or not it is actually still the best practice, or ideal for their current project. It is human nature, though.

    Chris – thanks for pointing this out!

  12. @Patsi – you are so right! So many people want to set up a business blog because they hear it is good for their site’s search engine rank, or because it is a good marketing tool, or whatever, but they don’t think about the effort it takes to have a good blog, or whether that is the best fit for their needs. (I do think a blog of some sort can work for almost every business if they adapt the concept to fit their objectives and industry, however).

    @Diane – you, also, are so right! Once something becomes considered “best practices” in SEO, most SEOs do it whether or not it is actually still the best practice, or ideal for their current project. It is human nature, though.

    Chris – thanks for pointing this out!

  13. Chris,

    I’m a new subsrcriber and wanted to say THANK YOU for providing very valuable content here on your blog. I’m a loyal reader already! 🙂 Keep up the excellent work.

    And…it is quite funny how we all get into that pattern of thinking without realizing it. What works for one doesn’t work for another. We are all unique and there is no “cookie cutter” formula for blogging – this is where we come in with our own creativity to seek what works.

    I appreciate you, Chris!
    Dali Burgado

  14. Chris,

    I’m a new subsrcriber and wanted to say THANK YOU for providing very valuable content here on your blog. I’m a loyal reader already! 🙂 Keep up the excellent work.

    And…it is quite funny how we all get into that pattern of thinking without realizing it. What works for one doesn’t work for another. We are all unique and there is no “cookie cutter” formula for blogging – this is where we come in with our own creativity to seek what works.

    I appreciate you, Chris!
    Dali Burgado

  15. The problem with copying the successful is that they may just have been lucky or they are successful for reasons other than we (or they) can figure out.

    There is much new science about complexity (check out Dave Snowden) and high reliability organisations – where communication flows freely and the expert who had done it rules the roost.

    In a complex situation (and the blogosphere is certainly one of those) it is usually best to try stuff and follow up on what works, by trying more stuff seeing if it works and so on. It would be great to compile examples of directly contrary strategies which work, there are lots that are recommended.

  16. The problem with copying the successful is that they may just have been lucky or they are successful for reasons other than we (or they) can figure out.

    There is much new science about complexity (check out Dave Snowden) and high reliability organisations – where communication flows freely and the expert who had done it rules the roost.

    In a complex situation (and the blogosphere is certainly one of those) it is usually best to try stuff and follow up on what works, by trying more stuff seeing if it works and so on. It would be great to compile examples of directly contrary strategies which work, there are lots that are recommended.

  17. I’m buying you a drink next time I see you, Chris!

    This is so true and something I’ve had to keep reminding myself about blogging and how I approach it.

    I receive lots of CD’s from artists and songwriters. So often I can hear them trying so hard to imitate their favorites. I know that some of them will find their way to their own voice – but I remember how daunting it was to make my first CD and not want to sound like ANYONE but me.

    Blogging is teaching me that lesson over and over again! Thanks for reminding all of us to be real.

  18. I’m buying you a drink next time I see you, Chris!

    This is so true and something I’ve had to keep reminding myself about blogging and how I approach it.

    I receive lots of CD’s from artists and songwriters. So often I can hear them trying so hard to imitate their favorites. I know that some of them will find their way to their own voice – but I remember how daunting it was to make my first CD and not want to sound like ANYONE but me.

    Blogging is teaching me that lesson over and over again! Thanks for reminding all of us to be real.

  19. Another great article that gives us some perspective on how to present out blog.

  20. Another great article that gives us some perspective on how to present out blog.