I’m not a huge fan of year-end lists, roundups and new year predictions. But I make an exception when these lists give me unexpected insights. Such is the case with this list of the most popular posts from MediaShift over the past year. I didn’t limit it to posts that were published in 2009, and tried to trace what made them popular — either by the top referrals by traffic source to the posts, or by my own intuition. Posts are ranked by unique page views as counted by Google Analytics.

One thing I did notice in overall traffic for the year was the rise of Twitter and Facebook in referring traffic to MediaShift. Overall, the top referring sources of traffic were Google, what’s counted as “direct,” Twitter and Facebook. However, the “direct” referrals are supposed to be people going directly to MediaShift without going from another site. I suspect that much of that traffic is actually from Twitter but shows up as “direct” when it goes through a URL shortener such as bit.ly. This list shows the viral power of Twitter, as well as the promotional power of the PBS Facebook fan page (with 150,000-pus fans), where many MediaShift posts are linked.

Most Popular Posts in 2009

YouTube Offers Soldier’s Eye View of Iraq
This story was one of the first I published on MediaShift back in early 2006, and the image of the “YouTube soldier” still comes up as one of the first results when you search for YouTube on Google. I later wrote about this phenomenon on MediaShift.

5 Places to Watch Movies Online Legally — and Free
It’s pretty obvious that this story by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo comes up on Google searches related to watching movies online for free — and that many people are looking for that. In fact, nearly all the traffic to this story comes from search engines, and 75 percent comes from Google searches.

Rules of Engagement for Journalists on Twitter
This June story by Julie Posetti was one in a series she did about Twitter use by journalists. It had great referral traffic from Twitter and Digg, and also had another great pass-around element: a Top 20 list with best practices for tweeting journos.

Warning – Dependence on Facebook, Twitter Could be Hazardous to Your Business
Obviously, it’s a story that grabbed attention from people on Twitter. Nearly all the referral traffic came from Twitter or “direct,” which I suspect was also from Twitter indirectly. Plus, the plotline for the story is about people depending too much on social media for their business, which goes against conventional wisdom.

Five Tips for Musicians to Engage Their Fans Digitally
This great primer from Jason Feinberg was aided by a traffic landslide from Digg. However, unlike most traffic from sites like that, the average time spent on the story was a very long six minutes. And the bounce rate (the number of people who left the site after reading it) was a relatively low 64 percent.

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URL Shorteners Help Track Links, Take Heat for Framing
Another recipient of major Digg traffic, this story by Simon Owens filled an obvious need, giving people a great overview of URL shorteners. Plus it addressed a controversial practice by Digg itself: framing linked content from its Diggbar.

Your Guide to Social Networking Online
One of a few Guides to remain popular over time, this one hit the mark because of the rise of social networking this year. Almost all the traffic came from Google searches for social networking, and from a link in Wikipedia (a hugely undervalued traffic source).

Your Guide to Citizen Journalism
Another popular Guide, this one also has a link from Wikipedia, but gets more traffic from Google searches. That’s not surprising, because it comes up on the second page of search results for a citizen journalism search on Google.

Your Guide to Online Advertising
Another Guide that has been popular, this one received the lion’s share of traffic via Wikipedia, rather than from Google. Also, it has a nice glossary of terminology, and good links to other resources.

Vodafone’s Child Porn Filter Blocks Innocent Czech Tech Blogs
OK, this is probably the one I’m most embarrassed about. While it’s a great story about how Vodafone’s porn filter blocked innocent tech blogs, a good portion of the traffic appears to come from people doing searches on Google for “child porn” and variants of that. I’m guessing they didn’t find what they were searching for.

What Will Record Labels Look Like in the Future?
Another post from Jason Feinberg, this one appears to get traffic via Twitter as well as a few music blogs and sites. Feinberg’s powerful network probably helped spread the word about this story, plus it’s a topic that almost everyone in the music biz has been pondering.

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Government 2.0 – How Social Media Could Transform Gov
There isn’t an obvious platform or site that drove the most traffic to this story by Mark Drapeau, but the author does have a good network of people that follow his writing. Plus, the topic resonates with a large audience of people in government, marketing and public policy.

How Journalists Are Using Twitter in Australia
Another fantastic piece from Julie Posetti. This one caught the attention of media people and Twitterers in Australia. Plus, the piece had a universal slant that journos could relate to — even if they aren’t stationed Down Under.

9 Tips to Improve Search Engine Optimization
Not too surprising that this one had staying power, and much of the traffic comes via Google searches. In particular, if you search for improving SEO, this story comes up first.

How Follower Spam Infiltrated Twitter — And How to Stop It
Yes, it was my fabulous wordsmithing skill that won this article its longstanding following. Uh, and it didn’t hurt that the story comes up very high in Google searches for “Twitter spam” and “follower spam,” which is a new scourge on Twitter.

Young Political Candidates Confronted by Digital Past on Facebook
This was one of the few stories on this list with Facebook as the No. 1 driver of traffic. Not surprisingly, as the subject is about Facebook photos becoming a subject for political mudslinging. It also helped that this Steven Davy post was a great story on a touchy, timely subject.

The Great Debate on Micropayments and Paid Content, Part 1
The traffic came to this story from multiple sources and was quite spread out. It’s another case of a timely topic being discussed in great detail, plus it’s a subject that seemed to be debated all year. And let’s not forget the two master debaters, David Carr and Mike Masnick.

Personal Branding Becomes a Necessity in Digital Age
This was another story with Facebook as the top referrer of traffic. It also comes up pretty high on Google searches for personal branding. And it’s a topic that resonates with people who have been laid off and want to make a fresh start by branding themselves.

Conclusions

For me, 2009 was the year when Twitter became a major source of traffic to MediaShift. Not only did traffic come from Twitter, but Twitter itself became a subject that people wanted covered again and again. Facebook also started to take its place as an important promotional tool; we even experimented in promoting content by buying Facebook ads. But once again, Google searches, Wikipedia and even StumbleUpon proved to be stalwarts in driving traffic.

I could sum up my lessons learned in one equation:

Timely subject + evergreen content + engaging writing + Twitter = traffic

What are your theories as to why these posts were so popular? Share them in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.