Sunday, January 10, 2010

Introducing the First Nerve Smelly Web Indexes

Everyone agrees that the Internet is changing how people relate to perfume. Industry interests—fashion brands, consumer goods companies, fragrance houses and ad agencies—no longer control the conversation. Instead, they compete with a host of amateurs who critique every new launch and reformulation.

The sheer number of these new voices is staggering. So is their stylistic diversity—ranging from well-informed and well-written to the olfactory equivalent of cat-blogging by shut-ins. The fragrance blogosphere is still in its formative years and a Darwinian competition for page views is underway that will determine which voices readers are paying attention to and which ones they are ignoring.

Is there any way to measure the ups and downs of this marketplace of opinion? This is something I’ve pondered as a participant and as numbers-oriented behavioral scientist. Now, after months of data collection and tinkering, I offer my quantitative assessment of the fragrance blogosphere: the First Nerve Smelly Web Indexes.

The FN Smelly Web Indexes consist of the Solo Blog Index, the Team Blog Index, and the Corporate & Community Index. Each one tracks the Alexa traffic rankings of a cluster of representative web sites on a weekly basis, beginning August 9, 2009. The starting value of each index is set to 100. A higher index value means the average rank of the component blogs has risen. (Think by analogy of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Dow Jones Transportation Average, the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index, etc.)

The Solo Blog Index

This index is based on nineteen single-author blogs, some focused exclusively on perfume, others on broader topics of scent-related history, culture and science. Here are the blogs used to compile this index:

Scented Salamander (élène Wagner in Paris.
Bois de Jasmin Fragrance chemist Victoria Frolova in Eastern USA.
Perfume Shrine Bronze Age historian, archeologist and fragrance fan Elena Vosnaki in Greece.
1000 Fragrances Fragrance historian and writer Octavian Sever Coifan in Paris.
Nathan Branch US-based luxury goods and fragrance commentator Nathan Branch.
Grain de Musc Paris-based fragrance writer Denyse Beaulieu.
+ Q Perfume Perfume fan Simone Shitrit in Brazil
Katie Puckrik Smells US-based perfume reviewer & videoblogger Katie Puckrik.
Ayala’s Smelly Blog Artisan perfumer Ayala Sender, Vancouver, B.C.
Pink Manhattan Independent singer-songwriter Sali Oguri in New York.
Bitter Grace Notes Free-lance writer Maria Browning in Tennessee.
Vetivresse Brooklyn-based fashion advertising copywriter and wine and fragrance aficionado Christopher Voigt.
GlassPetalSmoke Smell- and taste-focused commentary by New York City-based marketing and communications specialist Michelle Krell Kydd.
First Nerve Avery Gilbert, NJ-based smell scientist, consultant and author.
Anya’s Garden Natural perfumer and fragrance blogger Anya McCoy, Miami Shores, Florida.
Olfactarama Fragrance reviews and reflections on scent by “Olfacta” in Atlanta.
Indie Perfumes Fragrance fan Lucy Raubertas in Brooklyn.
J’aime le parfum An anonymous, France-based (?) perfumer in training.
Les Tuileries “AlbertCAN,” a consultant with interests in perfume, olfactory experience and the humanities.

The Team Blog Index

Blogging is time-consuming. It’s much easier for a team of authors to produce a steady stream of traffic-attracting posts than it is for the solo practitioner. The five group blogs that comprise this index have consistently high Alexa rankings. They include:

Now Smell This Fragrance reviews, news, perfume shopping tips, new and upcoming fragrance releases and more by a seven-member team. Site editor is Robin K (From a “small town” in Pennsylvania), along with Angela S, Erin T (Toronto), Jessica M (art historian, NYC), Kevin S, Marcello A, and Pia C.

Perfume Posse “Coast-to-coast fragrance coverage in the U.S.” by a three-member team: Patty (“Rocky Mountains”), March (D.C.) and Lee (Suffolk, England) aka Leopoldo on fragrance bulletin boards.

Perfume Smellin’ Things Perfume reviews and discussion of all matters fragrance-related. Team members Marina Geigert in NYC along with Tom, Marian, Donna, Marla, etc.

Perfume da Rosa Negra Brazilian fragrance blog by Cristiane Gonçalves aka Cris Rosa Negra and contributors Italo Wolff and Dâmaris Silva.

I Smell Therefore I Am A two-person fragrance blog by writer/film maker Brian, and former American Idol contestant Abigail in New Mexico.

The Corporate & Community Site Index

This index tracks performance of scent-related sites that, while they may contain blog posts and commentary, are set up as online communities and portal-style resources. Tracking them in a separate index seems more fair than mixing them in with solo and group blogs. It also provides a measure of Web-wide interest in things olfactory. Online fragrance reference guide with consumer reviews, industry news and articles. An interactive community founded by Grant Osborne and run by him and Danielle Cooper. Based in London. A compendious perfume site run by the Swiss-based fragrance house Firmenich.

The Drydown A constantly updated portal to “the scented net.” The more recent brainchild of Grant Osborne in London.

Sniffapalooza Event-based online group of fragrance aficionados, founded by Karin Dubin and Karen Adams. Located in New York.

What Do the Indexes Tell Us?

Here’s what the first 23 weeks of data reveal:

The Solo Blog Index sank as low as 82 in August, then climbed steadily back to hover in the 130 to 140 range until just before Christmas, after which it sank back toward its initial levels. It finished this week at 110.

The Team Blog Index followed a similar pattern but began to under-perform the SBI in late October. An uptick the past two weeks brought it to a higher finish at 120.

The Corporate & Community Sites Index moved sideways in a narrow range until November, when it began a long decline. It touched bottom at 70 on December 27, 2009 and rebounded to finish today at 86. A temporary ranking decline at seems to account for these results.

Going forward I’ll have lots more to say about the performance of specific blogs and how they contribute to changes in the indexes. 

Exit question: Do the SBI and TBI results reflect the pre-Christmas surge in perfume interest seen on Google Trends for “perfume”?


ECaruthers said...

This is wonderful. I wasn't aware of Alexa before.

As I understand their rankings, the answer to your exist question seems to be, "Can't tell from the data." The graph of indexes doesn't appear to have the features in your Jan. 2 graph from Google Trends. But the Alexa rankings appear to be fractions of total internet traffic. So, traffic at your index sites could have actually gone up sharply and the rankings wouldn't show that if overall internet traffic went up more sharply. Or have you found a way to extract raw views?

Avery Gilbert said...


Alexa rankings are largely based on traffic--at least since they stopped basing exclusively them on Alexa Toolbar users a couple of years(?) ago. In my experience Alexa tracks traffic levels fairly well. Exceptions are large rank changes that happen to sites < 6 mill or so; my impression is that Alexa rotates through to refresh the ranking of these sites less frequently than high-traffic sites. This may create more error variance in the lower ranks.

These are just my impressions; somebody has probably done more serious analysis of Alexa's algorithm. All I require for the Smell Web Indexes is that whatever Alexa is doing, it's doing the same for every site.

Actual traffic stats would be a better way to go. Many fragrance blogs have Sitemeter or similar service but have opted not to make the stats publicly viewable.

The community might want to think about changing that stance. Political blogs have done so--they're more open about competing for traffic and bragging rights and also for the advertisers that certified traffic attracts.

Then again, maybe perfume blogs are the Peaceable Kingdom and not into bragging and ca$h. I'd be interested to hear what smell bloggers think.

JoAnne Bassett said...

Interesting data Avery. I am a 100% natural perfumer with an aromatic blog. It was not on your list. Take a look.

Thank you.

+ Q Perfume Blog said...

Dear Avery, although I was indexed by you as solo, I must say I am not completely solo.
I am constantly inviting others to write in my blog or to share articles.
I did a wonderful project with perfumes e etc, a Brazilian blog about perfumes. We explored the chocolate together is a huge 3 pieces article.
I also invited 2brazilian bloggers to evaluate together the fragrance J'adore Absolu and I have a contributor for male fragrances reviews, also a Brazilian perfume blogger called Moises. Unfortunately he does not have the time to write as much as I would like him to do it because he has his own blog, besides his work etc...
I am also bringing a buddy to write about perfume design...we are evaluating this partnership.
But thank you for remembering me, even thou I did not understand the description you mentioned about me... perfume fan? Is this all you could think of me? I am sad...

Avery Gilbert said...

JoAnne Bassett:

I knew I should have included a disclaimer in the post--that while I tried to sample a range of styles and Alexa ranks in the Solo Blog space, the Index is necessarily a somewhat arbitrary selection of what's out there. It's not meant to be a list of who's hot who's not".

The blogs in the Index will no doubt change over time, just as the Dow Jones Industrials change. Companies get merged or no longer represent the evolving face of industry. There were blogs I tracked for over a year that--alas--simply sank out of sight on Alexa. We'll see.

So keep blogging--and hopefully the Indexes will help you assess how you and the community are doing.

Avery Gilbert said...

+ Q Perfume Blog:

I know you have guest posters and co-conspirators. But I think it's fair to categorize you as the sole proprietor of Maisqueperfume, no?

And by "perfume fan", I meant of course "the hot (i.e., Brazilian-hot) blogger who is an endlessly fascinating blend of witty opinion and incisive analysis on all fragrant topics."

BTW Aren't you supposed to be on vacation? All this commenting is interfering with my fantasies of sandy beaches and tiny bikinis . . .

+ Q Perfume Blog said...

yes I am solo. not sure I am happy about it...
After a terror week in the hospital royal throne I am trying to pack and leave...

hot...should I add that to my CV?
Maybe that is the missing key that is preventing me from finding a good job lately! LOL


carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

Avery, you’ve raised the question of making cash from perfume blogs through advertising.

For me, it’s not worth the trouble. It confuses the issue, messes up the layout, and involves an amount of management I don’t have the time for. Grain de Musc is less than two years old, and it was never conceived to generate massive traffic and thus, the potential for significant advertising revenue.

Not that I’m not interested in turning out some type of profit. I was a journalist for years, and I am still a writer: I don’t usually write for free, apart from the odd contribution to an arts magazine or a literary review. Like many blogs, Grain de Musc was launched to provide me with a creative outlet, to foster discussion but also to gain exposure, credentials and the possibility of converting my expertise, such as it is, into real-world professional projects. For instance, the “Decoding Fragrance” and “Perfume in Fashion” courses I give at the London College of Fashion. More projects are under way. Teaching and writing are what I do for a living: it might as well be on a subject I love. That’s much more exciting than pay-per-click ads.

You’ve also brought up the apparent lack of competitiveness between perfume bloggers, at least about their stats. You’ll have noticed that this community is particularly civilized -- perhaps perfume doth sooth the savage breast. There are differences of opinion, but nothing is ever written that could be construed as outwardly “aggressive” (at least towards fellow bloggers, though barbs can sometimes be felt between the lines), and I think bragging about stats might fall under that category. Either that, or people are afraid their stats will seem puny. Mine certainly can’t measure up to more mainstream, longer-established blogs, but as I’ve said, that was never the point. But it’s being read by some of the people I intended to reach.
Oops, was I bragging just now?

Olfacta said...

I do think we are an exceptionally civilized and gracious bunch.

It seems to me, though, that team blogs might do better because of their frequency. I used to post twice a week, but had to stop because it was taking up so much time. Now it's once a week, whereas, a team blog can post every day and many do.

I just look at the sitemeter once in a while to see where my readers are (and if I still have any readers.)

But this is mostly a labor of love for me.

carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

Olfacta, it's true that team blogs can post much more frequently, and the fact that others count on you probably makes you more self-disciplined about writing. Not to mention you'd need as many arms as Shiva just to test all the things that come out (and the backlog), which is easier to do when several bodies are involved.

Abigail said...


Please correct the spelling of my name - it's Abigail - dear chap.

And how did you know I was a former contestant on American Idol? I thought that was a secret ;-)

Avery Gilbert said...


I'm on the fence regarding ads. I agree with you that they can be distracting visual clutter. For perfume reviewers (I'm not one) they also raise potential conflicts of interest.

On the other hand, I bet many of us wouldn't mind some compensation for our blogging efforts. When First Nerve was in its infancy I tried Google Ads. I didn't care for the aesthetics but figured I could get past that in return for a small monthly income stream. Then I calculated the traffic needed for the click-through rates to generate the required level of aesthetic-neutralizing cash flow. It's pretty damn high. So I dropped the ads until such time as FN becomes a traffic monster of epic proportions.

Still, I sometimes wonder whether a revenue-sharing ad-network of smell blogs might work. We'd have better control over the aesthetics and the advertisers would have a well-defined market.

As for revealing traffic stats--it's sort of like going skinny-dipping at the lake. No one wants to be out there alone--everyone has to drop their drawers and hit the water at the same time . . .

Avery Gilbert said...


You raise a great point: the relationship of posting frequency and traffic level. There is a rough positive correlation. (Since team blogs can generate equivalent traffic with less individual effort, it seemed fair to put them in their own Index.)

There is also a threshold effect--a minimum number of posts per month to achieve a 3 million or better Alexa rank. The Alexa algorithm is a harsh mistress--slack off on the posting rate and your rank falls quickly.

Despite this, there are a few highly ranked but low frequency bloggers in our field.

There's a continuum between rapid-fire, newsy sites and slower paced more contemplative sites. Question is: to what extent do they share audience?

At any rate, I'll keep poking around in the data to see what I can find.

Avery Gilbert said...


Name fixed. The technician responsible has been demoted.