How Snopes and Google Kill Chain Email

December 02, 2013

In 2011 I received a copy of the Warren Buffett chain e-mail from a neighbor. It read as something that could be plausible but was obviously canned and many of its assertions seemed incorrect. With coffee flowing and my lawyer instincts in full gear I decided to research and rebutt the e-mail. After the original draft became large, I decided to clean it up and posted it to this blog. After Google picked it up it quickly began drawing traffic. However a few weeks ago I noticed a big drop-off in my visitors. Using Google’s tools I have developed a theory about what happened.

The following graph gives a general idea of what the traffic to my blog looks like: Google Webmaster Tools for

The spike in impressions and clicks you see peaks on October 4, 2013 and then traffic plummets by the end of October. I reviewed Google Analytics which told me that during the week of the spike the landing page had 609 visits, compared to the second best performing page at 106 then 100, 73, and 55 during the same week. In other words for about one week my website hit the Google lottery.1

I was happy to see visits to the blog increase but then sad to see them collapse. After hitting the lottery the visits dropped off. I wondered why there was this explosion in interest then a sudden collapse. According to Google Webmaster Tools the search position of my result did not change dramatically over time. This meant that people should be seeing my website when they search for the email title and text.

So the next tool in my toolbox was Google Trends. Google Trends is a great tool for seeing general interest in a search term. I inputted the keywords that Google Webmaster Tools told me people were using to find my site and it quickly became obvious:

There was a spike in interest among United States searchers in the chain email. This was followed by a dramatic collapse. Why would this occur? On Oct 2, 2013 snopes updated their article on this topic. It appears that snopes new treatment was read by searchers, widely publicized and shared on social media, and killed the chain email.

While I am disappointed to no longer be receiving as much traffic to the blog, this turn of events does give me some renewed faith in people. While an obscure blogger like me only made some small waves in killing this rumor, a site with a big reputation and lots of traffic managed to put it to bed.

  1. I also hit the Google lottery with a page about a Tweetbot error that spiked interest when Tweetbot went down back in June. 

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.