Thursday, April 22, 2010

Maximizing viewer numbers?

In the open Sunday thread a reader asked: "Hey I am brand new to blogging, and I was just wonder what advice you could give to someone who was just starting out. It looks like you get alot of Views". Meanwhile at Kill Ten Rats Ravious wrote about unsubscribing from blogs, saying "The blogs that begin with a purview and an aim to acquire an audience become disingenuous, possibly even disloyal, when all of the sudden the blogger decides that the blog article topics were really up to the whim of the blogger in the first place." There is a general impression in the blogosphere that bloggers blog to "acquire an audience", "get alot of Views", and maybe ultimately monetize viewer numbers. I think that idea is nonsense, an artifact of the boom which survived the bust, and where you measured your success in "eyeballs". Yuck!

Lets deal with the monetization issue first: Most successful bloggers are intelligent and articulate people, which doesn't fit at all with the idea that they are in it for the money, because making money with blogging is one of the worst possible business ideas, ranking right next to selling fridges at the north pole. I have the donation button for you to be able to express your appreciation, and for me to be vain and bask in the glow of that appreciation, but as a money-making scheme this pays considerably less than minimum wages. I'd make more money if I started selling my WoW gold. And from the limited information available it seem that putting up ads from lets say Google Adsense on a typical blog also only results in a laughable income stream which isn't worth the bother. If you wanted to make money from a blog, you'd need to scam people, that is first get your reader numbers up and then persuade them to buy something completely useless, like a gold-making or leveling guide you compiled from information available for free. I recently saw an advertisement on Facebook for a PC software which would allow you to watch thousands of TV channels in HD on your computer. It looked fishy, so I googled it, and found the first page of Google full of blogs praising that product. Only those blogs were all fake, containing nothing than those entries praising this one single product, and then having been boosted in Google pagerank by various methods of "search engine optimization" (SEO). Only the YouTube entry on the product was real, and showed that the software was a scam, had only a fraction of the number of TV channels advertised, only a few of which actually worked, and those were in low resolution. That is the way to make money with a blog if you wanted to. Sad as it is, intelligently written comments on something are worth considerably less on the internet than such scams.

So apart from money, why do bloggers like to have lots of viewers? I think most of us write because we are passionate about something, and want to make our opinions heard. The more people read what we write, the better. The flaw in that reasoning is that spreading the word is not something that only depends on pure numbers. A reader who just reads your post title, considers it as "tl;dr" and moves on might show up on whatever counter you installed to count visitor numbers, but isn't really helping you to "spread the word". The much, much smaller number of visitors who comment on your blog, or even write about your post on their blog, are much more valuable in that respect. Thus applying search engine optimization methods to boost your blog isn't really helping all that much.

For the same reason, a reader who lost interest in what you are writing isn't really a loss when he "unsubscribes". Already the term "unsubscribe" is somewhat inaccurate, because our readers never subscribed, at least not in the sense of a paid subscription. They might have added us to their newsreader or list of favorites, but that is all. The blogger probably doesn't even notice the "loss" of that reader.

If the purpose of your blog is to spread your opinion on something you feel passionate about, then it is only logical that the content of the blog changes with the passions of the blogger. Just because somebody started a blog about, lets say, tanking with a Death Knight in World of Warcraft, it doesn't mean that he is for eternity condemned to write about that. What if he decides to play his Death Knight as dps? What if he decides to switch to a different class? What if he decides to switch to a different game? After all, of course a reader of this blog with a Death Knight tank would probably "unsubscribe" the moment this happened to him, because he wouldn't be interested in the subject any more. So why shouldn't the blogger have the right to change the subject matter of his blog? I would say it is better to continue to write passionately about a new subject that now interests you more, than to stick to the old subject out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, and inevitably lose the quality and passion of your writing.

The last thing I would like to mention is the example Ravious mentioned of a blog which changed not just subject, but tone. He didn't say which blog, apart from specifying that he didn't mean me switching from WoW to EVE when he mentioned a blog "plunging in to some dark abyss" :). I would guess that the blogger in question is going through some personal difficult phase, which is why his writing changed. Blogs written by a single person are inevitably reflecting the mood of that person, and moods change with the circumstances. I'd compare that with somebody outgoing who is throwing a lot of parties and having a lot of "friends": The day he has personal problems and isn't the guy throwing all the parties any more, he is going to lose a lot of those "friends". But those who remain and help him get on his feet again are his true friends, and not just the fair weather variety. Following a blog through various moods and phases is a bit like that, and the readers who are willing to listen to and discuss with a blogger regardless of subject and mood are of much higher value to the blogger than those who "unsubscribe" the second something changes, or the discussion drifts into more personal subjects.

So in summary the only advice I can give the person on how to blog is to remain true to yourself, and don't worry about maximizing viewer numbers. It is the quality of your readers that count. The quantity is something that can quite easily be manipulated, and isn't actually useful for anything more than serving as epeen meter.

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