Hear me now and believe me later in the week:
- Blog hits don’t really matter.
- People collecting thousands of Facebook “friends” are wasting everybody’s time, including their own.
- Your number of Twitter followers doesn’t mean diddly.
For those of you catching up: (1) The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books, (2) Forget the Twitter: free ink and airtime are your MOST DANGEROUS WEAPONS and (3) Using free ink and airtime to BUST THROUGH.
Just saying these things is heresy to Internet Fanboys, who believe nothing is more powerful than the series of tubes.
If they can only find a way to implant a USB 3.0 socket in the back of their skull, they’ll be able to jack into the Matrix, do insane kung fu kicks and stop bullets JUST BY THINKING ABOUT IT, but they’re too busy looking at the woman in the red dress that they never leave the keyboard, go out in the real world and, I don’t know, kiss an actual girl.
Am I saying unplug from the series of tubes entirely? No. The internets, they are useful for many things.
I’m saying the real world is ALSO useful for many more things.
Why blog hits don’t matter
Everybody wants to be read. I mean, it’s sad to start a blog, put time and effort into writing great posts and have virtually no traffic.
However: let’s get practical.
When I started my old blog, it was to serve a specific purpose: a permanent home for the craigslist ad to sell the Epic Black Car.
WordPress is free. My sister, who is a flipping genius, told me that she loved working with the WordPress, that it was easy and fun. So I popped the ad on there, threw some photos in the craigslist ad and thought nothing of it.
Did it really matter whether I had 50 visitors a day, 500 or 5,000?
No. Not at all.
Now, our brains aren’t wired to be that logical and practical. We all have egos, which like attention and get all sad if nobody shows up. WHO WILL PAY FOR OUR THERAPY?
Yet if you’re completely practical about it, the people who saw my silly ad and commented from Maine and Canada and Australia — those were fun people to talk to and all, but the real point was to sell a black Hyundai, a trusty beater that simply would not die.
Anything other than that was a bonus.
Here’s the ugly truth: unless you’re making a living selling banner ads on your blog, traffic doesn’t matter.
A friend of mine had a website with amazing content that she was giving away for free. Videos by experts. Tutorials. Great stuff.
I’d pay money to see it, although it was all there for free.
She was busting her hump, working 80 hours a week to make this website shine, and hadn’t made much from it.
Why? She wanted to generate enough traffic, she said, before going green with the whole “paying the rent” thing.
I whacked her upside the noggin. (From afar, via the internets.)
Because that business model is stupid.
Is she selling banner ads? No.
Is she selling ebooks? No.
She was offering her services as a consultant.
I told her she didn’t need 1,000 hits a day, or 5,000. For most people, the quantity of hits doesn’t matter. It’s the quality of the hits that matters.
She’d do fine with one hit per day, IF THAT PERSON HIRED HER.
This is why she — and most newspapers — made an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey in giving away all their good content for free, via the series of tubes, while making people pay for it if they got it delivered to their doorstep by paperboys.
Think about your local pizza joint for a second. Let’s say they operated like most newspapers these days: If you walk in the door, a sausage and mushroom pizza costs you $15. But if you order the pizza via the series of tubes, they’ll deliver it to your house. For free.
Stupid. A terrible business model.
Yet everyone went so ga-ga over the internet that newspapers, magazines and everybody else basically did just that: put their content online for free.
Nobody wanted to miss the next big thing.
What are you trying to do?
Think for a second.
Why are you writing a blog?
As of February of 2011, there were 156 million blogs on this planet. The people at BlogPulse counted them. That’s a lot of blogs.
Here’s some wisdom from a blogger, Steve Pavlina, who gets two million monthly hits and wrote this in a forum:
The average blog gets virtually no traffic. If you’re looking to be average, I don’t recommend blogging at all.
If you want to create a really good blog, then put all thoughts of being average out of your mind. Either be exceptional, or don’t bother. The world doesn’t need any more average blogs. There’s a massive glut already. If you like to write but would only want to create an average blog, don’t blog. Use a different medium like journaling or Facebook. I’d say a reasonable target after one year is around 10K visitors per day for your blog. If you’ve been going for a year and only have 1K readers per day or fewer, then either you haven’t put much effort into it, or your blog simply isn’t gaining much traction.
This assumes you’re serious about it, you have strong writing skills, you have strong domain knowledge to share, and you have a decent understanding of the Internet including search engines and social networking.
What’s more important than the exact target though is the growth rate. If your blog is going well, then during that first year you want to see a growth rate of at least 10% per month. It goes up fast if you’re putting out quality content and generating word of mouth. If it stagnates during that first year, something is off, and you should re-assess what you’re doing.
Steve said he guessed at those numbers. Because good, hard numbers on blog readership are impossible to get, since there are 156 million of them and hundreds of thousands get born every day.
And “average” is a terrible number. A successful blog getting, say, 900 hits a day would get averaged with 10 other blogs that get 2 hits per day and we’d get an “average” of 90-whatever hits per day. Which isn’t accurate at all.
I would bet my mortgage payment that (a) most blogs are dead, empty shells, just like most Twitter accounts get created and then ignored, (b) the majority of living, breathing blogs get between 10 and 500 hits per day, (c) a minority of really active blogs get 500 to 5,000 hits per day and (d) a tiny sliver of .001 percent of blogs get 5,000 or more hits per day.
Pop quiz: Which do you think is more impressive, 2,739 hits per day or one million hits per year?
Most people would say one million. You’ve made it, right? YOU ARE GOLDEN.
Except they are the same number. One million divided by 365 days is 2,739 hits per day.
That might sound like a lot, but it’s less than the circulation of The Willapa Valley Shopper, so it’s really not that much. And nowhere else but the internet do people count circulation figures like this. A tiny daily newspaper with a circulation of 14,000 people, if it lived on the internets, would scream, “5,110,000 hits per year!” Um, no.
And if you use photos at all in your blog, you’ll get a lot of image hits. They kinda don’t count. My old blog started to average 400 or 500 hits a day, which I used to think was impressive for a silly blog until I saw all the google image hits of 13-year-old boys looking for photos of Hogzilla and whatnot.
So let’s think about this: do hits matter for writers like me — or for rock stars, actors and other folks starting out?
Hits matter for authors selling ebooks on their websites, or for singers peddling mp3s. However: unless you enjoy poverty and buying Top Ramen by the case at Costco, you need a crazy number of hits to truly sell ebooks and mp3s.
Let’s remember the math: to sell thousands, or tens of thousands, you need to reach MILLIONS.
So if you’re getting millions hits to your blog, sure, quit your day job, because you can probably make a living selling ebooks, mp3s and banner ads.
I believe most people will never see millions of hits per year.
More importantly, 99 percent of people SHOULD NOT bust their hump trying to do that.
Why have a blog?
There are three basic business models:
- High volume, low margin — grocery stores, Wal-Mart, web sites with banner ads and millions of hits per month
- Medium volume, medium margin — medium-sized businesses in medium-sized towns in medium-sized square states, like Colorado
- Low volume, high margin — your local lawyers, doctors, dentists and engineers
And by business, I don’t simply mean “corporations who are legally people but cannot vote, though they can give campaign contributions, and are apparently immortal.” I mean “ways of organizing things that work.”
Let’s think of the blog equivalents:
- High volume, low margin — fark.com, Huffingtonpost, technorati, mashable
- Medium volume, medium margin — deadspin, jezebel, gothamist
- Low volume, high margin — mlbtraderumors, phandroid, treehugger
Now, I got those from a list of the top 100 blogs. The list makes sense, though — Huffingtonpost and fark.com are aggregators, taking all sorts of news from all sorts of sources. Wide audience. Technorati and mashable have a lot of original content and reporting.
The medium ones are more specialized. And the low-volume examples are even more specialized. Think about the possible audience for fark.com — people who want to take a break and laugh at weird news, which is just about anybody — versus the possible audiences of mlbtraderumors (only baseball fans) and phandroid (only people are are serious fans of their Android phones).
Unless you’re dead-set on trying to get millions of hits, which is a fool’s errand, it makes sense to (a) think carefully about your goals and (b) write to a select audience. A very select audience.
If you’re a screenwriter, don’t start a blog about screenwriting or movies. There are a zillion of blogs, professional and amateur, covering the same ground. Do something about your specific niche, whether that’s zombie movies or rom-coms starring either Matthew McConaughey or Jennifer Aniston, or Matthew McConaughey AND Jennifer Anniston.
(That was a bit of a trick question. While the Matthew or the Jennifer are required by law to be in every rom-com Hollywood produces these days, they have not co-starred together in the same rom-com, because that would cause a rip in the space-time continuum or whatever and destroy the galaxy. Also, every movie poster of Matthew in a rom-com must have him leaning on the female lead.)
A niche audience is smarter anyway. Write about your specific thing, whether it’s men in kilts or Mad Max fan fiction, because those are the people you want to talk to, right? You don’t care about getting random hits from some kid in Arkansas who heard about the Legend of Hogzilla from his cousin and bet him two bucks that it’s a tall tale and there’s no way a wild hog could be the size of a Brontosaurus or whatever.
A blog is for your and your kind of people. To make friends, talk smack and learn from each other.
It’s different for people who make a living off their circulation numbers. If you’re a professional website like politico, where you’ve hired reporters and need to make payroll every month, yeah, traffic matters.
For you and me, traffic is just an ego stroking tool.
Chances are, 99.99 percent of us will never make a living selling banner ads — and wouldn’t want to in the first place. There’s no point in chasing traffic like crazy.
The real point isn’t quantity.
It’s about quality: the quality of what you write, the people you meet, the things you learn and how much fun you have doing it.
Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.