Why blog hits DON’T REALLY MATTER

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?

Fail stamp

Fail.

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.

Quality beats quantity

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.

The newsroom of The New York Times in 1942.

The newsroom of The New York Times in 1942. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.

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.

Hogzilla

Hogzilla, the legendary wild hog as big as an elephant.

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.

Viral math from Dan Zarrella

Viral math from Dan Zarrella, who is smarter than you or me when it comes to the series of tubes.

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.)

Hollywood Law requires that Matthew McConaughey leans on his female co-star, in this case, Kate Hudson.

Hollywood Law requires that Matthew McConaughey leans on his female co-star, in this case, Kate Hudson.

Matthew McConaughey leans on that woman from SEX IN THE CITY who I do not enjoy watching in anything.

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.

###

Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

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30 Comments

Filed under 7 Media Strategy Saturday, Old Media, which is still Big and Strong, Viral media math

30 responses to “Why blog hits DON’T REALLY MATTER

  1. I still think blog hits matter, but I appreciate what your saying.

    A. I need to be exceptional, not just good
    B. Don’t focus on numbers, focus on content
    C. I do want to reach millions, one day.

    I’ll take all of this in consideration. I want to turn my blog into an asset, and also have it be an outlet for my learnings/ and daily musings…….

    Monst3r

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  8. Wow, you’ve given me much to think about. Much as I like blogging, I am aware that there are millions more out there, saying similar things. Because I tend to be all over the place, I am learning that when I talk about subjects other than writing I get more traffic. I could use the time I spend blogging writing more poetry, short stories and novels, as well as more direct marketing. Thanks.

    • Guy

      Glad you found it useful.

      I’m doing an evil media plan for some author friends. If you know of things that don’t work, or have crazy ideas nobody has tried, give me a shout.

  9. Ouch.
    Really, ouch.
    Rather than be a writer, I want to wander off to Iceland and work on a fishing vessel for a year. That way I’d have great story fodder and money to support me in furthering my writing quest.

    Yeah, big deal, I have 4 ebooks out in the market. That is microscopic peas.

  10. I always knew I would never get 1 million hits – my niche is way too specialised. Like Susie above, I just want to build a subscriber base to roll my book out too, and to raise awareness of the plight of people in a similar situation. I think I’ve achieved some of that. I have a “platform” as the experts keep telling me I need.

  11. Great post! I am blogging to practice and to gain a following of subscribers. Other sites don’t have the feature of email notifications, but I have hit amazing stumble numbers on them and yet I realized most were just hits. I have yet to get anything to stumble on WP, but that hasn’t been my focus. I plan to roll out a book this year and have a subscriber base to roll it out to. I am writing in the same genre as my book so we’ll see how it goes!
    Thanks for your input~

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  13. This post gave me a lot to think about when it comes to my own website and where I want to go with it. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  14. I think blog hits are important but if you are blogging for blog hits then you have the wrong aim.

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  16. A different way of thinking about the Internet! Thanks for a really interesting post.

  17. I didn’t expect to, but I read every word of your blog post. It was quite entertaining and thought provoking.

    I’m going to be very honest about why I blog. I do it for me. Just me. Very selfish, isn’t it? Some days it serves as the perfect way to procrastinate. Other days it allows me to vent. More often it introduces me to new people and their blogs. That’s my favorite part.

  18. I agree with so much of what you have said. This obsession with numbers drives me crazy, and yet they get to me too – elation when they’re high, disappointment when they’re low. I have written a blog every week for around 4 months. The main reason I continue to do so is that I enjoy it. My blog posts are an extension of my writing, just another genre in my mind. They are snippets that I can write in an hour. If a few people read them and enjoy them and a few comment, then I am chuffed to bits!

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  20. More great insights, Guy.

    I started blogging just over two years ago because agents were telling prospective clients they needed an online presence. Now I do it because I like the community of writers who visit my site.

    A totally unexpected side effect of my blog has been my foray into teaching Scrivener. I started posting about the software for fun and to help my friends who were missing out on some great features. Now, those posts drive more than half of the traffic to my site, and help generate interest in my online classes. So, quite without meaning to, I found a niche.

  21. Good post.

    I simply blog because I enjoy it…no other reason. Sure, I advertise my books on there, but I don’t expect or receive sales from this…it just feels like the right thing to do. I have no idea how many people visit my blogs…and they often go a while without addition. I’d rather spend my time writing rather than blogging and that’s what I do.

  22. Terry Wright

    I’m a writer but I don’t blog about writing. Like you said, there’s a zillion writer’s blogs. Most all my writer friends blog about writing, either the craft or the latest book releases or what conference they’d attended. So I leave the “work” blogging to them. Meanwhile, I write commentary on current events, not that anybody cares what I have to say, but it’s a great way for me to blow off steam over the lunacy that goes on around us. I also ‘blog hop’ to see what everybody else is talking about. Your blog is interesting in that you often bash the very platform from which you speak. I don’t always agree with you, but I am always entertained. Keep up the good work.

  23. Great post thanks. I really enjoyed it very much. You have a great blog here.

    Love writing? We would love for you to join us!

    - Writers Wanted -

  24. Zoey

    Oh, SpeechWriterGuy, how I value your opinion and how well-timed this is. I find myself in an awkward situation. Several other aspiring authors asked me to join them in a group blog, so that we all might craft an “online presence” while sharing the work of content creation. I do not know if this is a good idea, because our content is not fantabulous. It is like a million other wannabe author blogs. And my wannabe book needs work. Do you feel, in your expert opinion, that unpublished fiction writers need an online presence that includes blogging? It seems that every other writer I meet has one, and I don’t know where they are all finding the time to blog and still write their, you know, BOOKS.

    Also, if you have advice on removing oneself from a group blog, I have a, ah… friend, who would be interested.

    • Guy

      The best thing a fiction writer like you can do is (1) use the 5 or 10 hours a week you’d spend blogging, doing Twitter and Facebook or whatever and (2) use them to hire somebody who edits fiction for a living — hopefully, the genre of fiction that you do.

      I used to think only wannabe losers hired editors, that people like me with degrees in journalism, people who’d always been paid to write, had won awards and such, only needed somebody to copy edit & proof. No. Everybody needs an editor. Go find a good one.

      There are glowing mystical beings like Theresa the Stevens, who has a thing where they do the first 75 pages / synopsis / query for $175, which is a price so low that it’s a public service to writers the world over.

      Do it. Mow lawns, give up soy lattes for a month, rob banks, become an international hit man/woman/vampire slayer — scrape together the dough, which is far less than a single night at a hotel during a writing conference, and get an editor. Everybody needs one. Best thing you can possibly do to grow and learn and kick writerly butt.

      • Zoey

        Thanks for the helpful advice. I’ll admit I’m skeptical about paying an editor – not making money is one thing, actively sinking money is another – but I have no doubt a good editor could be incredibly helpful. I’ll do some research.

        (BTW, Ms. Stevens has raised her rates slightly to $200. It’s still a great deal, I just don’t want you to get in trouble for false advertising ;) )

        Thank you!

      • Guy

        If you weigh costs vs. benefits, one writing conference ($400 registration, $400 hotel, $200 food + plane tix) could buy an awful lot of pro editing. And you’d learn more than what a conference would teach you. I was skeptical. Not anymore. It’s like a college pitcher trying to get to the majors – yeah, the college baseball coach might be great, but not compared to a major league pitching coach.

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