In around two months it will be my two year anniversary of joining WordPress, and I’ve maintained five different blogs with various posting frequencies. I feel that after this time, part of me finally understands what WordPress is really about, and what it isn’t about. So I’d like to take a break from the usual Japanese stuff to talk about blogging.
Regardless of the fact I’ve written a post about overusing metrics, being a logical/numerical-type person I can’t help but track my blogs’ daily views and other related statistics. After all, one of my long-term goals of writing any blog on WordPress is to have a large readership, and these metrics are the window into how far things are progressing.
Types of readers
After a lot of thought, I now feel there are not two, but three main categories that any blogs readership can be divided into, and understanding the dynamics of each is important.
1) Non-Wordpress Readers
These are people who read your blog without having a WordPress account, or do have an account but aren’t motivated enough to log in. The main source for them is coming in from random web searches (due to matched keywords), or from places where you have advertised your site (forums, etc.).
These are the most common (I get roughly 100-150 unique visitors on an average day), but also the least personal since they can’t like or comment.
The longer posts you write, and the more frequent they are, the more chances you have of people finding your site through some keyword(s) hitting on a search somewhere. So this number should go up regardless of the quality of content on your site.
2) WordPress followers
These are people who have elected to follow your blog, and so when they go to their Reader they’ll see any new articles you post. I have roughly 360 followers, which translates to roughly 1.5 followers per post over the one and half years I’ve ran this blog. This seems to be fairly consistent over time for this blog.
The number of followers a blog gets seems to partially correlate with the content, plus the total number of posts. (I did some analysis on this in a post last year.)
Originally I thought followers were the ultimate in blog metrics, the cherry on the ice cream of blogging, but I’ve finally realized they aren’t actually that important. One reason I say this is because I’ve noticed my average number of daily likes and comments only has gone up a small amount, even though my followers has risen at a much quicker pace. I interpret this to mean that people may be actually interested in my blog, but they don’t actively read blogs in the reader that often, or when they do they don’t happen to come across my posts (posting every day or several times a day should improve this).
I also feel there is a subset of any blog’s followers who have simply become followers as to attract interest to their own site. I think this is a valid marketing tactic, but at the same time it’s something I try to avoid doing personally. Often it’s pretty easy to find these people out, especially if when I go to their blog it’s about “multi-level marketing” or some other business scheme. If a follower’s blog is something with at least a vague connection to this blog’s topics (Japanese, Japan, anime, etc.), then I know fairly reliably that they are a real follower.
3) Active followers
These are the people that are not just your followers, but like and/or comment often enough that you remember their names.
It’s this group that is the real pot of gold at the end of the blogging rainbow, especially if they chime in with “I love your blog” or happen to re-blog one of more of your posts on their site. I’ve only had a few of these, but I’d like to thank them very much! (you know who you are (: )
It’s a small world
I think my feelings about the system that is WordPress can be pretty cleanly summarized by the above phrase. To start off, the average followers I’ve seen for blogs, even that have gone on for several years with good quality content, is pretty low. A few hundred is feasible, and in rare cases a few thousand. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blog with 10k (maybe once or twice) and definitely not 100k. If you look at the top blogs, for example on “Freshly Pressed”, you can probably find some of this scale, but the point is that 95% (or more) of blogs only have a relatively small readership.
Another reason is the surprisingly low number of posts when searching by a specific tag. For example, in the last 24 hours the number of posts tagged with “Japanese” is roughly 50, excluding a few posts from one blog that posts like crazy. If you think about the number of people studying Japanese, and the number of people who use WordPress, this is very perplexing. In this case, it may be that “blogs” are not the main place people go to study a language, but prefer more structured sites.
Take another one, “Game Development”, which had around 12 in the last 24 hours. Again, this number is mind-bogglingly low, given how popular game development is nowadays. Some of this could be attributed by the fact of people not tagging their posts properly, but this doesn’t completely explain it. More likely, just like with Japanese learners, people don’t typically say “I want to learn about game development, so I’ll start searching WordPress blogs!”.
A final reason is how hard it is to effectively market a blog like this. I’ve tried posting to various sites, and in one or two rare cases I might have gotten 100-200 hits from a certain site, but for the rest I get just a gradual trickle. On any given day, 5 hits from any one site is pretty rare. For example, yesterday I had only 2 hits from a specific referrer (disqus.com), and over 50% (around 120) of my hits were from random web searches. Unfortunately, since Google has tightened the amount of information they let through there is usually no data on what keywords were used in the search.
To be fair, marketing this blog was not my main effort, I advertised on about 15-20 sites total, but still the combined effect of these is surprisingly small.
So if WordPress is not the place to easily get thousands of followers, what is it? It’s a warm, thriving community, great for learning and exchanging thoughts with a small group of people. To make a metaphor – it’s a village, not a metropolis. If you nurture the relationships in this tight-knit community, they can be very rewarding, satisfying, even educational.
So when I see someone randomly posting spam or some other generic comment just to advertise their site, I chuckle to myself now since I know WordPress isn’t designed for that. Whatever you are selling, you may get a few hundred, or even a few thousand people from WordPress to buy your product, but that isn’t enough to support any business. It’s takes world-class content, (possibly) some good marketing, and a lot of luck to get to the point where the number of followers is not a linear relationship to the number of your posts, and is instead some exponential rate so you are getting new readers at double what you got the day, week, or month before. I strongly feel that you only way you can achieve this kind of growth is for many of your readers to like you site so much they advertise for you.
Some part of me feels that if I want to take my blogging to the next level, I should find a different site that is somehow a larger community, and allows much more customization in terms of the post content. I’m not sure how that would pan out, but for now I think I’ll still continue like this for at least a little longer.
As a final note, I want to acknowledge the addictive side of blogging. Whether is skimming the latest posts in my reader to see what is going on, or trying to write more articles to get more readers and comments, WordPress has many forms of positive feedback that make it hard to get away. While I don’t feel that reading random blogs is the best way to learn about certain topics (compared to reading books and blogs by experts), I am maintaining my writing ability, and maybe even learning to write a bit better than before.
It is said that keeping a blog is cathartic, and though I don’t have any major trauma or depression issues I think the act of putting words to (digital) paper helps keep my thinking working, and helps keep me sane. Of course, talking to real people has the same effect, if not more. Despite all the talk that blogging is degrading more “natural” forms of human interaction, it is still a form of social behavior.
If you got to the end of this lengthy post and enjoyed it, please consider reblogging it. Thanks!