Blogs are Really Most Sincerely Dead

by Apr 6, 2020

The first posting you can find in my blog is from May 27, 2001, and it is a piece on the San Jose Sharks. That’s not the first thing I posted to the blog, but I’m one of people (that some people hate) who believes in cleaning up and deleting stuff that’s no longer relevant or doesn’t match my current opinion — or which simply isn’t that good and which I no longer want my name associated with. And so I’ve removed almost all of my earliest blogging, because honestly, it wasn’t good enough to waste electrons on. That means that this blog has content that is 19 years old. I could send it off to college and expect it to marry and have kids soon.

When I sit down and think about who I am and how I define what I am, I find I self-identify as three things: birder, writer, and photographer. My favorite and most comfortable mode of communicating is writing, and that’s why, with some sadness and regret, I find myself writing this.

Blogging is dead. Really most sincerely dead

While this blog has never been a major player in the blog space, I’ve been quite happy with it. Three years ago I would average 4-5,000 pageviews a month, and it had a nice income from Amazon Associates links where I brought in about $1,500 a year, which paid for all my online hosting and was able to buy some nice toys. Occasionally I’d write something that caught fire, and on three occasions I came close to 100,000 pageviews and once 50,000 in a month.

Today? I’m averaging 1,500-2,000 pageviews a month. I didn’t even report Amazon Associates income on my taxes, because there wasn’t enough to even generate a 10-99. I’ve been watching this decline for a while and trying to understand why and what I should do about it (if anything). With the COVID-19 virus enforcing more home time, I finally started digging into my numbers and trying to figure out what this all meant.

And my takeaway is that blogging is dead. It’s no longer a relevant way to reach out to and influence an audience.

My dive into my analytics data confirmed a few things to me.

RSS: RSS is dead. RSS feeds are/were the driver for blogs: people would subscribe — usually via Google Reader — when they discovered a blog, and then get new postings displayed in the reader for potential viewing.

Want to know how dead, and what got me thinking about this? Twice in the last month I’ve quit my RSS reader app, and both times, didn’t notice it wasn’t running for days — once three days, once a week. When I realized I’d hit that point where RSS was little more than backup for things I might have missed on the important channels, I started trying to understand what that meant in the larger worldview.

Google killed Reader in 2013. My blog traffic went down by a third when that happened, and never recovered. it’s been in a slow decline since. Today, as far as I can tell, the number of people who subscribe to my blog via RSS is right around 15.

FIFTEEN.

Here’s what my traffic looks like. If I look at all of March, I see this data, for 1926 total pageviews:

  • Search (350, 18%): Google Search (304) Bing (24), Duckduckgo (22)
  • Social (363, 19%): Facebook (238), Twitter (34), Linkedin (15), Mail list social (75)
  • RSS (60, 3%)
  • 6FPS – my mail list (40, 2%)
  • Site links (15 1%)
  • Unknown: (1140 60%)

A couple of notes on this:

  • “Mail list social” are pageviews I can track to postings I’ve made to birding mailing lists
  • “Site links” are pageviews that come from other sites that have linked to me. It’s extremely small in part because I don’t market myself to other sites and try to nudge them into linking to me. I’m 99% sure the reason the Google has stopped referring me to search is because I’m so rarely linked to, because I don’t put in the time and energy to try to get those links.
  • The Twitter number is too small because twitter apps (vs the twitter SITE) don’t leave referral info. My estimate is that my twitter traffic is about the same size, or a bit larger, than my Facebook traffic, but is hidden in Unknown because of this.
  • Dammit, I wish I could say Facebook isn’t important and we can ignore it. But look, even with my rather low key approach to Facebook, how large a chunk of my traffic comes from that. Ignore Facebook at your peril

So making the twitter adjustment, the most important places that generate traffic to the site are: Google Search, Facebook and Twitter, all at about 15% of traffic. That’s half my traffic, and I know my Google Search piece continues to decline. Links in from my birding email lists is fourth at a whopping 4%, and RSS is a bit behind that at 3%.

And that’s where the sad reality comes in. A Blog is no longer a viable place to create content and expect to attract traffic to it.

The blog as the center point of your online existence, is dead. Unless you are specifically creating content for the search engines and working your butt off to build your SEO to drive search traffic, and probably doing paid search placement to get visibility, and all of the marketing and networking to drive the cross linking that makes the Google search engine LIKE you, it’s over.

The phrase “imminent death of the net” has often been uttered, sometimes by me, going back into the early 1990s. And it’s sometimes been true for a service or technology, especially if it was owned by Google, but in the larger view, while individual bits fail and fade away, it’s usually because they are replaced by something better and more capable.

RSS was of a time and a place, and it was the thing that made the blog the central power for raising an audience and distributing your ideas — but its day is past, and if you look at the numbers above, it’s quite clear that social systems are that place now. Trying to create or foster a blog as a central point for content makes little sense on today’s internet; our eyeballs have moved on.

So, the question is, what now?

The blog is still relevant — but it serves other masters now

Having declared blogs dead, let me now explain they still are an important bit of your online presence. They simply can’t be considered the centerpiece any longer. They are a supporting tool, not the primary one.

Having a blog still makes sense. You need a place for long-form writing. You want a place where these significant pieces can be found by and hopefully given love from the search engines. There’s still value in having permanence for your significant writing. But — emphasis on significant.

I still feel strongly you need a place for your longform writing, a place to call your own. Sticking it on a site like Medium or Facebook might be convenient, but you mostly benefit them, not yourself, and you lose control of it to a good degree. There have been enough changes to Medium policies that hose over writers that anyone should hesitate posting there, but it is a strong reminder that when you create content on other people’s sites, you are at the whim of their decisions forever.

But if you are assuming that you can write on your blog and people will come, I expect you will be sadly disappointed. You have to reach out to where the eyeballs are, and that’s the social channels. A blog and an RSS feed is as likely to build you an audience as a Ford Pinto is to win the Indianapolis 500.

What I’m changing based on what I’ve learned

So, I’ve been a bit of a downer here. Let me end on more of a positive tone. This is not “imminent death of the net”, but a recognition, probably a couple of years later than I should have, that the net has evolved and changed.

I actually recognized this change a while back, which is why I created 6FPS, my mailing list. RSS used to be the “low friction” way for people to track what others were doing online. Today, that option has returned to email, because (a) it’s easy and (b) it works. There’s a reason every web site seems to have pop-up dialogs pleading for you to subscribe to something. In 18 months, mine has gone from an initial subscriber base of 25 to over 150, with zero marketing or any real push, and I’m quite happy with the format and the response.

The mail list is right now the best way to create and foster a group of interested people that is not owned by some other entity. I started that when I created 6FPS, but then I sat back and watched to see if it was viable, and then I got comfortable and just let it grow on its own. Now I need to really make it the center point of attention.

So, I’m going to move 6FPS back to a monthly schedule, and plan to ship it the first thursday of every month. Instead of creating a schedule where I’m trying to make sure the blog gets three or more articles a week, I’m going to make sure 6FPS comes out more often and has good and interesting content. When I write longer pieces (rough estimate: 750 words or more) they’ll go on the blog and be linked to. Shorter stuff will be in 6FPS only.

So the blog itself will no longer have regular content. It’ll have content when it makes sense to put it on the blog. I’ll probably be writing fewer individual pieces, but as has been my tendency the last few years, trying to go for better rather than lots. The weekly photos will shift both to Instagram, which I’ve been dabbling with again recently and am trying to get a feel for how I want to use it, and to Twitter, where I need to raise my profile and do more sharing and discussion again.

Social channels: by that I mean Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram, are terrible places to create content, but great places to spread the word about it. They are bullhorns. They are for promotion. They are for getting the attention of people’s eyeballs and convincing them you will be interesting to them. But I feel really strongly that creating content on those services is a mistake. simple stuff, yes, but anything with any permanence needs a permanent home, and social channels are inherently transient. That’s why blogs are still relevant.

There’s a big challenge here: on the social channels — especially Facebook — the game is rigged. Facebook’s answer, of course, is to give them money for paid placement. You can’t win this game, since you have to play by house rules. But as the numbers I showed above make clear, the only thing worse than dealing with Facebook is not dealing with Facebook, because you have to be where the eyeballs are. I may well experiment with some paid placement on specific things to see what happens, but to be blunt: I’d rather not give Facebook a dollar, and Facebook, if I do that, is going to throttle my access to eyeballs on their site. That’s just how the game works, and that’s one reason why Twitter has been my primary social channel, much as I have my own issues with how they run things.

I will be doing some re-organization of my blog site, making 6FPS a much higher profile thing, and reducing the prominence of some other things. I will reduce the prominence of some other stuff, but I’m still working out the details. I’m going to try to more or less double my activity on Twitter again, after having gotten kind of passive, and I really have to sit down and get serious about using hashtags, even though I feel that’s a bit shouty.

But in some ways, you have to be shouty to be heard over the din. Everyone’s shouting these days, and I have to figure out that balance of getting my work noticed and being that kind of person people dread when their show up in their social feeds. That’ll be an iterative thing.

I’m going to take a higher profile on Instagram, both for showing off my photography and for doing behind the scenes type displays. The priority for where my time goes is going to be 6FPS, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. The blog will get used to support all of this as appropriate and be the collecting point for things I want to talk about across the social channels.

There is also, of course, my Smugmug portfolio site and my Flickr account; I haven’t been too active on Flickr recently due to lack of time, but I need to step that up again. They will be bigger parts of a higher profile for my images on Instagram and Twitter (and to a lesser extent Facebook) as I start talking more about my images again.

And there’s one big elephant in the room not yet mentions: Youtube. I have a long dormant channel, and I have a plan to become a YouTuber buried deep in the blog’s archives a couple of years ago, an idea I really enjoyed developing but an idea I really enjoyed killing when I decided it wasn’t worth the investment of time. But….

But I am increasingly finding times where both still images and written text don’t seem to allow me to explain things in a way I want to explain them. And yet I’ve resisted diving into video work because it’s really time consuming with a steep learning curve, and as someone who self identifies as a writer and photographer, I wanted to focus my time on those things. But this exercise has been part of a larger thought process, where I’ve realized that self-identification is limiting what I want to do by focusing on tools and not results — and so it seems video work is back on the table, but as another tool to help communicate to all of you, and not with the goal of becoming a YouTuber. But don’t be surprised if the experiments show up and we see what evolves.

To Grow and Evolve, or to Fade away

The world around us is constantly changing, growing, evolving. If you are not growing and evolving with it, then in essence you are falling behind. But that’s a dangerous thought, because if you spend all of your time trying to evolve, you won’t have time to actually create anything interesting or useful. So I’ve long felt the key is to focus on content, but recognize when things have changed enough — when you hit that inflection point — that you need to adapt and evolve to not fall so far behind that you fade away.

I’m at that inflection point — probably a year later than I should have, but I had other priorities to focus on. I now have what I think is a good feel for what I should be doing; I have some work to do to make that happen and realign my time with my needs and goals — but I also think that once I do that, I’m probably good for another 3 or 4 years before I have to think about this kind of realignment again. And who knows where I’ll be then…

But we’ll just re-arrange the deck chairs and sit in them a while and see how it feels…