About blogging, this much I now know

This blog is just over a year old and so that – and a refreshed design – seems the right moment to round up what I’ve learnt so far. What you learn about blogging when you do it is not necessarily the same as what you read on the subject. This is what I’ve found about what works and what doesn’t.

  • Few blogs are instant hits. Virtually everyone who publishes their own work – that’s now a colossal number of people – nurtures a secret dream that their words will be found to be so dazzling, so wise and so eloquent that thousands will circulate these posts among themselves and fame will be instant. This gradually gives way to a much older and more solid truth: stamina, patience and the long haul matter in this, just as in most things. This blog has gradually grown a loyal core of readers who keep coming. But boy is it slow.
  • I have written just under 200 posts in a bit over a year. Call that 400 days and I find I’m posting on average every other day.
  • You’re a prisoner of your past: my background (see here) is in print journalism. I write in that mode, for good or ill. I am conditioned not to write too carelessly or too hastily. Does this occasionally inhibit me from pushing out a quick post? Maybe.
  • My largest contributor of incoming traffic so far is Twitter. (I’ve only just set up a Facebook site for blogposts).
  • One of the best things about blogs are links, making a post not only an opinion but text with the evidence for the argument in the background and opportunities for the reader to wander through the links to somewhere quite different. I’ve even suggested that more journalists should use links more frequently as footnotes (see here). But I’ve got to admit that putting in the links is painfully time-consuming. I haven’t timed it precisely, but I reckon that linkage usually takes at least half as much time again as the writing.
  • People talk a lot about “engagement” as the quality which readers look for in a blog. Experience tells me that by far the most effective form of engagement is aggressive disagreement. Some of the largest hits I’ve had have been for posts with strong criticism, needling or disapproval: Lee Bollinger’s dotty ideas about an American BBC, the first and fluffy set of figures from The Times on online subscribers (now superseded by better ones) and almost anything disobliging about Julian Assange. Say what you like about the man from Wikileaks but he has fans who spring to his defence with passion. (It was one of them who called me a “supercilious weasel”). People find reasonableness, common sense and – worst of all – the ability to see both sides of a question simply dull. So bash someone hard and watch the hits climb.
  • Best of all, bash an Australian. Don’t ask me why a verbal walloping for anyone from that blameless and lovely country should be such a powerful blogosphere boost, but it is. The single largest number of hits this blog has ever had in a day followed a post casting some doubts on Assange and Wikileaks (and that was before Assange had gone supernova with the US warlogs and diplomatic cables). The name of Rupert Murdoch is of course likewise catnip.
  • I’ve read that short posts fare better than long ones and posting at the weekend boosts traffic. My experience contradicts both. I see no correlation at all between the hit rate of a post and length. Hardly surprising in that this is a blog about professional and not personal things, but traffic falls at the weekend.
  • I am addicted to Google Analytics, distracted and fascinated by the traffic level wiggling across the days and months. The world map is even better. I know a few of my fans outside Britain (hello to Chris and Katherine, my faithful readers in Cairo) and can see where talks and lectures of mine have created clusters of readers. But the rest is a mystery. Taking a quick look at the last three months and readers in 94 countries…even a tiny number of blog visitors in Sudan, Kazakhstan and Algeria are a surprise. Why am I more popular in Poland than Morocco? But thank you to every single visitor anyway.

 

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6 comments

  1. Hey to you too! The discipline I need is to post on a regular basis. Easier to do on holiday than during the busyness of the work week.

  2. I’ve been blogging for several years, but only for the “public” since last August. I also feel the weight of the permanence of past blogged words, and at times it has seriously hindered my posting. However, it’s also taught me to not just post or comment reflexively, but to consider and ponder my feelings first. I’ve found that I am also slightly addicted to my site stats. Finally, I’ve realized that I’m still learning about what is good blogging etiquette and what is, well, not.

    p.s. I stumbled across your blog via thebrowser.com

  3. This is great advice. I started my blog six weeks ago, and this certainly provides a good indication of what to expect. It is not easy to attract readers, but I have been lucky that some of the readers liked the content enough to post the link on their linkedin and facebook pages. That has driven a lot of traffic and quite a few subscribers. Still, given that most marketing blogs out there are either for selling stuff or focus on How-to, it is not easy to get large numbers of readers looking for a deeper discussion of marketing.
    http://nothingbutmarketing.blogspot.com.

  4. Re diverse traffic: say thank you to social hubs. Haven’t you read Malcolm Gladwell’s take on the degrees of separation? I, for one, am here via the ever-amazing @TheBrowser. You may not be widely known all over the world, but they definitely are.

    • Believe me, Nikki, I do say thank you to social hubs for they are indeed the key to this. This gives me the chance to thank @thebrowser particularly for one of the best boosts I’ve ever had. Anybody got any tips on how to maximise one’s chances of being picked up by TheBrowser?

  5. This is powerful insight. Thank you for sharing. You’ve confirmed my own observations about the time it takes to get established. I’ve played with blogging for some time but only got serious about it this past 3-4 months. I, too, am addicted to Google Analytics but I’m learning to be careful about “micro-managing” that account. It makes me crazy when the stats show a dip. 😉