Tobold's Blog
Friday, April 23, 2010
Maximizing viewer numbers?

In the open Sunday thread a reader asked: "Hey I am brand new to blogging, and I was just wonder what advice you could give to someone who was just starting out. It looks like you get alot of Views". Meanwhile at Kill Ten Rats Ravious wrote about unsubscribing from blogs, saying "The blogs that begin with a purview and an aim to acquire an audience become disingenuous, possibly even disloyal, when all of the sudden the blogger decides that the blog article topics were really up to the whim of the blogger in the first place." There is a general impression in the blogosphere that bloggers blog to "acquire an audience", "get alot of Views", and maybe ultimately monetize viewer numbers. I think that idea is nonsense, an artifact of the boom which survived the bust, and where you measured your success in "eyeballs". Yuck!

Lets deal with the monetization issue first: Most successful bloggers are intelligent and articulate people, which doesn't fit at all with the idea that they are in it for the money, because making money with blogging is one of the worst possible business ideas, ranking right next to selling fridges at the north pole. I have the donation button for you to be able to express your appreciation, and for me to be vain and bask in the glow of that appreciation, but as a money-making scheme this pays considerably less than minimum wages. I'd make more money if I started selling my WoW gold. And from the limited information available it seem that putting up ads from lets say Google Adsense on a typical blog also only results in a laughable income stream which isn't worth the bother. If you wanted to make money from a blog, you'd need to scam people, that is first get your reader numbers up and then persuade them to buy something completely useless, like a gold-making or leveling guide you compiled from information available for free. I recently saw an advertisement on Facebook for a PC software which would allow you to watch thousands of TV channels in HD on your computer. It looked fishy, so I googled it, and found the first page of Google full of blogs praising that product. Only those blogs were all fake, containing nothing than those entries praising this one single product, and then having been boosted in Google pagerank by various methods of "search engine optimization" (SEO). Only the YouTube entry on the product was real, and showed that the software was a scam, had only a fraction of the number of TV channels advertised, only a few of which actually worked, and those were in low resolution. That is the way to make money with a blog if you wanted to. Sad as it is, intelligently written comments on something are worth considerably less on the internet than such scams.

So apart from money, why do bloggers like to have lots of viewers? I think most of us write because we are passionate about something, and want to make our opinions heard. The more people read what we write, the better. The flaw in that reasoning is that spreading the word is not something that only depends on pure numbers. A reader who just reads your post title, considers it as "tl;dr" and moves on might show up on whatever counter you installed to count visitor numbers, but isn't really helping you to "spread the word". The much, much smaller number of visitors who comment on your blog, or even write about your post on their blog, are much more valuable in that respect. Thus applying search engine optimization methods to boost your blog isn't really helping all that much.

For the same reason, a reader who lost interest in what you are writing isn't really a loss when he "unsubscribes". Already the term "unsubscribe" is somewhat inaccurate, because our readers never subscribed, at least not in the sense of a paid subscription. They might have added us to their newsreader or list of favorites, but that is all. The blogger probably doesn't even notice the "loss" of that reader.

If the purpose of your blog is to spread your opinion on something you feel passionate about, then it is only logical that the content of the blog changes with the passions of the blogger. Just because somebody started a blog about, lets say, tanking with a Death Knight in World of Warcraft, it doesn't mean that he is for eternity condemned to write about that. What if he decides to play his Death Knight as dps? What if he decides to switch to a different class? What if he decides to switch to a different game? After all, of course a reader of this blog with a Death Knight tank would probably "unsubscribe" the moment this happened to him, because he wouldn't be interested in the subject any more. So why shouldn't the blogger have the right to change the subject matter of his blog? I would say it is better to continue to write passionately about a new subject that now interests you more, than to stick to the old subject out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, and inevitably lose the quality and passion of your writing.

The last thing I would like to mention is the example Ravious mentioned of a blog which changed not just subject, but tone. He didn't say which blog, apart from specifying that he didn't mean me switching from WoW to EVE when he mentioned a blog "plunging in to some dark abyss" :). I would guess that the blogger in question is going through some personal difficult phase, which is why his writing changed. Blogs written by a single person are inevitably reflecting the mood of that person, and moods change with the circumstances. I'd compare that with somebody outgoing who is throwing a lot of parties and having a lot of "friends": The day he has personal problems and isn't the guy throwing all the parties any more, he is going to lose a lot of those "friends". But those who remain and help him get on his feet again are his true friends, and not just the fair weather variety. Following a blog through various moods and phases is a bit like that, and the readers who are willing to listen to and discuss with a blogger regardless of subject and mood are of much higher value to the blogger than those who "unsubscribe" the second something changes, or the discussion drifts into more personal subjects.

So in summary the only advice I can give the person on how to blog is to remain true to yourself, and don't worry about maximizing viewer numbers. It is the quality of your readers that count. The quantity is something that can quite easily be manipulated, and isn't actually useful for anything more than serving as epeen meter.
Imho the reason why some bloggers try to maximize viewer numbers -which apart from that single fact doesnt deliver anything tangible- is simply basic human nature and a strong built-in desire to compete. Social i-networks especially thrive on this behavior (although the more business oriented ones, such as linkedin are aimed at offering real life benefits).

If you want to make real money -as in, achieve financial independence- you better have a exceptionally brilliant concept or else you are about a decade too late.

In my view the best blogs are those which are maintained by people really passionate about the subject, or the process of writing and publishing itself. And who keep perspective after achieving `succes` (viewers, money, fame): stay loyal to their original motivation and dont let the external factors mess with the creative process.
Actually, the most successful blogs in terms of readers and comments are exactly the ones who don't care about it.

Which is also why I disregard any argument like: Blizzard needs to make money.

If any company starts to take money making more seriously than making a good product not only the product quality decreases, but also the consumers vanish and consequently the financial success.
I believe there is a stroke of exhibitionism within every blogger, either we admit it or not.

If we didn't bother about being read, seen, thought about, reacted on, we wouldn't put out our writings publicly but let them stay on our own PC. It isn't really lack of space on our harddisk that forces us to upload it to Blogger, right? On the other hand I too find the ideas some bloggers seem to have that they could make a living on this highly amusing. It's a hobby. Un-paid work that we do out of passion and pleasure. Period.

It has happened that someone was upset at a post and left a comment /unsubscribe. They seem to think that I would be absolutely devastated at it. And of course I couldn't care less.

As you say, over time you develop a relationship to a few, dedicated readers who keep reading and commenting over time, even if a blog of course is changing over time. The conversation with those isn't the driving force exactly (my passion for writing is), but nevertheless it defenitely adds to the pleasure of blogging. The numbers in those relations isn't what counts most. It's about quality.
"I have the donation button for you to be able to express your appreciation, and for me to be vain and bask in the glow of that appreciation (...)"

You can get our appreciation by reading our comments. And that should be enough.

The fact is, even if the donations are voluntary and you don't need the money, your blog is now a small scale business. Google Ads, at least, would not be hypocrite.
My blog had over 400,000 ad serves on Adsense. Not one single dime earned. Well, actually I earned about $40 but they won't pay me until it hits $100.
You can get our appreciation by reading our comments. And that should be enough.

While I tend to agree with that statement, I am convinced that Tobolds main motivation to add the donation button was curiosity. The money he gains through it might even turn out to be dissatisfactory as soon as he gets the feeling that he has to write now, because so many people donate(d).

It's not that anybody even has to say it. (If anybody said so, he'd be stupid, but that doesn't matter).
@Nils: yes, I'm not saying that Tobold's motivations are evil or that he has an obscure plan to get rich with his blog. I share your opinion. But him saying that "appreciation = donation" seemed out of order.
Of course spreading your ideas to the people that care/think about your ideas is more important than maximizing the number of hits.

However, the trick is getting the people that care/think about your ideas to read your blog in the first place. Not an easy task in the daily overflow of information we have.
I believe this is what your friend was asking for: getting enough readers to whom he can show that his blog is good.
It is absolutely possible to monetize blogs. Look at sites like MMORPG, Massively and which are effectively just giant blogs that pay their authors and are designed to be for-profit companies. You don't need to be 'scamming' people to earn a buck.

However, saying that, the MMO niche is incredibly small and doesn't have enough popularity for your average Joe to make any sort of reasonable cash out of it. If any blogger wants money, they'd be better of starting a "how to get rich blogging" blog and sell an ebook. I say this as someone who's spent a vast amount of time researching it all in my working life and experimenting with it on my personal blog.

I'd agree that page views are meaningless and just indulge our video game stat obsession. I went through a phase when I started blogging of checking my stats frequently and getting excited when they went up. However, I soon realised that getting a big spike in traffic may be fun on a chart but is ultimately meaningless. I would encourage bloggers to dig deeper into these statistics with their analytics package and they'll probably discover that they are 'empty' hits. I'd much rather get a link from a small job and be discovered by two enthusiastic MMO readers than get 2,000 visits from StumbleUpon or Digg. The response from commenters and bloggers and building a real reader base who actually enjoy what I have to say is far more important and, ultimately, rewarding.
So what is the motivation for asking for advice on how to write a blog to atract readers ? Was it just a tecnical question ? Maby he/she was just asking for a few pointers like :
Write about something you are passionate about and got experience in.
Make it personal, but not to much
Make it detailed, but not to much
Put in some nice screenshots
Put in some good references
Google Ads, at least, would not be hypocrite.

It is very hard for the average reader to not see a Google Ad. So even if he doesn't click on it, the Google Ad might bother him. Especially since Google Ads on blogs with MMORPG subjects are often selling gold or offering other services which many players object to.

I am sure that some readers who never wrote me and never commented still appreciate what I write. But if only 1% of visitors comment, and only 1% of commenters donate, that does create some sort of hierarchy of appreciation. You say comments should be "enough", but is there really such a thing as "enough appreciation"? Of course it is vain to want more of it, but as Larisa said, bloggers are all exhibitionists.

It has happened that someone was upset at a post and left a comment /unsubscribe. They seem to think that I would be absolutely devastated at it. And of course I couldn't care less. As you say, over time you develop a relationship to a few, dedicated readers who keep reading and commenting over time, even if a blog of course is changing over time.

I would be devastated if I lost Nils, he is writing more on this blog than I do. :)
You have a point with 'fair-weather' friends, and the good blogs do become somewhat like that. The blogger's writer becomes comforting, even if the blogger decides to write about health care at an MMO blog. Yet, I do not instantly connect this way to all blogs on my RSS feed. It builds up over a metronome of posts over months, at least.

Plus, I am well aware of a 'bad week of emo-posts' vs. 'there is no return from this abyssal plunge.' So give me a little more credit than just being a fairweather blog reader. :)
Great points on the subject. When I started writing it wasn't about getting the most hits or making money. It was more about scratching a creative itch and getting my opinion down on paper. If anyone reads it, awesome. If not, that is fine too.

I think, in a way, it might grow beyond that over time. Lets be a little honest. Who doesn't like comments? I generally feel better when a story gets ten or more comments than when it gets two. That was never my intention originally but it is a side effect.

Linking is the same way. It is always a good day when someone links to you, even if they completely disagree.

Over all though your advice is sound. If you're blogging just to get hits or make money you're not in it for the right reasons. At the same time, we should be free to write about whatever we want.

I've always disliked the notion that I have an obligation to focus on writing guild leadership topics. If I'm not in the mood, I'm not in the mood. Period!
@Tobold: oh, readers like Nils are gems! Who wouldn't want a pocket Nils?

But when Mr Anonymous writes an "/unsubscribe" in the comment section, expecting me to I don't know what - apologize for the post that somehow hurt his feelings? - I couldn't care less.
The best blogs are what are known as "niche" blogs. I.e they deliver content on fairly narrow range of subject(s).

Niche blogs retain readers better because the chances are every post is likely contain something of interest.

The nature of the internet is such that if we get bored it's easy to find and transfer our attention to somewhere else. The best blogs keep and grow readership.

And even with Google Reader keeping track of a number of blogs for me. With a limited amount of time there are blogs I will always read ahead of others.
@Tobold: oh, readers like Nils are gems! Who wouldn't want a pocket Nils?

Actually, I'm not so sure sometimes, because I tend to make a topic my own if I comment too much.
Then again, I do have my own blog, but I find it extraordinary difficult to just write something.
I'm better at replying. It's a motivational thing. I also don't have time every day. There are days I have 100% time and days when I don't have any time at all at work.

So if something really needs a wall of text I try to put it in my blog and get other bloggers to link to that.
Otherwise I just spam a blog of somebody else :).
Blog five days per week about a focused subject, and keep your site design such that it can be read discreetly in an office environment (i.e., no screenshots).
Sad as it is, intelligently written comments on something are worth considerably less on the internet than such scams.

The old saying "A fool and his money are soon parted" means that you can make more money pandering to fools, which is not writing an intelligent blog. :-)
I'd say it's a validation of writing, or at least we assume it to be. More readers must mean it's good writing.

I agree with We Fly Spitfires, spikes happen, but they're just spikes. I got some here and there when blogs that were nothing like mine would link me in a post, resulting in a lot of people who have completely different interests visiting, and never coming back. Only once has a jump in readers been sustained, and that was after I was added to the blogroll of a much bigger blog.
Your best article (or Blog post if you prefer) for a while, Tobold. There's your appreciation - I'm not sending you money :P

@We Fly Spitfires - Are MMORPG, Massively and really "Blogs" ? What happened to "Webzines"?

The media in general seems to be adopting the term "Blog" for just about anything on the web that has commentary. I still think of a Blog as the online diary of a single person.
Thank you for another interesting topic, Tobold.

I don't know anything about blogging, I'm afraid, but isn't this whole thing part of a grander monetisation scheme?

Google is a fantastic company and the are well known for doing "no evil", but surely it is not providing the Blogspot service just out of the goodness of it's gentle heart?

If I understand this right, setting up the blog is free and there is no maintenance fee. Basically, it's all free for the blogger.

So presumably, Google wants you to put those ads up here and there. Apparently, it's hard to even get above the minimum $100, so thousands of blogs are generating real cash for Google just by not being popular "enough". Interesting. It might be stretching it to say that Google are monetising by "minimising" page views, but it seems they'd rather have ten million views spread over a thousand blogs than twenty million views over twenty sites, doesn't it?

What was it you said that PayPal charged for each donation, Tobold? Perhaps a slice of that goes to Google too? :)
Though you argue you aren't in this for the viewers, Tobold, you do a number of things successful bloggers do.

1. Post regularly.
2. Say interesting things.
3. Write intelligently wth good grammar and spelling.
4. Post updates of moderate length.
5. Generate participation through controversy and discussion threads.

Just by being yourself, you do a lot of things right.
Commenting on other people's posts. I've found more bloggers by clicking a link to a post they did as a reply because what they wanted to say wouldn't fit into a comment, than anything else.

Even Tobold, I found through Larisa, which I found through Rohan, which I found while looking up info for my paladin.
@Bhagpuss I guess it depends on your definition of blogs and webzines. Technically and functionality wise site like are blogs. They're even laid out like blogs, produce articles like blogs and have comments like blogs. The only difference really is that they have a lot of authors (although I've still seen plenty of of multi-author amateur blogs) and pay their writers.

I think it goes to show that if you have enough time, talent and some capital investment to hire writers then even a "blog" can be monetized.
@Oscar Google Ads doesn't work the way I think you think they do :) When someone clicks on an ad, the company who 'owns' the ad gets charged for it and you earn a percentage of the click. For instance, say company X takes out an advert and it appears on your site. Whenever a user clicks on it, they get charged (example) $0.50. The site owner would get paid $0.30 and the Google would take $0.20. So, technically speaking, the MORE successful the adverts on your site, the more money Google make and thus they would actually be encouraging your site to grow. It's a simplification but you get the idea.

The big factor for ads though is not page impressions but rather conversation rate i.e. the % of people who click on an advert. If a site has a 2% conversation rate and you get 100 visits a day, you would still make about $0.5 - $1 a day. Of course, the value of each click varies and Google calculates it all depending on demand and relativity of the ad from the owner and the destination site.

You also need to remember that conversation rate is relative from different sources and regular readers do not ever click on ads (which is one of the reasons why blogs are notoriously hard to monetize). The clicks tend to come from average visitors who stumble on the site via search engines.

Anyway I could talk about this for hours because it fascinates me and it's part of my working life :)

I still reckon though that if Tobold wanted to "monetize" his blog, he could make close to $100 a month. That's $1,000 a year and nothing to sneer at especially from a blogging hobby. Of course, I totally respect the fact it's not a route he wants to go down - it's just a topic I find interesting.
Tobold, I know you don't like the idea of advertising on your blog but I do know you're open to experimentation.

How would you feel about conducting an experiment by putting ads on your blog for one month (say 1st - 31st May) and recording the results? It wouldn't just be about how much money you make but also what the feedback from your readers are. Would they dislike it? Would they even care?

No ads would go in your RSS feed (keeping regular reader disruption to a minimum) but a couple would be placed on your main site. I'd be happy to suggest what I think would be the most "effective" locations for them.

What do you think?
Gordon, thank you for the suggestion, but I don't like the idea of ads of which I can't control what I advertise. I've seen too many MMO blogs with Google Adsense inadvertently promoting goldselling or powerleveling. I think you can stop those, but only AFTER they've turned up on your site. No thanks!
We Fly Spitfires,

Thank you for explaining more about how it works. You're right, it truly is an interesting area!

And you're also right that I have no prior knowledge about any of this. My theory came from Robert's comment:

My blog had over 400,000 ad serves on Adsense. Not one single dime earned. Well, actually I earned about $40 but they won't pay me until it hits $100.

It seems to me that, using your numbers, by having plenty of ad clicks on many, many different small blogs Google will not only get the $.20 that's "theirs", they'd also get to keep the $.30 that has been "earned" by the blogger. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear before.

Obviously, and like you say, every ad click gets Google a nice little sum so surely they want to encourage ads on their free blogs. But this $100 limit is intriguing in that it is low enough for people to accept it ("well, there's admin and all that", etc) but high enough to be a really handsome bonus for the company. Wikipedia estimates there are 113 million blogs (astounding, by the way!) – say 1% of those are blogspot blogs with ads, that's about a million blogs. To get to keep an extra $100 for each of those, that's nothing to sneeze at, after all. :)
@Oscar What Robert actually means is that Google won't send him his cheque until he's accrued $100 i.e. Google only send out cash in at least $100 increments.

Robert will still get his $100, Google don't keep that, it's just they have bank transaction processing costs and thus don't give out money in anything less than $100 segments.

For example, if you're blog made $10 a month, it would take 10 months before you receive your entire cheque for $100 from Google. You don't lose that money.

Hope that all makes sense :)
If you're interested in this sort of thing, this topic inspired me to write an article about deducing blog value. It's actually something I've wanted to write about for ages but never did because I know a lot of bloggers hate talking about cash. Anyway, here's the link:

*Huge apologies for the blatant self-advertising, I just could't resist!! :)
Dear Spitfire,

Thanks again for your clarification, and I have your post in Instapaper now :)

And what you say makes sense, but still... I can't get rid of the feeling that an awful lot of people aren't ever going to reach that $100 threshold!
@Oscar Yeah, no doubt :) I guess it's Google's way of ensuring they only pay out when they can make a reasonable profit themselves! Amazon and other companies do the same thing with their affiliate links.
*Huge apologies for the blatant self-advertising, I just could't resist!! :)

Can you calculate by how much the self-advertising made the value of your blog go up? :)
@Tobold LOL, if I can I'll give a commission ;)
I write to get viewers. Otherwise, I don't really see a point to writing a blog. I'd keep journals and toss them in shoeboxes when they're full.

I don't ever expect to get rich off my blog, nor do I really think it's a way to make even side-cash (as much as I'd like it to). I expect it to, eventually, bring in enough money to be self-sustaining. I want to have enough Google ads on it that I can, in a year, pay for web hosting, domain registry, and maybe even a premium theme/skin with some neat features for my readers.

I have a job, but I'd like to be able to make my living with my writing. Being able to build a platform and readerbase on a blog that eventually becomes self-sustaining is, I think, a worthy goal, and not at all sell-out-ish.
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