Do you know, or can you guess, what a ‘content slave’ is? If not, you may actually be one. But before I explain, I want you to ask yourself how important blog followers are in your blogging regime. If you regard followers as the be-all-and-end-all, you may, without realising it, have fallen into a trap which has enslaved you to your keyboard, and prompted you to work much, much harder than was ever necessary.
In some circles, a lot of importance is placed on gaining blog followers, but in truth, they’re not an economical route to success. Followers, you see, come with one massive drawback. Namely, you have to keep posting in order to maintain their attention. Stop posting, and you stop existing.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not idle as a blogger and I absolutely don’t want to sit around doing nothing. I write every single day of my life, and most of the work ends up somewhere on the Internet. But I’m also strongly opposed to the idea of writing posts that get a momentary burst of digital applause, and then, in real terms, almost immediately fade into obscurity. The classic model of blogging specifically for followers represents the ultimate incarnation of that. Even if every single one of your blog followers is paying attention (and we all know most of them don’t), you’re a slave to them, because if you want that attention to continue, you can’t stop typing.
And it gets worse, because if you work too intensively to maintain your followers’ attention, your standards are almost certain to drop, and then you risk losing the followers who actually are interested. They may continue to ‘follow’ you in an official sense, but are they still accepting your email updates or watching you on their Reader screens? That’s a different matter entirely. Becoming a ‘content slave’ can be a vicious circle, and making a set of followers your primary audience definitely renders you a ‘content slave’.
WHY FOLLOWERS DON’T MATTER
My first blog to reach a million hits had amassed a grand total of four followers when it notched up the seven digits. Four! The blog had become well established on the search engines, and had its links shared countless times on masses of sites I’d never even heard of, so never let it be said that the blogosphere is a good judge of popular content. In the case of that blog, the blogosphere evidently didn’t, and still doesn’t, know its arse from its elbow.
I should admit that in addition to the magnificent four official followers, the blog has built up a separate volume of people who follow via third party RSS readers. But whilst I’m happy and grateful to get visits from anyone, at any time, my goal has always been to promote through Google’s organic search results.
I can’t publish a post every day on each one of the nine major projects I have in progress. Some of those projects will go a month or more without an update, and at least one hasn’t been updated since July last year. But the point is that because Google supplies traffic on an ongoing basis, that really doesn’t matter.
To be productive in the way I want, without compromising quality, I need to be able to take my time, and spend a good proportion of that time on research, conceptualisation, etc. Or even going out and living the experiences I’m going to post about in future. Those are the things I believe make posts worthwhile for readers. Anyone can blab out a 1,000 word post, but to have those 1,000 words really matter, there has to be a time and thought investment. That investment just can’t be made if you’re forever trying to stay on the radar of insular pockets of followers who only pay attention when your fingers tap the keyboard.
Contrarily to the successful blog I previously mentioned, I’ve started and dropped other projects which have rapidly gained followers, but never got any noticeable traffic.
Like: “Wow! Great! Just started a blog and it’s got fifty followers in a few days, and look how many Likes the posts are getting!!!” It’s a powerfully motivational situation…
But then you look at the actual page visit stats and there’s virtually nothing there. You may get a little spike just after you publish a post, but then the graph immediately bombs and you get close to zero until you start tapping the keys again. Yes, you could get more followers, knacker yourself to the bone posting daily, and keep the graph moving, but what a flawed investment that is, in a profile which, as soon as you stop tapping the keys, instantly evaporates. It’s just a treadmill. Online, people forget very quickly indeed, and there’s always something else to command their attention if you’re not in their face 24/7.
Google surmounts that problem by letting people decide what they want, and then providing what they ask for. The advantages are that: a) your blog visitors are targeted according to their precise interest at that moment in time, and b) the supply of interested parties doesn’t wane. Those parties may still forget you by tomorrow, but by then a whole new band of individuals will be asking for what you’ve got. Crucially, you have an audience whether or not you make a new post.
I should say that I don’t define a blog’s worth by the amount of traffic it gets, but if after a couple of months it can’t sustain at least some reliable traffic from Google I’d consider it untenable. I’m happy with a blog that gets limited numbers of page visits, as long as I feel the project has value and I believe the visits come out of genuine interest. But a blog that gets no noticeable traffic at all when you stop posting? No. That’s the time to start looking at what you’re doing wrong, and either drop the project or come up with a realistic means of sustaining it. If you can’t walk away for a month without your traffic dwindling to a trickle, then you’re not really investing in your work. You’re throwing your time away.
FOLLOWERS WHO SHARE AND LINK
Of course, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. It’s feasible that some blog followers will share your posts, and on occasion this can have a great impact on your long-term search visibility. But sharing today isn’t what it was back in the noughties. It’s hugely less permanent, and centres around social media rather than archival sites which give sustained backlink juice for lasting search presence. If someone shares your post on Twitter or Facebook, then unless it goes seriously viral you’re unlikely to see much benefit in search.
With social media, Google seems to place much more importance on actual uptake and reaction, whereas with older-style, archival sites the emphasis is on the page rank of the page backlinking to your blog. I covered this in Google Rating Social Links On Reaction, but basically, it means that The Big G is unlikely to pay much attention to a few links, placed on social media, which not that many people click, and which people stop finding after an hour or two. You really need a social media link to become a sustained source of traffic in itself – directly from Twitter or Facebook – before Google recognises it as a serious backlink.
With the above in mind, it’s pretty clear that a few fellow bloggers Tweeting or Facebooking your links to relatively small social audiences who don’t significantly react, is not going to help you long term. What you need, are blog followers who are going to run off and add your links to Wikipedia, or in quantity to other big sites with very high page rank and inherent permanence. The evidence I’ve seen is that this kind of sharing is incredibly rare, and that’s no surprise, since other bloggers, by nature, will be too busy blogging. What do they gain by adding another blogger’s link to a major archival website? Nothing. So in short, they’re not going to do it. Their own link, yes. Yours, no.
Also, the laws of effective content sharing are hard to satisfy within the confines of a blogging platform. In order for effective sharing to happen, there has to be demand for the content, and the content has to have authority. It’s Catch 22, and kind of a cliché, but the posts most likely to be shared where it really matters, are the posts which are already at the top of the Google results. That’s just how it works. Those are the posts people consider to have authority, and most Web users don’t look further than the end of their noses anyway. You only get the sharing you really need, once you no longer need your posts to be shared. And that sharing is overwhelmingly likely to come courtesy of prominent members of the specific third party sites on which the links are shared – not from your blog followers.
So blog followers are a double-edged sword. It’s nice to have an impetus to make new posts, but too much impetus can compromise quality, and enslave you to a system which really isn’t economically sound from your own viewpoint.
Having a lot of followers AND a high visibility on Google is a desirable situation, naturally. But don’t be in any doubt about which part of that scenario is the most important. Would I swap a blog with 4 followers and a range of front page placings on Google, for a blog with 20,000 followers and no real status with Google at all? No. You keep your 20,000 followers, and I’ll stick with my 4, plus a healthy dose of help from the search engines, and let’s see who has the easiest and most productive life.