Categories
meta

On internet obscurity: analytics be damned

At least five times in the past decade, I’ve started online projects, only to see them wither away from lack of attention.

Past abandoned blogs

Oh, I invest long hours at first: writing a mission statement, shopping for a WordPress theme, and hand-hacking the CSS. But once the actual content creation begins, I quickly lose interest. I may post sporadically for a month or two. But soon enough, I give up. Eventually, I surrender the domain name, and my “brilliant” concept vanishes from the internet.

Occasionally, these projects failed because I lacked passion for the niche. For example, I once founded a project called “The Outage”, which was dedicated to suburbanites who put down new roots in the mountains. It wasn’t a terrible website idea, but I soon realized that I was more interested in my own urban escape than in telling other people’s escape stories. The Outage died a slow death.

More frequently, I abandon my blogging efforts not because I’m disinterested but because no one else is paying attention. My posts generate nearly zero pageviews. My Twitter follower count barely budges. I put myself out there, and I’m met with dead silence in return: no engagement, no encouragement, no audience.

Obscurity kills creative drive, if you let it. Love me? That’s great! Hate me? Well, at least you’re following along. But ignore me? That’s the response that’s most difficult to accept.

Working in obscurity

Here’s what I’ve learned from these multiple abandoned efforts: when you’re starting from scratch—totally unknown—you need to find satisfaction in something other than audience engagement.

Imagine a wood worker, hand-crafting beautiful furniture on her homestead, high in the mountains. She’s miles from the nearest collector or customer, and there’s no chance of selling her handiwork—or even showing it off. No one will see the rear joint on that oaken cabinet. Nevertheless, the craftswoman spends hours sanding down its rough edges and carefully aligning the two joined pieces. She delights in the making, even when no one else will appreciate the end result.

I’m not kidding myself; this blog isn’t a work of art. But the metaphor works for me. If audience engagement were my only reward, it would be so easy to justify cutting corners. Half-ass the proofreading. Ignore that clunky paragraph. Skip posting for a day or two. Who cares, after all? No one’s paying attention.

From experience, that way lies surrender. When I stop delighting in the work for its own sake, I soon stop working altogether. When I let website analytics or podcast download stats serve as my primary motivation, discouragement festers, and I soon stop writing. It’s happened a half-dozen times before.

Analytics be damned

But it’s not going to happen this time. I’m determined to keep sanding down those joints, day after day after day. Despite feeling obscure and ignored, I’m going to keep making stuff. Rising before dawn. Posting every day.

That effort won’t be quickly rewarded with audience interest. In fact, I may never grow a sizeable following. My tiny reader and listener numbers may stay exactly where they are, and my creative efforts may never become anything more than a hobby. The analytics may never reflect my level of effort.

I’m okay with that. Screw the analytics. At least I will have made something. I will have tried. That’s pretty damned satisfying, in itself. ■

Categories
internet Uncategorized

How did a month of daily posts affect my blog traffic?

Just before Thanksgiving, I made several “creative resolutions”: I would blog every day, no matter what, and I would avoid checking my blog analytics until Christmas. I was determined just to write—without getting sidetracked by page views, followers, or blog traffic.

I’m happy to report that I accomplished the writing goal. I’ve posted something to this blog for 38 consecutive days—easily my longest streak ever. Every morning, I wake at 4:30, plop myself down on the couch, and hammer the keys until I finish a post (or until I run out of time and publish anyways). I’m more proud of some posts than others, but I’ve at least established some consistency.

I nearly kept my second resolution. I had originally planned to wait until Christmas Day to check my blog analytics. But some creative reflection yesterday made me curious enough to peek at the numbers. I expected a marked increase in readership, after a month’s worth of content. The reality wasn’t quite so rosy:

Pageviews
My blog’s pageviews since November 16.

This pageview data seems so inconsistent that I hesitate to draw any conclusions. (The session and user counts show similar contours.)

Looking at the acquisition numbers, most of my traffic comes from Facebook. Yet there’s little sign of progress on that front; I’ve earned just three Facebook page likes since my blogging stint started on November 16:

Page likes
My Facebook page likes since November 16.

There’s a clearer spike in my Twitter follower count:

Followers
My Twitter followers since November 16.

But twenty followers hardly constitutes a major shift. Plus, the uptick has stalled—my follower count has flatlined since the start of December.


I find these graphs discouraging. I didn’t expect a “hockey-stick” trend, but I hoped for modest, measurable progress. I wanted some reward for my diligence—some motivation to write in the upcoming year. Instead, these middling numbers tempt to me to abandon my blog (again). Confession: I nearly skipped writing this morning for the first time in a month.

Understand; I’m still determined to continue making something on the Internet. But between family commitments and my full-time job, I have very limited spare time. I’d rather not spend those precious hours writing posts that no one will read—especially since I’ve sacrificed other hobbies to maintain my writing momentum. For example, I’ve exercised far less often this past month than I’d like.

Maybe I need to make a course correction here. Should I narrow my blogging niche? Rededicate myself to self-promotion? Break out my blog into its own brand? Or should I stop blogging for a while and adopt a different medium? Is 2016 the year that I finally try my hand at podcasting?

One thing’s clear: my consecutive-day streak will likely fall victim to a TV-and-Christmas-cookie bender this week. And that’s okay; vacations should be spent relaxing and recharging. The holiday break provides a good opportunity to reflect and retool for the new year.

Besides, after a month of waking before 5 AM to write, I’m exhausted.