This post is off-topic. And a little whiny.
Let's say you're like most people who take up blogging: you enjoy writing and you want to get better at it. You have insights and ideas to share, and if you're lucky, your insights and ideas are useful and interesting. Finally, and understandably, you want to build your blog's audience, increase your pageviews and, hey, maybe even make a little money while you're at it.
There's a problem however. You're competing for a finite resource: attention. And you're up against powerful competitors: sites like The Huffington Post, Gawker Media, and thousands of other professional media companies, with more staff, more resources, and the ability to pump out incredible amounts of content. And don't forget, you're also up against a monstrous army of SEO engineers constantly tweaking titles, lead paragraphs... anything to capture all the pageviews they can.
Of course, all of us are up against an even bigger force: Google's search algorithm, which changes, abitrarily, all the time.
What Swiss Chard Taught Me About Search
I'll share an example. Until recently, one of the most heavily trafficked posts here at CK was, weirdly enough, How to Cook Swiss Chard.
Somehow--and to this day I have no idea how--that post became Google's first result for the search query "how to cook swiss chard." I never optimized it, I never pumped it full of keywords, I never did anything. All that search traffic just... happened. And back in 2009 and 2010, this post by itself drove nearly a third of my search traffic.
Until a few months ago, when that traffic spontaneously vanished.
Later, I found out it was around the time Google rolled out Penguin, its new search algorithm. Now, I'm third on the list for "how to cook swiss chard."
Is this a big deal? Yes. A huge deal. By going from first to third, I now get less than a tenth of the traffic from this search string. Incredible, isn't it? The rule of thumb is about 35-40% of search traffic goes to the first result, and the rest of the traffic is divided up by everybody else in rapidly diminishing shares of the spoils.
And if you fall off the front page, forget about it. Page two results capture as little as 1/100th the traffic of the #1 result. Search is in many ways the ultimate winner-take-all market.
Worse, there's next to nothing I can do about it. Hiring an SEO firm to "fix" this would make zero economic sense. Casual Kitchen simply doesn't make enough revenue. Not to mention, there are probably hundreds (or even thousands) of SEO firms working for other websites... all trying to do the exact same thing. All the time.
Of course, anything anybody does could easily vanish the minute Google decides to roll out yet another iteration of their search algorithm.
And this is just one insignificant post on an insignificant blog in an insignificant corner of the internet. Imagine this happening to your carefully-tended blog across multiple posts and across all of your search traffic. Because at some point, it probably will happen. The bottom line? Nobody can really count on having a stable share of internet traffic.
HuffPo Thinks You Have No Attention Span
Next, imagine who you're competing against in the race for pageviews, revenues and reader attention. Take Gawker media as an example, with its enormous collection of websites, each with full-time staff using real-time search activity to generate purpose-built posts to capture traffic. We're talking about staff writers who pump out as many as twelve posts a day, who are paid based on pageviews. (For more on information mills and other internet publishing trends, I strongly recommend Ryan Holiday's eye-opening book Trust Me, I'm Lying.)
I haven't even mentioned the content farm industry, where you can pay a firm to generate customized, pre-written, SEO-enhanced articles for your site. It makes me feel dirty just thinking about it.
The idea of competing with these companies is hilarious to me. It would mean never writing a post longer than 300 words (HuffPost presumes its readers don't have the attention span to digest a 900 word post like the one you're reading right now). It would mean writing "worry porn" articles like Does Tabasco Cause Birth Defects? or posting multi-pageview slide shows of anti-informative things like The Ten Worst Foods In The Entire Universe. Anything--anything--to get you to click through.
All of this is exactly what I don't want to do here at Casual Kitchen. There are too many truly interesting things out there to teach, learn and write about. In the meantime, however, I still have to accept a fundamental truth: my traffic stats and my ability to reach new readers is increasingly out of my hands.
Oh man. It sounds like I'm just wringing my hands and complaining, doesn't it? But what really I'm trying to do is understand the lay of the land where Casual Kitchen lies. Which takes me to my final question: What's a blogger to do?
Heck, I don't know. But I have some ideas. For one thing, accept that this is the reality of individual blogging. And accept that as a writer, sometimes your fate, popularity and economic success are as arbitrary as your search rankings.
Which means what we've all known all along about blogging: you write for the love of it and for the love of interacting with your readers. No matter how many or how few there are.
Readers, what do you think? And why do you blog?
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