Who do you write for when your audience disappears?

***Welcome Instapundit readers. Funny, I should mention avalanches of readers only to receive an Instalanche.***

This is the question I find my self asking these days. This blog has long been visited mostly by those searching the internet for books and authors. Something like 90% of the traffic is new visitors with the vast majority of that coming from Google. As my life grew busy with work and children I spent less and less time reading and interacting with blogs; particularly lit and book blogs. And in a world dominated by social media, my reading comes less from specific places I visit on the web as links I click on. Add in the mass proliferation of blogs, including book review blogs, and I have lost any sense of community or connection with a particular group of people or readers. And as noted, the traffic dwindled down to just what Google delivered (and a few dedicated and loyal readers).

And then Google took even that away. I am not sure what was the trigger but something changed in late November and the vast majority of organic search referrals from Google disappeared. The one thing the blog used to have going for it was decent search engine juice. I used the book title and author in the heading for each post and so those seeking information on a book and/or author often found this site. And then suddenly they didn’t. Looking at Google analytics and other sources it seems pretty clear to me that the largest chunk of this site’s traffic has disappeared. The site has dropped off search engine results and is getting 97% less impressions and thus no traffic.

Sort of ironic that this would happen in the tenth year of the site’s existence. And I have to say it has had an impact on my motivation. Obviously, I haven’t had interaction or any type of community here for some time. And I mostly kept going because of the access to books and authors. But the sense that people were reading my reviews still felt like it was worth something. Whether it was a student seeking help with an assignment or a reader looking for another opinion on a book they read it felt like my reviews were being read and valued.

But when those visitors stopped coming it felt like that value was gone too. Suddenly I was asking myself “Why do I continue to do this again?”

And it really does come down to the books and authors. I love to read obviously, that much has not changed. And I enjoy connecting with authors even if I only occasionally do interviews or Q&As anymore. So I need to find ways to bring value to the site for myself.

I think there are a couple of ways I can do that.

1) I need to reconnect with some blogs and readers. I need to read and comment at blogs and websites in a way that adds value and makes connections. This will allow me to connect with fellow readers and lose the sense of isolation I have developed. It will also help me rebuild an audience. There is a natural conversation that can happen through this type of connection even in the world of social media (or perhaps especially within that world).

2) Relatedly, I need to focus on writing better and more often. Part of the problem has been not doing a good job with non-fiction. I procrastinate in writing reviews of non-fiction because I often feel pressure to deal seriously with the issues and arguments contained in books on theology, history, business and politics. I don’t feel able to write a “serious” review and so end up not writing anything. What I need to do is work at writing reviews without wrestling with the issues at academic or extended essay style length or depth. Writing short but intelligent reviews of more serious books takes skill and this is something I should develop. Even if few people read them it will be good for my writing and present a challenge. But I am guessing better reviews and more of them can’t help but improve traffic (especially when combined with #1 above).

3) I need to have a sense of my perspective and audience. What is my angle and who am I writing for? I need to think and develop this more but my gut tells me I am conservative but not overly dogmatic or ideological. A person who appreciates creativity and imagination in the arts; who is a humanist, a bit elitist, and temperamentally traditionalist but increasingly seeking new ways of seeing and talking about the world of ideas. Is there a readership for these type of views in connection with books and culture? Heck if I know.

As you might have noticed I yet again changed the theme. I was trying to find the right balance between blog and magazine style and tempted by all the varying possibilities that are available these days. I tried a number of approaches and returned to a theme I had used before. I think it balances visual elements, with some Tumblr like styles, but retains the right look of the still predominantly text focused site. I might continue to tinker with some things but I am hoping to stick with this for a while.

I am under no illusion that I will garner avalanches of visits and develop high levels of engagement. But I need to find a way to make this site seem both worthwhile and enjoyable. So that is the challenge I have set for myself. If you want to come along for the ride, thanks, and stay tuned.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

33 Comments

  1. I know how you feel pal. I long ago abandoned all of my web projects when I realized no one was viewing them. It’s hard to be creative in a vacuum.

  2. Well, the post drew an Instalanche, which drew me in – and it looks interesting. So I’ll be back. Please keep writing – sources of new books are a valued resource!

  3. Kevin,

    You’ve voiced issues I’ve faced, with a lot of Google Search and some WordPress juice, some loyal readers and maybe some Facebook and Twitter linkage, but wondering who and why I’m writing at times, and how to balance audience with purpose.

    Seems like you’ve got a good plan. Good luck and I’ll stop back.

  4. Lemme give you a suggestion Kevin (in the form of an HL Mencken quote):

    Having lived all my life in a country swarming with messiahs, I have been mistaken, perhaps quite naturally, for one myself, especially by the others. It would be hard to imagine anything more preposterous. I am, in fact, the complete anti-Messiah, and detest converts almost as much as I detest missionaries. My writings, such as they are, have had only one purpose: to attain for H. L. Mencken that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk. Further than that, I have had no interest in the matter whatsoever. It has never given me any satisfaction to encounter one who said my notions had pleased him. My preference has always been for people with notions of their own. I have believed all my life in free thought and free speech—up to and including the utmost limits of the endurable.

    You see and hear things every day. Write about them. Pour out your soul. Someone will read it!

    And as you do your writing will improve… or at least stay sharp.

    1. This. Yes, this is what I was looking to say and probably wouldn’t have done it half as well. Writing is also a discipline and I like what happens to myself when I successfully apply a structured routine of writing every day as part of my regular habits.

  5. I spent ten years, mid-career, as a near hermit – isolated on a mountain with limited contact with anyone, especially fellow professionals. So I am very much with Chaz on this, with his Mencken quote. Personally, when I read, I especially appreciate very sharp arguments supporting my points; or arguments breaking new significant ground. Until critics have thought as deeply as I have about my topics, their weak arguments only confirm me.

  6. I look for writers who have an abiding interest or even passing interest in the world. I shy away from those who are using filler to up their word count. I have tried to minimize any interaction with the “All-Your-Data-Are-Mine” people… Just a native distrust of anyone who takes as their guiding principle to “Do No Evil”. That strikes me as saying “We know evil and choose not to direct it at you unless…”

    My suggestion is to hop on FaceBook and let your readers bring their friends. I’ve been around since the Genie days in one form. I do not wish to be a public person. I see some who do. Unfortunately, they lack the self-discipline.

    Your work and product will find the market and it is more likely to remain yours.

    Good luck..

        1. Why not? (This question isn’t specific to you, Kevin; you just happened to bring it up.) What’s so terrible about ending a sentence with a preposition? Where did this rule come from, and why is it better to write this question as, “From when did this rule come?”

          Sure, you can’t end a sentence in Latin with a preposition. “Can’t” as in, “It is impossible.” But why did that translate sometime in the 17th century to English (where we obviously CAN do so) as, “You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition”? Why should the English language be delimited in such a way?

          In 2000, James Kilpatrick wrote an article titled, “A number of grammar rules were never rules at all,” where he states, “Let me say this one more time: There is not now, and there never has been, any such ‘rule.'” This rule is not something we have to put up with. We are free to throw the bums out. We can debate if the floor is clean enough to eat off of. We can ask, “Who/whom do you write for?” Unless, of course, we prefer, “For whom do you write”? :-)

          1. Your re-write introduces a real error. I think you meant “From whence did this rule come?”.

            In YADATROT*, I can see only two possible reasons for writing:

            To gain fabulous amounts of money (The Al Gore Model); or,
            To gain personal satisfaction from the art form.

            I fall, at best, into the latter group, but I have noticed over the years that when I have created a satisfying missive of some form, that is subsequently lost through some clumsiness or other misfortune, I have NO drive to recreate it.

            *http://www.acronymfinder.com/Yet-Another-Desperate-Attempt-to-Remain-On_Topic-(forum-posts)-(YADATROT).html

  7. Hi Kevin. I’ve never had a web site and have less an inclination than ever. I’ve been in forums for so long not much is new just a lot repackaged, sometimes rougher and harder to digest. Creating a site for the illumination of my thoughts seems futile. On the positive there’s less vexation getting my point across where the simplest of common sense risks an endless maze. Another is being content with who I am.

    You seem like a nice guy. Be the person you know and like. When people respond you’ll know why, there’s no greater gratification. Learn to learn and be thankful.

  8. I can relate a wee tad, but just that bit. After the ’08 election, I killed off all my efforts to build and keep traffic to my blog and went back to my first purpose of serving my primary audience: the voices in my head. *heh* Now, traffic is a couple of orders of magnitude less than it once was, and I’m fine with that.

    Different strokes and all that.

    If you want to rebuild traffic a bit, you might look into the All In One SEO Pack plugin for WordPress. *shrugs* The freebie version does at least hit a few of the hot buttons for search engines. But hey! Take heart! An Instalaunche will put you in search engines’ sights, for a while at least. *heh*

    Oh, and please take this in its intended vein: “The site has dropped off search engine results and is getting 97% less [sic] impressions and thus no traffic.”

    That’s “fewer impressions”. :-) (“Less” and “fewer” trip up a lot of folks. And the Mass MEdia Hivemind doesn’t help, since “less” is pretty consistently misused by the faux-literates in the Hivemind. And again, please don’t blame me; my mom’s at fault. She was the English teacher. . . )

  9. Thanks for this, I stopped writing/blogging about one year ago but recently have been taking baby steps to restart. I appreciate your candor, and will likely use some of the steps you’ve outlined. Thanks.

  10. With mega-company rival Amazon buying Goodreads earlier this year, is Google looking to counter with their own online reading community? If so, they might want to concentrate book and author search results in some way. Or did your readership fall below some sort of threshold in Google’s search algorithm?

    For what it’s worth — like Mencken, I blog for myself. But I share freely.

  11. I write when I think I’ll enjoy it. I’ve never had too much traffic, but I keep writing. I just look at my efforts as journaling, except I keep it online, and if people come, I’m happy to have them.

    Chasing Google has just never worked for me.

    Nice post and I’m glad you experienced the Instalanche.

  12. Lesson one. If you start a blog post with a question: “This is the question I find my self asking these days.” State the question immediately, or at least in the first paragraph.

    You lost me at the first paragraph. Bye-bye.

  13. Re missing google traffic. The same subject is discussed over at one of the better tech blogs.

    http://www.cringely.com/2013/12/10/sisters-quilter-google-mugged/

    There are some very good suggestions in the comments to the post about how to get the google search traffic back . It seems google changed its result weighting to get rid of “spam” sites and some completely legitimate sites fell foul of the new search algorithm. So with a few simple changes you should be able to get your serendipic traffic back again.

  14. Amen, brother. I feel your pain.

    I got a website with 1.4 million total visits but the traffic is 20% of what is was 3 years ago. I was feeling sorry for myself until I read about your catastrophic decline in Google and now I’m feeling grateful for the 20%.

    Like you I changed the theme. Last weekend I remodeled the website.

    I went to archive.org to look at old versions of my website. I checked out the blogroll from a 2008 version and about three-quarters of the sites are gone or aren’t blogs now. It was, however, a fun tour down memory lane.

    Brainstorming.

    Try video blogging. It’s like blogs in 2003. The field is open. You’ll have much less competition and people may bond with you personally not just your writing. That’s a strategy I’m trying out but I may be too early, the bleeding edge.

    I’ve really enjoyed the interactions on a Google+ Community I created. I tried a bunch of different things but nothing has gotten near the engagement as that Google+ Community. It’s fun.

    Good luck.

    P.S. I hate grammar police.

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