Do Hits Matter?
According to a survey report by Perseus Development Corporation some 4.12 million blogs had been created by the time of the survey (2003?); 92.4 percent of the blogs were created by people under the age of 30, and teens accounted for more than 50 percent of the total blogs. The survey also estimated that 66 percent of the 4.12 million blogs created had been abandoned.
The numbers must have changed considerably since the survey, but overall blogging trends are likely to be quite stable. It is pretty clear that blogging is overwhelmingly favored by young people who have plenty of free time. The high proportion of young bloggers also suggests that many of the bloggers are trying to gain recognition via the web, but otherwise do not have any concrete objectives; most bloggers are blogging just for hits.
The problem with blogs that are only intended to attract traffic is that they can't survive in the long-run. Traffic statistics keep bloggers going for a while, but the numbers eventually stabilize: there can only be a 100,000 most popular 100,000 websites. The world just doesn't have enough internet users to support millions of traffic seeking blogs.
According to the aforementioned survey, some 132,000 blogs were abandoned even after being maintained for over a year. The survey didn't report the total number of blogs that had been maintained for over a year, but it is a reasonable assumption that a good fraction of blogs which get maintained for over a year still get abandoned.
Blogging is a time consuming activity, and people eventually get tired of investing in an activity which yields no returns. A good return on the time invested in maintaining a blog is the critical factor ensuring the continued survival of a blog. Blogs which produce monetary returns for their maintainers not only motivate bloggers to keep going, but also let them invest more time and resources in producing content.
The current blog abandonment trends are merely a consequence of the focus on hits instead of real returns. Hits are not returns, and they can't easily be transformed into returns. The few bloggers who try to transform hits into returns invariably focus on ad revenue. Unfortunately, ads cannot sustain millions of blogs, and never will. Some simple math makes this painfully clear. If 5 percent of a blog's visitors contribute 25 cents in ad revenue each, it will take 100,000 visitors a month just to make $1250. (See Howstuffworks web ads article for more realistic numbers.) Few blogs get a 100,000 visitors a month, and unless the average surfer starts visiting a few hundred new blogs each day this is not going to change. For bloggers ads are just not an option.
Most of the people who have made money via their blogs have done it by creatively marketing themselves. The really smart bloggers use their blogs' contents to highlight products/services they are able to offer. The products/services on offer can be as simple as the blogger's job skills, so this is something anyone can do. (See Why Personal Websites Matter for a more complete case for this kind of marketing.)
Hits are important under this model as well. However, the focus is on targeting a specific audience, and getting it to buy products/services on offer. A blog with tutorials on 3D graphics math might not get much traffic, but it might still land the blogger a job with a 3D game developer. The toughest part for bloggers in this approach is the wait for returns and the inability to put exact numbers on the returns. Twenty dollars in ad revenue is twenty dollars, but how much is a valuable contact or a job offer worth?
An excellent example of a blog that has been employed for marketing is Joel Spolsky's blog. Joel Spolsky writes about software development issues, and his articles are very highly regarded. Joel is also the founder of a small, but rapidly growing software company, Fog Creek Software. The extraordinary thing about Fog Creek Software is the marketing of its primary product, FogBugz. FogBugz is a very simple software application with loads of competition. Moreover, some of the competition comes without a price tag. Inspite of this FogBugz sells and sells well. FogBugz sells simply on the basis of the marketing power of Joel Spolsky's blog.
Compared to Joel Spolsky's blog the immensely popular ad dependent Slashdot is a complete disaster. Slashdot editors have been eternally begging for surfers to support the site by visiting sponsors, and buying subscriptions. Even after all the pleas for support the site doesn't seem to be all that profitable. The efficacy of the products/services marketing strategy is apparent in the traffic difference between the two sites. Alexa ranks Slashdot in the top 2000 sites while Joel Spolsky's blog has an Alexa rank closer to 57,000. Slashdot's immense popularity just doesn't compensate for its inferior business model.
Hits mean nothing without regards to a business model. A good business model can transform a small number of hits into large returns, and a poor business model can only achieve the opposite. If bloggers want to succeed, they have to get over their fixation with hits, and concentrate on better business models, and smarter marketing.
by Usman Latif [Oct 03, 2004]