How do I improve this blog? If you’re a regular reader, please share your thoughts

When I started blogging back in 2003, blogging was an exotic activity practiced by a few.  There was this sense that being able to serve as a curator and link to others was extraordinary, and that those bloggers who had a coherent point of view were very special.

Fast forward to 2009, where everyone and their neighbor have a blog of some sort, over 4 million people use twitter, and we rely on crowd-sourcing to help us discover interested and relevant information.

Not only is there lots more noise, there are lots more interesting bloggers with something valuable to share. Instead of having three or fifteen blogs I might read about organic gardening or Web 2.0 or parenting, there are 3,500 or some equally stunning amount.

At the same time that the number of blogs has exploded, some bloggers have grown into mini-moguls.  Josh Marshall, Markos, Perez Hilton, Dooce, Maggie Mason, Mike Arrington come to mind, along with many others, as bloggers who’ve grabbed–and kept–a lion’s share of the attention in their category, garnering enough traffic to expand their blogs into blog networks of one sort or another.  Not only is it hard for a new blogger to come along and break into those ranks (Pioneer Woman is the recent superstar that comes to mind), it’s hard to even get close to them.

Knowing these home truths, I made the decision back in September/October to try to start blogging here more regularly, and to do what I could to build my traffic–damaged by a domain change and feed switch from susanmernit.blogspot.com to susanmernit.com), along with some spotty and less than inspired posting (or lack of)–back up.

Five months into the endeavor, let me tell you–it is damn hard.  Yeah, the traffic has gone up, but it’s rough.

While I would not trade away the pleasure of sharing my views with people I care about, or exchanging ideas with others in the blogosphere–many of whom I don’t personally know–I don’t feel like I have actually succeeded in creating a blog people read and return to on an ongoing basis.  While I’ve written posts that have gotten significant attention and traffic, being a regular read of destination for a larger number of people just doesn’t seem to be happening in the way I’d hoped.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve given some thought to why that might be, and I am pondering what changed I’d want to make to bring the traffic up (as well as making the decision to change nothing and continue just as I am)
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Factor 1: Tech blogging has become a breaking news experience for the most part
This isn’t a new meme, but over the past four years, tech blogs have become ever more the trade journals of the industry, competing to break stories about new products, business deals and technologies.  As someone more interested in writing about the back story, user experience and tech in society, this is not a category I want to enter
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Factor 2: Lots of other tech blogs focus on round ups and how tos as ways to build their SEO traffic and deliver service value
Mashable is the epitome of the tech blog where one recurring feature is to cover the reader with data on a topic, and to list dozens of resources. ReadWrite Web does this as well. The 50 things about X is not my thing, but I do recognize that doing more lists, round-ups and service stories would be a way to increase traffic to this blog.

Factor 3: This blog lacks community
For whatever reason, mostly laziness and lack of time/making it a priority, I haven’t worked hard to create community on this blog. Readers do comment, but I do a poor job of engaging with them. By not working hard on community, I’ve bypassed one of the main reasons users engage with a blog–because it’s a flash point to have conversations with others that have value.  If I want to grow traffic here, building more community seems critical.
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Factor 4: Is the voice right?
There’s no question that the distance between who I am and the way I write is very short; this voice is authentic and all that.  However, I’m not someone who uses her blog to share lots of personal stories, aspirations, debates and struggles.

As impassioned as I am about women and tech, feminism, creating positive social change and so on, I don’t write about these things in a very personal diary-like way on this blog.  Should I? Am I missing a chance to engage more people by not writing about myself more specifically? Or is that just off topic from what most people find interesting? I have no idea.

Factor 5: You tell me–what would you like to see more of here that would make the blog more interesting to you on a daily basis?
 
Where should I be putting more effort that would improve the value?  I promise to listen to all suggestions and try those that make sense to me–and let you know what I think about all of them.

Latest Comments

  1. Evan Thompson says:

    Susan, you’re doing it all wrong, think about the blogs you reference as successful and the penny will drop.

  2. Ramin says:

    I’ve always thought starting at an end point and working one’s way backward to the present is a good way to come up with a roadmap. So it really depends on where you visualize your site being a year or two from now.
    You point to a number of sites that are ‘topic-specific’ — TPM or Kos (politics), Perez Hilton (gossip/celebrity), or Mashable (web services). Readers visit these sites because they want a hit of that subject matter. Your site, however, is a ‘personality’ site, meaning the subject matter is you — not a big secret as evidenced by the domain name :-)
    If you want to be more like those sites then you may want to change your focus and write about a subject you are passionate about then give it its own web-identity and let the readers discover it. Writing on this site, however, means you’re writing about yourself and what interests you in the broadest sense. People who visit will be those who know you personally or are interested in what you’re interested in.
    My sense is that blogs that fall under this category (personality-driven) and have a lot of return visitors tend to either offer unique information and insights not found elsewhere, or present a larger-than-life entertaining persona. So I guess my advice would be to either switch to a topic-based blog, make the postings here more unique and information-heavy, or let the inner zany take over and drive :-)

  3. Steve Shu says:

    Susan,
    You are a very experienced blogger, so take my comments for what they are worth and as an external observer.
    I think Ramin’s post has a lot of good info in there if a key goal is to build traffic in light of macrosphere of blogs these days. Personally I visit blogs because of either a laser focus on topics or persona. Perhaps like Ramin, I have followed your blog for many years because I see you as a persona on the web.
    FWIW – of the four factors you mentioned, my first blush would to reflect more on the community-building aspect (Factor 3) of your efforts. Though anecdotal, I think I have seen more blogs succeed (when using readership traffic as the metric) in spite of having the “odds” work against them because the authors focus a lot on community-building. But the term “community-building” is a bit ill-defined, and one may need to think about each activity as to whether it is predominantly geared towards either introducing the blog to new (hopefully sticky) readers or retaining existing ones. I have seen a lot of bloggers that have goals of building traffic use off-blog activities to reach out to new readers (e.g., via email).

  4. alevin.com says:

    Good advice from Ramin. I’d like to add – or both! Here’s the algorithm:
    Out of all of the topics you’re currently passionate about – Oakland food justice and sustainability culture, social media for nonprofit, internet-era journalism, women in tech, sexuality – where do you find that the things you want to read about are badly undercovered? And where do you see the community lacking key connections? Take one of those topics and turn it into your topic blog. Write where you see the underserved opportunity for information and community.
    Then, for the rest, keep your personal blog and make it even more personal, with your opinions, experiences, emotions (if you feel comfortable doing so, or the discomfort is the healthy kind).
    That way, you can become a key voice in an area you care about, and feel more free to have more dynamic range on the personal blog. I’ll keep reading regardless, since I’m not in the demographic that needs changes to read what you write.

  5. Susan Mernit says:

    Thanks for these good comments, Rahmin, Steve and Adina. They are helpful. You know, I feel my blog is successful, and I enjoy it, but I also want to improve it-hence this post. I think Adina hit a nail on the head–I have been intensely passionate about tech and social media usage–and still am–but the intense focus on breaking news of so many blogs in this category is a little frustrating (as is the lack of analysis and reflection and personal perspectives, which I try to provide.
    I like Steve’s idea of trying to build a stronger community which can also tie into being more “personal”. Most of all, I appreciate the over all feedback, which makes me glad I have such smart, thoughtful readers (not that I did not know that about you all before.)
    More to mull over, but thanks.

  6. carsenu.myopenid.com says:

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