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Lessons from my Tomato Patch on Pruning ‘Sucker’ Blogs

My-Tomatoes
Warning, Tangent Ahead – One of the best tips I’ve had in my new found hobby of growing vegetables is when it comes to growing Tomatoes (we currently have more than V and I can eat – so the tip is working).

The idea behind the tip is simple.

Tomato bushes grow fast in the right conditions and while they might start as a small seedling, left unchecked they will sprout out into all directions with new stems and can quickly become quite out of control and tangled. The result is that you end up with a very healthy looking bush – but because it is so large a lot of the energy that ideally should be being directed into growing fruit is wasted on growing leaves and stems and as a result your crop suffers.

The tip therefor is to look for ‘suckers’ and to prune them.

A sucker is a little shoot that grows out between two stems that can grow out into yet another stem (see picture below). In pruning them you keep the number of branches down and the bush doesn’t get out of control. Suckers also suck the energy away from your bush’s ability to grow fruit.

When I first heard this advice from my green thumbed friend it seems a little strange – surely one would want a big bush – wouldn’t that produce more fruit than a smaller one?

I decided to do a bit of an experiment. I let one bush go crazy and didn’t prune the suckers while I too the advice and removed them on my other bushes.

The results speak for themselves….

Trebor57 3I now have one out of control bush that stands taller than I do. It’s actually producing some fruit but is so out of control that it’s obvious that there is less tomatoes and that they are in worse condition and are smaller than what the other bushes are producing. The other problem with this unruly bush is that it’s got a lot of weight to it with so many branches and so yesterday (a hot windy day) it fell over and I lost a fairly large part of it and quite a few un-ripened tomatoes.

As per usual, as I worked on salvaging what was left of my sick tomato bush yesterday, my mind wandered to blogging and I began to ponder how pruning off ‘blog suckers’ might actually be something that bloggers might need to do from time to time.

Perhaps this is more a lesson for me as a blogger with multiple blogs – but I wonder if it might also be where others are at.

As I look at my blogs (I have quite a few) I can see that they have a range of performance levels. Some are doing fantastically in terms of traffic and earnings while there are others that even after many months only attract a handful of visitors per day and correspondingly make little money.

When I analyse how much time goes into these non performing blogs I realise that while I do spend a little less time on them, they do consume energy and time that I could be funnelling into more fruitful activities.

It’s easy to get to this position over time. You have hopes of your blogs being vibrant places of community around a topic – but some just never take off. You convince yourself that they just need more time, that maybe next time Google updates that things will click and you persist – all the time pouring energy into something that bears little fruit.

The advice I regularly give to bloggers is to persist over time. Good blogs do need to mature and can take years to get to a decent level – however there are also blogs (suckers) that are unlikely to ever succeed at anything other than distracting you from your more fruitful blogs.

I’m coming to a point where I’ll need to ‘prune’ some of my own sucker blogs. I’m not planning of deleting them all together (after all they do continue to get a little traffic and make a few dollars a week – which adds up over a year) but instead I’ll just stop giving them attention and allow them to die their own death in their own time. The beauty of not deleting them is not only that they continue to earn a little bit but that they are there if for some reason they ever do take off (either as a result of the topic becoming more popular or by the search engines reindexing in their favour).

I’m still a big believer in diversifying interests and think multiple blogs are a good strategy – however one needs to keep balanced and realistic in the way they spend their time. Afterall – bloggers working by themselves on multiple blogs can only really sustain so many blogs without the quality of their work (their fruit) suffering so once you get to a point of working at capacity – one smart way to grow is to ditch the unproductive areas to focus on what is working.

update: The more I ponder this topic (and I apologise for it’s longwindedness, I’m thinking outloud somewhat) the more I find myself thinking of a book I read in my last holidays called The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by Achieving More with Less by Richard Kosch.

In the book Richard argues that 80% of results usually comes from 20% of efforts. In identifying where the productive stuff happens you can increase productivity. Pruning the unproductive parts can help in this process.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Larson says:

    Thoreau’s famous quote sounds good here, “simplify, simplify, simplify…”

    I can appreciate where you’re going with this one, though I’m probably a hyperminimalist myself.

    The temptation to do more once a little success comes along is almost inescapable… I think one answer is to keep pounding on that one (or, in your case Darren, several) thing(s) and to not give in to the distractions that the success brings.

    And yes, remember to prune in the spring.

  2. Joe says:

    Hey Darren,

    You could always sell off the “little ones” and possibly make a profit from them that way.

    I know some vegars that buy the little tomato’s because they think they are worth eating.

    Just a thought.

    Joe

  3. Jonic says:

    Hi Darren, we don’t talk too much but I guess we know each other (you personally read and approved my b5 application)…

    I can’t help but wonder if you were thinking of b5 when you thought of ‘sucker’ blogs… b5 has a lot of them, and some of them must be underperforming… As a pro in this field you must recognise what makes a good blog, and I can’t help but think that you MUST regard some of our blogs as suckers…

    I’m not saying you’re preaching the whole ‘do as I say don’t do as I do’ mantra (you said yourself that you were thinking of your own blogs at the time), but there must be some blogs on b5 that don’t fit into the ‘niche market’ you’re always aiming for… They take up server space, bandwidth and manpower… They all, ultimately, cost money…

    I understand that yourself, Duncan, Shai and the mighty, mighty J aren’t running b5 to make a shed-load of money (although it must be on the itinerary somewhere), but b5 is currently standing at over 70 blogs. Are we spreading ourselves a little thinly?

    I guess my question is this: I know you have confidence in this venture (and believe me, I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to blog for b5), but are yourself and the others looking at pruning blogs closer to home than you’d like to say?

    I’m asking as a proto-professional in this field… I certainly don’t have anywhere near the cumulative experience under the belts of the four of you that are truly behin b5, but the question still stands… No disrespect meant, personal or professional, but I imagine it must have crossed your mind.

    I hope I haven’t spoken so loudly as to draw ire from you, but, as a b5 blogger, that was the first thing that leapt to mind…

  4. Mike says:

    I’d just put those ” suckers ” up for sale.

    After all, they could be worth $70,000 each.

  5. Darren Rowse says:

    Jonic,

    actually I wasn’t thinking of b5 at all. I think after just a few months that it’s way to soon to judge them. I’m sure there are some there that won’t perform as well as others, however in doing my latest tour of them all yesterday I can say that all of them are doing better than my worst blog or two in terms of traffic already.

    Pruning b5 blogs is not something we’ve had on our agenda at all to this point. We have decided to stop taking on new blogs that are not already in the pipeline though so that we can concentrate on raising the quality of what we’ve got so that is in the same spirit of this post I guess.

    The blogs I’m thinking about in this post are my own personal blogs that after more than a year of pretty average blogging on my part attract less than 50 daily visits and earn less than $1 per day.

  6. Darren, your success lies in the fact that you’re a mindreader. Your tomato analogy is one that hits home to me. I’ve currently got one problem blog in Syntagma Media, which I really want to succeed, but simply haven’t got the time or energy to drive into it. It needs the kind of energy you put into Problogger, or the guys over at Performancing do.

    The dilemma is whether to keep it ticking over, in which case I end up feeling guilty because I know I can do much better at it, or else drop it, or maybe sell it. It’s a tough call. There are a lot of tomatoes at stake. :-)

  7. Kashif says:

    Can’t agree more. It’s totally necessary to snap off that bush else the sucker will disturb the peace of whole plantation ;)

  8. I agree with some elements of Jonic’s comments above, but would say it differently. Obviously, one should launch blogs that seemingly have potential to reach a valuable audience.

    As Darren has said before, every idea will not hit a homerun and letting some of the disappointments go (after a reasonable effort)would allow b5 to lift the ban on new blogs, freeing some resources, and creating some new excitement for the network.

  9. The problem with this, and why it doesn’t quite match the tomatoes (which I’m very good with) is that you don’t know ahead of time where everything will lead. As I like to say, “Life is not the flight of an arrow but a tangled web that we weave.” Sometimes things that we do end up becoming surprise successes and other things that we were so focused on as being the “right way” turn out to be the suckers rather than main branches. Only time will tell. Hindsight is so great. Still, this does not lessen you’re conclusion that it is a good idea to reevaluate and trim off the unproductive suckers from time to time.

  10. Kathy says:

    Interesting you write about this. I’ve been thinking the very same things myself for the past several weeks – maybe it’s a new year’s thing? :) In any case, I wrote a similar article “The Importance of Patterns and Plans” a couple of weeks ago that basically brought me to the same conclusion: Focus more on the sites/blogs that are bringing the best returns.

    I won’t delete any of my 100+ sites, because like you, they make a bit of money here and there. I actually have a couple that bring in $100+ each month without my having to touch them. But I won’t keep stressing about getting new stuff added to so many of them this year. They can just sit and mature, bring a little pocket change in here and there, and I’ll consider doing something more with them in the future. For now… I plan to cultivate the cream of the crop ;)

  11. pcunix says:

    So many of us seem to be moving in sync :-)

    I had spun off three blogs from my ancient home site, but after a few months put in 301 redirects to bring them back home. I AM going to close them down in a few months (giving the 301 time to do its work), because their content gets more traffic after having been brought “home” than it did as separate sites – which is surely a consequence of Google “knowing” my original site far better than it knew these new little puppies. More traffic equals more potential income, of course :-)

    I also had trouble keeping up with four blogs – I’m not “full time” at this (I would be if it paid just a little better, but it doesn’t yet), so one is more my speed.

  12. Kyle says:

    I have always had this fasination with plants and watching them develop. My insperation came from a very well known plant that is unnamed in this blog. this being so i began to put my fasination to work and started my very first tomato plant. ive done alot of research and found that the best tip for growing is to remove all your lower stems below your first blooms and plant the main stalk into the ground just below the flowering blooms. doing this will create more routs from the stalk in return giving your plant more nuitrients. My plant is doing very well and developing 10 to 15 tomatos in its first flowering.