This is a guest contribution from author and freelance writer Steff Green.
Like that sparkly rhinestone jacket you purchased last year but suddenly realise is actually kind of hideous, blogging trends change with the seasons. What was once the mark of a high-quality blog now screams of incompetence. Readers are fickle and changing, apt to desert you at a moments notice when something new and shiny and rhinestone-encrusted comes along.
But could blogging actually be dying?
Many sources confirm that it is. The Guardian points to statistics showing the amount of blogs started by teens has halved since 2006, and massively declined among millennial. Jason Kottke, writer of one of the longest-running blogs on the web, states that the blog’s demise came about because the fundamental purpose of blogging was no being fulfilled with other media. In her Atlantic piece titled 2013: The Year “The Stream” Crested, Alexis C. Madrigal discusses the idea that content online is now organised by preference and importance, rather than chronology, rendering the format of the blog obsolete.
“Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over instagramming or snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.” – Jason Kottke.
With social media platforms becoming the online communication too du jour, and with smartphones and other devices becoming for many the preferred platform, blogs have fallen to the wayside in favour of shorter, punchier messages specifically tailored to hit a reader’s buttons.
So what does this mean for you, the blogger? Are you scared? I’m not. And here’s why. I know that whatever changes come about, there are always people out there who need to know things, or need to be entertained. I know things, and I’m mildly amusing, so as long as I’m creating content, it will find an audience, even if that audience – and the way they find and digest that information – may change.
Here are some changes I’ve noticed, and some ideas for how you can stave off your blog’s untimely death:
People are less interested in following blogs
I’ve found that subscriber numbers are way down on all the blogs I manage. The use of feeds has diminished since Google Reader was laid to rest, and I think when Gmail and other clients started filtering promotional material away from the “Primary Inbox”, blog updates via email became less important.
With dwindling subscriber lists, what do you do to keep your readership intact?
What you can do about it:
- Just because people aren’t subscribing, doesn’t mean they aren’t reading. People are more likely to follow your blog on social media – clicking through to your links when you post them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
- Take advantage of this swing towards social media use by ramping up for social presence. One thing I like to do is post an article link a couple of times over the week, to increase the chances of people seeing it. I also frequently post links to older articles from my archives.
- Look at new ways to boost subscriber rates by offering something different. Many bloggers are transitioning into “media hubs” – a place where many different stories and opinions and ideas and media are collected and disseminated. Offer content that can be shared on social media with ease and keep people coming back by giving them a whole lot more of what they want.
- Rebrand your blog so it’s not a “blog”. Instead of a blog tab in your navigation bar, call it “Steff’s Thoughts” or “Helpful Tips” or “Articles” – recreate yourself, move away from the title of “blogger” and start thinking of your website as a media business.
Guest Blogging Isn’t As Valuable As it once Was
I’ve been finding my recent guest blogging aren’t yielding the results I’ve come to expect. Whereas a post written for a A-grade blog in 2012 might generate 300 hits to my site, these days it might only generate 30.
People are paying less and less attention to the bio links in posts, and Google is, too. Host blogs, hounded constantly by advertisers looking for low-cost linkbacks, have tightened their submission guidelines to the point that getting in is almost as strenuous as a job application at Google.
Yet, despite the changes in the guest-blogging space, many bloggers are still citing this technique as one of the core methods of building a following. So, what do you do to improve your guest blogging results?
What you can do about it:
- Don’t write off guest-blogging altogether – it still has its place. You just have to be more strategic about it.
- Instead of randomly choosing 20 sites to target for guest blogs, focus on building ongoing relationships with 1-3 popular sites. Become a regular contributor. Allow that audience to get to know you through regular posts. This is how you get them to start following you.
- Choose topics that require specific examples from your own sites and businesses. This way you can talk about your personal experience and, as you describe yourself as a case studies, readers are more likely to be interested in your work and click through.
- Pull together resources with other bloggers to create awesome products like free webinars or documents. “Free” is still a great way to attract new readers to the top of your funnel. For example, the team at First Site Guide created this incredible Start a Blog guide with advice from some of the best bloggers in the business. It was a real team effort and has provided a free resource that I personally find incredibly useful.
People Interact on Social Media, Not Your Sites
So how many blog comments do you get, huh? Is it anything like the number you had four years ago? I doubt it very much. Practically every blogger I’ve talked to has said comments are on the decline. Why? Two words: social media.
Readers are not only using social media to find your content, they are also using their favourite platforms to interact with it, and you. A reader is more likely to share your post on Facebook and leave a comment there than write something on the blog itself.
If your readers are flocking to social media to discuss your posts, what can you do to steer them back to your site?
What You Can Do About It?
- First of all, I think you should let your readers take the lead with how and where they want to discuss your posts. If discussion is moving on to social media, than I say, “embrace it!”
- Delete the comment function of your blog altogether, or at least hide the number of comments on a post, so readers aren’t always seeing a big “0 comments” after the post title.
- Focus on building and engaging with your audience on one or two of your favourite social media platforms. Discuss topics, ask questions, post interesting links and get them to talk with you throughout the day, not just when you post an article. Don’t try to be everywhere at once, but use the platforms you enjoy to build your audience.
- At the end of your blog posts, invite readers to share and discuss your content on Facebook.
- Post content on your social media you don’t post on your blog. I like to share funny links and music videos throughout the day on my Facebook page.
Monetization of Sites
Readers have started to get smart to the methods of blog advertising – they might avoid affiliate links, scoff at “sponsored content” and glance over your sidebar ads without a single click. Google is punishing the selling of text links and other types of sponsored content. It seems that selling advertising is no longer a way to create a viable income stream.
And it’s not just advertising. With the advent of the kindle and readers coming to expect ebooks for $2.99, revenue from ebook sales on blogs have dwindled.
Or is it? Here’s what you can do to jump-start monetization on your blog:
What can you do about it?
- Bloggers are getting truly entrepreneurial and thinking about monetization from outside of the context of their blogs. For example, Elsie and Emma from A Beautiful Mess – a simple DIY blog – created an app allowing users to add doodles and words on top of their images. The app became one of the most popular.
- Other bloggers are stepping out from behind the keyboard and building branded content in a live setting. The three bloggers behind The Blogcademy, for example, are running live workshops all around the world.
- Chunky advertorial posts just won’t cut the mustard any more. Blog readers want something more authentic. Brands are still working with bloggers but many are looking for sophisticated content partnerships.
- Other writers are using their blog as a platform to launch creative projects that might not necessarily have much to do with the topic of their site. For example, I am writing and publishing dark fantasy fiction, and my site is a music website, but I’m using it as my platform as many music fans also enjoy dark fantasy.
I’ve been blogging since 2008, and I’ve seen many different trends rise and fall. It can be hard when something we’ve come to rely on no longer works, but I think it’s important to see every setback as an opportunity in disguise – allowing us as bloggers to shift focus, re-evaluate, change things up and take risks.
Steff Green is a writer, blogger and heavy metal maiden living off-grid in rural New Zealand with her cantankerous drummer husband, a menagerie of animals and their medieval sword collection. Check out her dark fantasy novel, The Sunken, or subscribe to her blog for updates and free books.