Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On Losing Traffic, Going Cold Turkey With Stats, And Writing Well

Several weeks ago, I noticed that my daily unique visitor count was dropping. Each week, it dropped a little more. Soon it had dropped to about 60% of what it was during peak months. You might think an experienced blogger like me would just roll with it. Nope. Much hand-wringing ensued: Maybe they don't like me anymore, I thought. Maybe my posts are silly or trite. Maybe my days as of earning a living as a blogger were coming to and end. Blah, blah, blah. I increased my posting frequency (and thus my work hours), and it still didn't help.

Each time I looked at my stats my heart got a little heavier. The job that has always felt like play started to feel a lot more like work. I finally threw up my hands and decided to stop looking at my stats entirely. I went cold turkey. It was one of the best blogging decisions I've made.

Over the next couple of weeks, I stopped whimpering to myself how my dwindling traffic was affecting my advertising and affiliate income and instead devoted all my blogging energy to writing posts that were useful to my readers. I thought hard about what they cared about reading, and about what would make their lives better. I reevaluated the ads, widgets, and modules on my sidebar and edited them until the site was more useful than ever before. I spent more time making connections with other bloggers through blog comments and social media. I didn't look at my stats. It was a LOT more fun than worrying.

As often happens, when I let go a little, my problem went away on its own. It turns out that my traffic woes had been caused by a page loading problem at Baby Cheapskate that I had been unaware of. A reader tipped me off to it, I fixed it, and my traffic swiftly returned to where it should be. I guess you do still like me!

I love to feel in control. It's a character trait I'm not particularly proud of. The longer I blog (I'm coming up on four years now), however, the more I understand that traffic is cyclical and occasionally even capricious. Natural ebbs and surges in readership can be caused by anything from bad weather to school starting to whatever celebrity news is trending on Twitter. Uniques go up, but as I've learned, they can also go down. Why obsess, when you can write?

I guess I needed reminding that traffic is so much more than a statistic. It's so much more than an indicator of potential ad revenue. Stats don't read your blog. People do. Fundamentally, traffic is the dozens or hundreds or thousands of readers who visit your blog, and who return because they liked what they found there. The lesson? Write for readers, not for readership. Write well, write often, tell the world, and the numbers will take care of themselves.

Readers: Has your traffic ever decreased noticeably? What did you do about it?