How to Blog

Debunking the Traffic Myth: Why Success Isn’t All About the Numbers

4 Comments 15 March 2012

So here’s what will happen: you’ll start a blog. It will look awesome. You will be obsessed, staying up all night to configure it and fill it out with new amazing content. You will stand back in pure awe as the light shines down on you. How could you have created something so insanely beautiful? It will only be a matter of time until Oprah is calling you and Random House is begging you to write a book.

Now, you need to find a way to chart your traffic. Google Analytics is awesome and it’s free, but it only reloads once a day. If you are anything like me, this will drive you insane. I like checking my traffic throughout the day, so I use Sitemeter, which I love. It updates in real time, and teaches you about your traffic sources in a simple way that even I can understand.

So you set yourself up with an analytics program, and you’re rearing to go, and you have your amazing content, and you refresh, and you have…. 10 visitors. 10 VISITORS? What is this? Didn’t Rebecca Black’s “Friday” have some 30 million views? How are you going to get on Oprah at this rate?

Then, the best part, is that for weeks that number doesn’t budge. Your Facebook fanpage has 46 likes. Your twitter has 30 followers. Even your mom is forgetting to read your blog. And then every time you tell someone about your blog, the first thing they say is “how much traffic do you get?”

So you have no idea what to say. “I get 10 people.” You duck like they’re going throw something at you.

You feel like a massive failure. There is no point to this nonsense. It’s time to pack up your website and move on to another hobby.

STOP! Don’t do it!

You are wrong about traffic! EVERYONE is wrong about traffic!

You’re Comparing Yourself to the Wrong People

We all compare our traffic to things that have gone viral and gotten hundreds of thousands of hits. This, probably, isn’t going to happen for you. If it DOES happen to you, it will be after years of having an online presence or a successful business. More than anything, though, it depends on what you’re creating.

Massive viral traffic is more conducive to certain types of media – wedding photos that spread like wildfire on Pinterest, funny videos on YouTube, or LolCats images. Just because these things are rampant, making their own memes and attracting thousands of visitors, doesn’t mean that they should set the standard for effective blogging and internet marketing.

For instance, Nyan Cat took over the world. Chase has made us listen to it for hours. It’s hilarious.  It has over 1.7 million likes on Facebook. But I can’t, for the life of me, figure out who made it. I think it’s credited to a “PR Guitar Man,” whatever that means.

At the end of the day, it’s a diversion, a funny little thing, it isn’t the beginning of a great book deal or a solid business.

Big Traffic Doesn’t Always Mean Better Business

When it comes to money or making a difference, loyalty is more valuable than quantity. Nyan Cat may have millions of followers, but it’s a diversion, not a tool. I can’t imagine many of those millions have taken out their credit card to buy Nyan Cat products. Turning something like Nyan Cat – which is free – into a business model is a very difficult transition.

On the other hand, someone with a well-written blog might have 20 followers, but those 20 followers become like friends. They want to know your thoughts. They respect you. They admire you. As time goes on and they comment on your posts, begin talking to you on twitter, and you exchange emails or Skype, you begin to admire them, too. It’s an amazing feeling when you’ve reached amazing people and they like you. It’s the greatest compliment in the world. So, soon, it becomes a sort of community, your blog. If you suddenly are diagnosed with cancer, they’re going to cry with you. When you have a baby, they’ll smile with you. When you write about something embarrassing that’s happened to you, they laugh with you and share their own embarrassing stories. 20 people, when you think about it that way, is a LOT of people. I have never in my life connected with 20 different girlfriends over the course of a week, much less a day or an hour. 20 people taking the time to listen to and engage in what you have to say is a big deal, it’s a huge deal.

Lewis Caroll QuoteIf you’re working on growing your business through your website or blog, it’s important to remember that most people in the world do not have the necessary interest in, or money to, purchase what you’re selling. If you invest thousands of dollars in SEO only to attract thousands of non-qualified buyers to your site, you’ve effectively just spend thousands of dollars for the ego boost of traffic. You might as well have gone to a club and bought table service to get some quick and easy attention.

With many businesses, not only is it not necessary to have tons of traffic, but you might not even want to deal with all of that traffic. If you are selling consulting hours, you only have so many hours in a day. You want a few well-qualified clients that are able to pay your fee. That’s all. You don’t have time for hundreds of false inquiries a day – those just use up time, and that time is money.

 Depending on Your Goals, Traffic Can Be Limiting

Leo Babauta, founder of the insanely popular blog Zen Habits, wrote this about the downsides of reaching his first 100,000 subscribers:

“While I hate to be complaining about success, there are downsides to having so many readers. I should mention them for anyone who is considering shooting for such a large audience:

    • I can’t be as intimate with my readers. When I only had a few hundred readers, I knew most of them – or at least, the ones who commented frequently. I felt close to them. These days, with such a large audience, it’s impossible to have that kind of relationship with my readers, and that’s a loss I feel greatly. I still love my readers, but I miss the old days, too.
    • I don’t have as much time for writing guest posts. Managing a blog with this many readers takes up more time than Zen Habits did when it was much smaller. This gives me less time for writing posts on other sites, which I miss – it’s always great to connect to new audiences.
    • I’m a little more self-conscious about what I write. I used to have a lot more freedom and carelessness about my writing – I didn’t have much care of some people didn’t like it. But these days, I am more careful, as I know my posts are going out to 100K people. This is a natural thing, I think, and inevitable. It’s also not all bad – it helps push me to write my best, all the time.” (1)

Often, people create blogs in order to keep in touch with family and friends all over the country. This becomes hard when you’re worried about what thousands of people are thinking. The truth is, less exposure means you can be more private and open with the people that do want to read.

Sometimes I’ve even considered starting an anonymous blog. Something with no marketing, no traffic, that isn’t attached to my name. That would give me an outlet to talk candidly about  the people in my present and future without worrying who will read it or who will get their feelings hurt, and will be able to write without representing or compromising the MsMorphosis brand. There’s beauty in anonymity, in being under the radar.

Jobs & Networking

One of the most powerful things about a blog or website in this economy is that it serves as an online portfolio. If you have an appropriate site, you can put it in your resume or tweet it to an industry professional.  These people are going to be more impressed with the quality of your product than how many followers you have. In fact, often it’s a sad truth that to get masses of followers it often takes dumbing down your material. This might get you tons of followers, but it definitely won’t impress anyone looking to hire you. I’ve often talked about how for over a year I got more Google traffic on my blog MsMorphosis from my unofficial Jersey Shore glossary than from anything else. Yes, it got me traffic, but it didn’t get me much traffic that would linger. The types of people that are not only watching Jersey Shore but Googling it as well are probably not as very to be interested in my main topics which revolve around insightful approaches to different facets of female self-improvement. Maybe they are, but they certainly aren’t in the mood for that nonsense while they’re Googling Jersey Shore lingo.

When I got my job as a marketing director because of MsMorphosis, MsMorphosis was only getting around 80 visitors (on a good day). It didn’t matter, they weren’t hiring me because I was a famous internet personality – they were hiring me because my website demonstrated my technical skills, my writing skills, my personality, and my ability to self-motivate and create something with visual and intellectual appeal. When I applied to that company, I included information about MsMorphosis on my resume. Although I was applying for a different position, they asked me how I would feel about taking over their marketing department – because my website demonstrated that I already had a solid foundation and the right personality for the job.

So then, when does traffic matter?

Traffic matters when you’re selling advertising exposure. This is the model utilized by platforms like YouTube, which will pay people like Jenna Marbles lots of money to keep making her videos. They are able to demonstrate to advertisers that her videos get x amount of viewers, and when that number is large they can demand a pretty hefty sum for that exposure. If you have any sort of advertising on your site that pays for your the number of times the ad is displayed, you are entirely reliant on getting more visitors.

Another benefit of traffic is internet clout –  the ability to command attention because you’re viewed as an authority in your niche. People are more likely to take your advice if you have 100,000 twitter followers instead of 10.

One final way traffic can be imperative is when your business model is hinged on a product that’s inexpensive, so it requires you selling a lot of it. If you’re selling greeting cards for $2.99 a piece, you need to sell a lot of greeting cards to make a living. If roughly 3-5% of your traffic converts to sales (customers willing to actually shell out some dough and make a purchase) then you’re going to need a TON of incoming traffic to make the plan viable.

Final Note

Having a big, successful blog is a beautiful thing. As Leo Babauta explains, “My blogging success has changed my life. It has allowed me to completely eliminate my debt and become financially secure. It has allowed me to achieve a dream I never thought possible before: to quit my day job and become my own boss. Now I own my own business, I work from home – or anywhere I feel like working – I set my own hours, and I do work that I’m passionate about.”

My goal isn’t to discouraging you from growing your blog and online presence, my goal is to show you that there is value in the journey – not just the result. My other goal is to demonstrate that traffic is one metric of blogging success, but it isn’t the whole story. You can have a lucrative business with a relatively small amount of internet traffic. The important thing, above all, is to understand your goals and work towards them accordingly. If your goal is to network with industry professionals, then by all means do NOT cheapen your content to appeal to more people and grow a statistic that really only you see. If your goal is to land a few clients a month for your consulting business, then focus on reaching the RIGHT people, not MORE people. If your goal is to grow a huge blog, it will take time. There are amazing parts to growing and reaching more people, but don’t give up in the meantime. That’s a piece of the puzzle, not the whole journey.


(1) Source: Free Report from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits - ”How I got 100,000 Subscribers in Two Years.” Get it by downloading the Free Blogger’s Toolbox.

Jennifer Gargotto Consulting

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Your Comments

4 Comments so far

  1. Ann says:

    Thank you for this article. I definitely see the benefit of having a few regular readers and commenters rather than massive amounts of people who stop in for one post and never come back. Would still be great to get more readers, but that definitely takes time.
    Ann recently posted..Five Weekend HighlightsMy Profile

    • MsMorphosis says:

      Absolutely, thank you for reading :) It’s definitely a balance. Like any business, numbers matter. Numbers make us feel good, and give us more of an ability to leverage our clout and authority into a business. Unfortunately though, for many people, numbers become the reason they give up – even though they can still reach many of their goals with the visitors they have at the moment.

      Like anything, it’s about knowing your goals and applying the appropriate strategies to reach them. Keep blogging, your site looks great!

  2. Michael says:

    Really enjoyed reading this. It gave me a new perspective on what it means to have a “successful” blog.

    • MsMorphosis says:

      I’m so glad it was helpful :) It took me years to put the pieces together and really change my paradigm. I’m so glad to see you here!! :)

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