Traffic Is Vanity

I was looking at this site’s stats the other day, and I re-learnt something I’d known a long time ago, from my days in magazine publishing: numbers are sheer vanity.

Like most bloggers I get regular spam promising me that if I just buy some little doohickey for the site I will explode on the Internet. My site traffic will soar. It will feature more prominently in Google searches. Etc. etc. Here’s why I ignore these messages (and probably always will): I don’t care about traffic — by itself, traffic means nothing.
Of course, it depends what you’re setting out to achieve. If you want to build a huge audience for advertisers, you need eyeballs: an audience. But if you think advertisers don’t care who that audience is, as long as you can show them big enough numbers, think again. Advertisers want to be able to qualify their audiences. That way, they can tailor their messages to their audience, and spend less cash getting their messages to the right consumers.

But I don’t really care about that, because I don’t write this blog to attract advertising (just as well really). So traffic — by which I mean sheer numbers — doesn’t concern me. Of course, I want readers. But not any readers at any cost.

So when I look at my traffic numbers and note that a large number of readers are driven to my site by (for example) searching for ‘ugly Afro’, I shake my head. These are not my peeps. They will take one look at the site and leave for ever, in all probability. And I don’t even care. I’m not interested in traffic for traffic’s sake. If that seems arrogant, it’s not. Far from it.

My major goals for this blog are a) to build a platform for my writing, and b) to achieve some visibility in the publishing world. Now, I realize those are mighty ambitious goals for a humble little blog, but I didn’t (and don’t) expect to achieve them overnight. If I achieve them at all, I will achieve them by slowly building an audience. A loyal readership. It’s a steady-as-she-goes, tortoise-not-hare approach. But it’s the only one that makes any sense, given my goals. To me, a reader who is also a literary agent, or an editor of a magazine is worth a million random page views.

I suspect, if you write a blog, the same is probably true for you too. So focus less on numbers (Seth Godin says he doesn’t even look at his) and more on your goals. If you’re looking to attract a certain type of reader, seek out their blogs and comment on their posts. Engage with them. Swap links. Quote them in your own blog and on your Twitter feed. Not willy-nilly, but in a disciplined way which will gain you a sustainable following.

Now, my other blog, that’s another matter. I started that for a bit of fun. I didn’t really have an aim in mind, I was just riffing for the hell of it. And (while I haven’t posted to it in a while) I’ll continue to add to it because it doesn’t actually take very long, and I have fun doing it. And that’s OK too.


2 responses to “Traffic Is Vanity

  1. Love the advice! I agree — if you focus on the numbers, then the quality goes down.

    Mark Blasini

  2. Phil, thank-you. I’ve been struggling with this very thing. Lots of hits but relatively few comments.
    On a whim, (and thanks to WordPress’ new tracking system) I checked my hits this year versus last year. Like you said, they are steadily growing. Not in leaps and bounds, mind you, but reader by reader. And that’s the goal, isn’t it.
    I’d say timely post, but I found it late.
    Great words of advise.

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