Some blogs attract large numbers of visitors and become well known even outside blogging circles. Admirable as they may be, however, they constitute only a tiny minority of the total blog population. Most blogs operate at a far quieter level. My remarks concern the average public personal blogs which I think make up the majority.
Many such bloggers will tell you that they write for themselves and don’t care how many visits they receive, even if this number is zero. If that were true, though, why are they writing a public blog at all? Why not make the blog private or simply keep a diary offline? The answer, surely, is obvious: We write public blogs because we hope that others will read them and find them interesting.
This being so, we are also interested in who visits our blog, how many they are and why they come to our blogs.
The how many is answered by the blog platform’s statistical function or by the data provided by whatever hit counter you use. To a greater or lesser degree, this also tackles the who question because some services offer a detailed analysis of visits including their geographical distribution. Answering the why, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult.
The blogger may consider him- or herself fortunate to have attracted a core of regular visitors who read all – or at least, most – of the posts and express their interest by leaving relevant comments. That, to my mind, is the most enjoyable aspect of blogging, apart from writing the blog in the first place. If you reply to the comments, this adds to the pleasure and helps create a feeling of community.
However, even if you are indeed fortunate enough to attract a group of blog friends, you will most likely receive far more visits to your blog than theirs. You will probably find, too, that some of your posts are more popular than others, as indicated by the number of hits they receive. For example, a post of mine about tattoos, a light-hearted article on a topic not particularly close to my heart, became, much to my surprise, my all-time most visited post. Another one, on Chichester, is visited regularly, and appears in the statistics on most days. At first sight this is puzzling but I think there is an obvious explanation for this (see below).
We can say, then, that a personal blog is likely to have a core of regular visitors and what might be termed a “cloud” of sporadic visitors, by which I mean visitors who appear once and never return. The interesting question is why these “sporadics” come to the blog in the first place. I think they come from three sources.
The first source consists of the small number of people who actively surf blog-space, looking for interesting blogs to read and perhaps add to their blogrolls. I think we all do this from time to time. All being well, they will happen upon your blog and perhaps the odd one will tarry a while and even become a core follower.
The second source concerns subject-matter: these are people who are looking for blogs on specific topics, either because they are researching the topic or because they write about it themselves and are looking for other like-minded bloggers. This is where “tags” and “categories”, or whatever your platform calls them, are important. For example, write a blog about cats and apply the tag “cats” and cat-lovers will find and read your post.
The third source is one that I think is often overlooked. In fact, I overlooked it myself until I suddenly realized where the bulk of my visitors where coming from and why certain posts were achieving a high level of hits. What is it? Why, search engines, of course.
Type a word or phrase into Google or Yahoo! and what happens? You receive literally thousands of “results”, as Google calls them. This harvest will contain all sorts of references from “sponsored” links, through dictionary and encyclopaedia entries, to every sort of Web site and… blogs.
Type in “millennium bridge”, for example, or “Chelsea Football Club”, and among all the obvious references you will also see blogs which mention these subjects. The evidence convinces me that the majority of the hits I receive on my blog come from search engines, that is, from people who are not looking for my blog, are not particularly interested in my blog, do not stay long once they arrive and are there only because the search engine brought them there.
This explains why some posts receive many more hits than others: they refer to topics that are popular ones on search engines.
There is another interesting aspect to this that may also be missed. Search engines work by finding all sites that include the words in the search string. It is logical, therefore, to suppose that the bigger a site, and the more words and phrases it contains, the more likely it is to be caught in a search. Now consider your blog: assuming you are an active blogger, your blog grows over time; it gets bigger and bigger and, therefore, contains more and more words and phrases as time passes. Conclusion? The conclusion is that the older your blog, the more likely it is to score hits in search engines and therefore, the higher the number of daily visits that you experience.
Oh dear, have I spoilt your illusion that your blog was becoming more and more popular with passing time? That may well be true and I hope it is, but it may also be the case that it is simply scoring more and more hits on search engines as its store of words and phrases increases. The popularity of my posts on tattoos and Chichester is not owing to their excellence, but to the fact that people are interested in these topics and are looking them up on Google!
You will see this if you subscribe to one of those blog statistics sites that shows how much time visitors spend looking at individual pages on your blog. How long does it take to read a post? Even if it is only a short one, an attentive reader will take at least several minutes to read and think about it. If your statistics show that visits last 1 or 2 seconds, that means the visitor clicked, wasn’t interested and moved on.
As a tailpiece, let me add that there is one kind of visitor that unwittingly gives an indication of the popularity of your blog. I refer to those people who contact you through your email address, if you give one, or through comments, and propose some sort of deal. Typically this will be a request to accept advertising banners or links whether for money (though this is rare) or in return for offers such as vouchers, reciprocal links or some free service, perhaps providing you with “professionally written” blog posts “specially tailored to your blog and your readers’ needs”.
Let’s face it, these folk are cheapskates who think they can con bloggers into advertising their business for nothing or next to nothing. They also hope that the links will help enhance their rating on search engines. They are really only one step up from spammers and scrapers. However, they do also suggest that your blog is attracting notice, some small compensation for the irritation they cause.
People blog for many reasons. In fact, one might almost say that each blogger has a unique set of motives for pursuing this form of self-expression. Personally, I find that creating a post is a satisfying activity to which the possibility that it will be read (one hopes with pleasure) by others, adds an extra buzz. Frequent visitors and their comments are the cream on top of the cake.
However, it is all too easy to become obsessed with visitor statistics and to under- or overestimate the blog’s standing in Blogworld. There is a parallel between this and estimating one’s own importance in the world. If you look at it that way, it becomes obvious that blog rankings, however accurate and professional the ranking organizations claim to be, is far from being an exact science. In fact, it is little more than smoke and mirrors and should not be taken too seriously.
The best way to proceed, I think, is to enjoy one’s blogging and to regard comments and other contacts as a bonus. That is not to say that checking one’s statistics is not fun, for it is – but just as long as one does not become obsessive about it.