I stumbled upon a sad tweet a few days ago…
… and not surprisingly, a lot of people chimed in saying “don’t give up, we still prefer reading”. Unfortunately, it does seem like the amount of worthy content is constantly decreasing, and way too many quality blogs disappeared over the years, so I’ll try to lift the veil of depression a bit ;)
Smart People READ Technical Content
It depends on how you read stuff, but I’m reading way faster than anyone can (comprehensibly) talk1. It’s relatively easy to go through a few hundred pages of product documentation in a morning while extracting useful tidbits for a webinar once you know what you’re looking for and which bits to skip. Try doing that with a video. Try going back-and-forth with a video. Try searching. Try copy-pasting configuration commands. You get the idea.
Even better, written content is usually of higher quality than a typical self-made video. Nobody (in their right mind) would press the Publish button after dumping their stream-of-consciousness2 into text format. Most video authors have no such reservations, resulting in a 10-minute video that is usually condensible into a blog post that could be read in a minute or two.
Some people try to get around that by speeding up the videos. Supposedly that doesn’t hurt comprehension (at least there’s a 2-column paper claiming that), but that’s not how it works for me. At 1.25x speed I’m usually losing bits and pieces, and it all falls apart at 1.5x speed. Maybe I’m just too old for that.
Takeaway: smart people people who want to learn complex technical topics eventually figure out why it’s better to read than to watch videos. People who want to be entertained watch videos because you can do that even when you’re too tired to think3.
On a related note, you might want to read Deep Work and Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Unfortunately, his podcast leans toward the stream of consciousness format, proving it’s really hard to produce hour-long ad-lib content on your own.
Focus on Loyal Audience
There are tons of reasons why someone invests time into creating content (more about that at some other time), and we all want to see the impact of our work… but don’t focus on vanity metrics. Page visits don’t matter. Random visitors sent your way by Google et al. don’t matter… unless they find your content so valuable that they want to consume more of it4.
Eventually you’ll reach a few people who find your content valuable. Make sure it’s easy for them to stay in touch – you SHOULD offer both an RSS feed and email notifications.
RSS works best for me. I rarely skip entries in my RSS reader. If I added an RSS feed, it must have been good enough to warrant at least a glance, and if I made a mistake, I’ll remove it from the list of feeds I’m tracking.
Some people love email notifications, others hate them. I’m willing to go through the hassle of sharing my email address if the content is top notch; if I’m stumbling across something vaguely interesting without an RSS feed I’m just walking away. On the other hand, the only way to reach a lot of people is through email. It’s amazing how many course- and webinar registrations I get after a focused mailing.
Speaking of loyal audiences and hassle – stay away from “we’ll happily harvest and monetize the data of your visitors, and make their life miserable with continuous ‘upgrade now’ prodding” sites like Medium. It’s trivial to set up a static blog with Hugo and publish it on GitHub, GitLab, or CloudFlare, or you could start on a site that accepts quality guest posts like Packet Pushers (you can find an occasional guest post on my blog as well).
Takeaway: Whatever your goals are, the impact you’re making is not equivalent to random page views. Offer loyal audiences a way to keep in touch with your content, and measure that if you want to have tangible metrics. You might also get a nice surprise bumping into random people at a conference (or at a customer visit) who happen to recognize you based on your writing. That’s worth way more (to me) than some random number produced by counting browser cookies.
Nobody Else Will Do Your Job
A friend of mine complained that only 2% of his followers see his Facebook posts. No surprise there – a lot of users follow tons of random stuff, and even the graduates of Facebook academy have limited attention span. Add the attention-grabbing algorithms on top of that, and it’s easy to see why your wonderful “this is how you design and configure VRFs on a CSR1K in Azure” blog post doesn’t get the visibility it deserves.
Spreading the word about your content is your job. Of course you should use the social media, but don’t expect them to do miracles. I get 6% of the visitors through social media even though I post a link to every article on Twitter and LinkedIn, and 2% through referrals (links on other web sites).
Don’t Expect Feedback
Thank you for such wonderful content
… said no passer-by ever. The most you can hope for is a thoughtful comment, and even they are rare. In a random week in spring 2022, my blog had ~10K unique visitors5, and they left less than 20 comments.
Interestingly, LinkedIn posts generate more comments (because I made it a bit hard to comment on my blog), but some of them tend to be knee-jerk reactions.
Don’t Give Up
So your blog has 250 views a day (or a week) and a comment every other week? Don’t give up, keep going. It took me years (with almost-daily publishing schedule) to get a reasonable audience, and I was pretty early in the game.
It’s definitely harder to reach readers these days – the Internet is full of noise and low-quality **** (see also: Sturgeon’s law) – but there’s a shortcut: a few of us are still publishing curated links to good content. After writing a masterpiece, send a nice email with a link to it to Packet Pushers, Russ White, Scott Lowe, or myself.
I know people who have to read aloud in their mind (that obviously limits their reading speed), but I have no idea how widespread that is. ↩︎
Which happens to be incoherent rambling unless you did tons of preparations. ↩︎
The end result is obviously just a waste of time, but it’s amazing how much time we’re willing to waste. ↩︎
If you use something like Google Analytics, focus on percentage of returning visitors and bounce rate (how many people leave after reading a single page). ↩︎
Or so Google claims. Anyone browsing in incognito mode would be counted as a new user every time they drop by. ↩︎