December 30, 2007

how big is your audience? [revisited]


As the market for blog and Web 2.0 media keeps on maturing, I thought this gapingvoid post from August, 2006 was worth a revisit:

I get asked a lot about how many people read my blog.

I have no idea. Because the answer, of course, depends on what metric you use. What stat counter you use. Anything between x-thousand and x-thousand-times-ten visitors per day, depending on which robot you wish to believe.

I tend to believe the lower figures more than the higher ones, but hey, that's just me.

But "How many people read your blog per day" is not the same thing as "How big is your audience."

Let me explain.

The number of blogs I read on a daily basis numbers about a dozen. The number of blogs I read every couple of days numbers about ten times that figure.

But the number of blogs I read regularly, just not that often, is way, way, way higher than that. Many thousands of them.

Dave Weinberger is a good example. I like his blog, I like him, I value what he has to say, however for one reason or another I don't read his blog that often. Maybe a couple of times a month. Maybe only once a month. It's nothing personal, it's like he said in a very entertaining post last year:

No, I'm not keeping up with your blog.

I would like to. I really would. I like it and I like you.

But we're now well past the point where any of us can keep up with all the blogs worth reading from the people worth keeping up with. Even with an aggregator.

I just can't do it any more.

So, although I don't read his blog that often, he is on my radar, and I consider him somebody who continues to inform and influence my worldview. As a result, I consider myself very much part of his audience.

Another way to think about this is akin to a favorite rock band. You may not listen to their recordings every day, but pull out their music every so often, when your life needs a dose of their particular brand of inspiration. They might not be a daily fix, but they're nonetheless a regular and important part of your life.

So following this logic, I'm guessing there are a lot of people who read me in the same manner that I read Weinberger. I may not be part of their daily fix, but they are part of my audience nonetheless.

If you accept this logic, then suddenly my audience starts looking much larger. And so do the audiences of many other bloggers.

It's just a pity this metric isn't one that advertisers find particularly useful, or else a lot more bloggers would be making money.

[Note To Self: I would be really interested to hear Stowe Boyd's take on this.]

My take on this, one year later? I'll have to concur with JP Rangaswami, who reminded me on Twitter that, "if 'traffic' is what you want, then more cartoons may mean more traffic. If you want connections and relationships, that's harder." I also concur with our mutual friend, Doc Searls, who doesn't like describing the people who read his blog as his "readers" or "audience". They're not "eyeballs", for heaven's sake. They're just people he knows. Life is short enough without imposing corporate metrics onto your friends etc etc. Sure, for convenience's sake we'll all use the words "audience", "readers", "traffic" etc. But they're not words that do a particularly good job of getting to the meat of things.

[Update:] I describe blogs in the comments below: "A simple device to stay on people's radar screens in a hopefully meaningful way." It works for me etc.

Posted by hugh macleod at December 30, 2007 1:42 PM | TrackBack

You've written some great posts in the past about how to write better, and how to get people to read your blog. This posts gives a more complete definition of what a blog audience really is. You can still make a big difference, even if people don't read your posts everyday. If you write something great, and people know about, they'll keep coming back to it every now and again, when they need to.

Posted by: Jeff at December 30, 2007 2:20 PM

Agreed, Jeff, that's all a blog needs to be- A simple device to stay on people's radar screens in a hopefully meaningful way. Anything more, and you're using the media in a way it's simply not designed for.

Posted by: hugh macleod at December 30, 2007 2:24 PM

I recently had a blogger blow me off to write a guest blog post because I did not have enough traffic for him. I was a little hurt, but then I realize that I do not write for traffic or "eyeballs". I write for that ONE peson who reads the post and emails me and says "wow, I needed to hear that message today". I don't get those emails everyday, but often enough that I stay inspired.

I think you are right about one's audience being much larger than the number of twitter followers or the daily blog stats. In the Web world you just don't know who will stumble upon you and need to hear your words at that moment. In some ways it is almost spiritual that your words (or cartoons in your case) are out there waiting to be found by the person who seeks that message.


Posted by: thom singer at December 30, 2007 3:50 PM

When I was blogging (I quit personal blogging to deal with some personal stuff then focus on my business) I used to think of the readers as my "community". Sort of like the people I see at church and say hi to once a week, and catch up with maybe once a month if we get lucky.

Perhaps that's the aptness in the above cartoon. Rarely do people comment every day. Rarely do they comment every time they stop by. By they do and they check in, and if we're lucky they say hi. But I like to think we blog for more reason then for people to say hi. I mean, we know they're there, our stat meters tell us that. But we know they'll catch up when they get a minute or they see us.

And I'm finding that now, I think it doesn't matter whether it's a personal blog or a business - you need a community and people who are engaging, even if it's a couple times a year, even if you'll never meet them in person. Maybe being a "good" blogger is a good primer for how to create other relationships in other arenas.

Posted by: Summer at December 30, 2007 4:37 PM

"Maybe being a "good" blogger is a good primer for how to create other relationships in other arenas."

what a simply lovely thought. Thanks for that :)

Posted by: hugh macleod at December 30, 2007 4:47 PM

I'm the same way with regards to reading other people's blogs. I basically read them every so often (not daily). I think the primary reason for this is due to signal vs noise or the pareto principle (80/20). Eighty percent of their content is decent, good even, but it's the twenty percent that they write that really hits home with me.

I'm no different with my blog though. I can blog about this and that for days and then one day I really seem to connect with people when I write about something that truly connects with me. I think a lot of the time that's the primary problem. People feel like they have to blog daily. I mean if you're trying to entertain people, ya blog daily. If you want to truly connect with people though and create relationships, it's more about what you write that matters (which is why I agree with Thom that connecting with just ONE person makes it all worthwhile).

One of the reasons why I've never really been that satisfied with my blog though is because my content is all over the place. I do this purposely though because I like posting small pieces of my thoughts when I'm trying to figure out things but I'm sure I probably confuse people more than anything as it goes over their head. It's one reason why I'd like to figure out how to break my content down into separate streams so that people can subscribe to what interests them (and thus they decide what is a signal and what is noise). Therefore, someone might like my daily exploration in trying to put the small jigsaw puzzle pieces of life together, whereas someone else may only be interested in the final realization at the end of that exploration.

Posted by: Nollind Whachell at December 30, 2007 6:37 PM

Some irony is that I actually started blogging just to keep up with informing all of my friends of the things that I've discovered. Now I just have a lot more friends!

Posted by: Douglas Karr at December 30, 2007 10:11 PM

I completely agree - as a writer, I do keep a blog in order to stay on people's radar (and to catch the eye of potential clients/editors), but I also do it to build relationships and to participate in the conversation in more meaningful way then by simply commmenting on other blogs.

And if my words happen to inspire or bring a smile to someone's face, all the better.

*I too try to keep up with hundreds, if not thousands of blogs, but I don't read them all on a regular basis. It is like having favorite bands or musicians, or favorite authors - you pull out the genre, album, or book you are in the mood for at the moment.

Posted by: Jacqueline at December 31, 2007 1:24 AM

"It's just a pity this metric isn't one that advertisers find particularly useful, or else a lot more bloggers would be making money."

Hmm; I think advertisers do use that metric: monthly uniques.

Posted by: Scott Lawton (Blogcosm) at December 31, 2007 2:02 AM

Bah, humbug. Some of these people oh-so-modestly proclaiming their disinterest are naked social climbers who calculate very well what - and who - matters to them. There's not going to say "I think of you as my chum, as in bait (for advertisers). You only matter to me to the extent that I can use you or sell you in some fashion. I'm trying to fake sincerity as well as I can".

Yeah, there's a difference between cultivating a large number of low-margin sales and a smaller number of high-margin sales. That's not exactly a revelation. But denying that aspect of blogging is about as true as semeone running for office denying an interest in political power.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 31, 2007 4:10 AM

@Hugh and @all : Thanks for your valuable thoughts in and on this post. I just 'twittered' about them because I find them inspiring and I do hope others will read them too...

Posted by: Jacqueline at December 31, 2007 10:58 AM

Seth Finkelstein makes a valid point, and I am guilty as sin in my above comment. I do care about traffic and I do get excited when my traffic spikes. I should not have made it seem like I don't care.

But I am not obsessed with it. There is a difference.

I still stand by the fact that an audience is larger than just your stat numbers...and that extended reach and impacting others is what matters. But size does matter and a big audience is flattering.

Posted by: thom singer at January 1, 2008 12:54 PM

Au contraire, Seth. For it is true that, in fact, you, Seth, DO only matter to me to the extent that I can use you or sell you in some fashion. I am INDEED trying to send fake sincerity in your direction as well as I can.

Somebody got a problem with that?

Posted by: hugh macleod at January 1, 2008 1:29 PM


So, when you say you're sending fake sincerity, does that mean you're insincere or is that fake insincerity? No, it...shit, I can't keep up. You're too damn deep for me.

Posted by: John at January 1, 2008 11:49 PM

I'm curious, I remember seeing ads before on gapingvoid, but no longer. May I assume there is no significant money to be made running ads or using PPC, or is there another reason?

Posted by: jswa at January 2, 2008 3:45 AM

This gives me some new perspective on how to evaluate the size of my audience. Good stuff. Thanks!

Posted by: T at January 2, 2008 7:00 AM

a very insightful view and a slightly different perspective. I guess the explosion in the number of personal blog has really changed the connections between bloggers

Posted by: KY at January 4, 2008 3:45 AM

hhaha funny i have my own blog to u know in mypace funny huh ?:)

Posted by: marco cervantes at January 9, 2008 6:53 PM

@hugh. Take a look at Avinash's post on measuring the success on a blog. He has some great point there.

Posted by: Florian Pihs at January 11, 2008 5:00 AM