Friday, 13 May 2011

Facing the Comedown

This blog had a fine time last week, and I can't deny it was a thrill to see the retweets racking up (thanks to Keren David for kicking that off) and the comments piling in. But of course, that leaves me with the problem of what to say next. And then there's the inevitable comedown when this blog post gets less hits than the one before. It's a problem I've faced before…

In the late 90s, I began writing a satire column for a home cinema website (could you get any more niche?) It was called Reverse Spiral - in tribute to the Reverse Spiral Dual Layer process used to press DVDs - and the world of home cinema proved to be a surprisingly fertile territory for what I wanted to explore. More than that, it came with a huge in-built audience who proved unexpectedly willing to laugh at themselves. I tried to post once a week (you may be able to see a pattern emerging) and the articles quickly became quite elaborate, mixing the writing with complex graphics and HTML tricks.

I spent a lot of time riffing on censorship and control - the BBFC under James Ferman were especially keen on cutting films at the time and a conservative government in opposition were making a lot of noise about family values (as per usual). Cue a funny but fictitious flow chart showing how the BBFC decided what certificate to give a film and a fully interactive Ann Widdecombe Movie Database (sample entry: "This shocking filth has been certified B - only suitable for blind people.")

About a month in, I tapped into a hot controversy in the DVD world, producing an almost perfect spoof copy of a US website who had used a recent editorial to slag off us Brits. Suddenly, everything went crazy - I got 3,500 hits in a week. In a week! To put that in perspective, I've had about 500 hits on last week's blog post so far, and that was my best week in the last six months. But I'm still pretty lucky - a lot of people's blogs languish in single figures.

My problem came with following that up. I spent all week slaving over the next article, hoping to build an even bigger audience, but it got less than half the page views (though that was still pretty great, in hindsight). I was sure I had failed. Thereafter, though I kept at it for several months, everything else lived in the shadow of that one titanic achievement. Eventually, my day job got busy and I just let the whole thing slide. And that's a shame, because when I see things like this I have to think that I was probably way ahead of the internet curve.

Of course, one of the reasons for my lower hit rate nowadays is fragmentation. There were relatively few home cinema websites in 1999, let alone ones with a regular humour column. Whereas nowadays there are a zillion blogs by writers and it's much harder to offer quality original content. While it's nice to share practical advice, I'm aware that there are many other blogs offering that kind of information every day. And the comedy stuff is fun, but also something I might need to hold on to for my manuscript. So I tend to fall back on slightly random musings - which I think I do quite well - but I'm aware that a lack of focus could be stopping me from building a really distinct brand and audience.

One thing I won't be doing is cutting this blog loose, because what I've realised is that audiences ebb and flow. It isn't worth stressing about individual hit counts, rather a process of looking at the general trends across months and years. Internet users have to be fickle, because there is far more content posted every day (provided Blogger is working) than most people could read in their entire lives. The trick, as I see it, is to keep a level of quality that you're happy with and hope to hook people by repeat visits. Once someone has been to your blog 3 or 4 times, they are likely to want to come back regularly.

So I'll keep posting and you'll keep reading and hopefully Ann Widdecombe won't try dancing again. Then we'll all be happy.


P.S. Before you ask, that home cinema site is long defunct and my articles with it. Shame.


  1. Hi Nick,
    I've read your blog at least 3 or 4 times, so I suppose I'm a regular! I've been thinking for a while about whether to jump in with my own blog but have held off so far.
    I rather like guest blogging, though. If you're on holiday again.

  2. You're doing just fine, Nick - at least having a regular slot has us all trained to expect our regular friday fix. Don't stress about the stats. It's quality not quantity that counts!

  3. I've recently arrived at your blog - I like the way you write (it seems really honest), what you write about, and the fact you post regularly. Sue

  4. I think we'd all send ourselves round the twist if we worried too much about our stats and hits and who's following us on twitter and facebook and who knows what else.

    My blog does really well for hits but less so on comments and sometimes I find that frustrating but mainly for my interviewees.

    But I must admit, only the other day a couple of lovely comments about it, left elsewhere, made my day.

    I think all this social networking is about finding a balance (it amazes me how much time some people spend doing it!).

    You're obviously doing something right by getting loads of hits and followers and comments. :)