Do people still read blogs?

Marco Arment is wondering why his blog traffic is going down. His theory is that mobile apps and "bite-sized social content" are taking readers away:

Publishers are relying more on social traffic not because Google’s squeezing them out, but because that’s where everyone went. The dominance of mobile usage, social networks, and YouTube, plus attention-competition from apps, are the real problems for web publishers and blog writers.

I think what we're seeing here is something different. The "old guard" of blogging (folks like Marco, Gruber, and Kotke) built their traffic, and their following, using RSS and / or SEO. People subscribed to their blogs using Google Reader, and read every day. Or, people searched for certain keywords, and found a post (this was especially true when Google used to promote it's Google Blog Search).

But times have changed.

For newer bloggers, like myself, most of our traffic comes from four major sources:

  1. News aggregators like Hacker News, Reddit and Flipboard

  2. Our own mailing list (more on this later)

  3. People sharing the post on social media (primarily Twitter for me)

  4. Inbound links from other blogs / publications

For this blog, Google search has never been a big referrer of traffic. In the last 2 years, I've had over 1,028,398 pageviews (from 607,256 unique visitors). About 4.29% of those came from Organic Search.

Likewise, RSS subscribers were never a huge source of traffic for me. When Google Reader was shut down in 2013, my blog wasn't impacted at all. Most of my readers were already using other subscription + discovery formats: Twitter, subscribing to my email list, Flipboard, etc...

Email lists are more important than ever

Marco quotes this Seth Godin piece, but I'd like to highlight a different passage:

If you’re a content provider, the shift to mobile, and to social and the shift in Google’s priorities mean that it’s worth a very hard look at the value of permission (i.e. the subscribers to this blog are its backbone).

Like me, Seth has a mailing list. He calls those subscribers the "backbone" of his blog.

I think email has always been a good way to syndicate content, for the following reasons:

  1. Email is an open and universal platform that's not going away

  2. Everyone has an email address and checks it every day

  3. If people subscribe to your list, they have a high value of trust that you'll send them good stuff

  4. Unlike other platforms (like RSS + Google Reader) you don't have to depend on a single channel to get your content out to your readers

I've seen my own reading patterns change as well. I read more than ever, but instead of RSS, I'm using these to find content:

  1. Mailing list subscriptions

  2. Twitter

  3. Zite + Flipboard

  4. Hacker News, Reddit, etc...

People are still reading

Statistically, I'm still seeing strong numbers to my blog. Anecdotally, I still meet lots of people who read blogs daily.

Just today, I randomly met Leif from GiftBit at a coffee shop. He followed up with this email:

Yes, Google's changes over the past 2 years have affected how people discover content. But I don't think people have moved on to "dicking around in apps and snacking on bite-sized social content."

People are still reading.

Justin Jackson

Published on February 16th, 2015
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