Musings of an Inappropriate Woman

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The blog is dead, long live the blog.

Image via Instagram.

On Sunday, I attended a funeral for fashion blogs, hosted by Danielle Meder of Final Fashion fame. Four of us gathered outside a church in the East Village, doused ourselves in sage, and reminisced on our experiences with the blogosphere: the good, the bad, and the indifferent.

For the record, I don’t think that blogs are dead, although it’s true that they aren’t what they used to be. It has been at least a year since I’ve stumbled upon a blog that has made me think, “I have to meet this person!” (I still get this feeling, but it is more likely to arise now from Twitter, or Instagram, or books, or journalism, or art, and the blogs, where they exist, are more compendiums of work that has been created outline the blog, rather than the locus of creation itself.)

Earlier this year, I closed down Disqus on this blog; not because I was being inundated with abuse, but because although people were still sharing and reblogging and responding, that action wasn’t happening in the comments section. And it is true that, like Danielle and Rachel and Autumn, many people who started out blogging in order to find their voices have since found them, and turned their passions into paid careers.

I didn’t start blogging to build a writing career. I’d already been freelancing for a couple of years when I started this blog. I started posting to Tumblr because I wanted to build a community; because back in 2007, this was where all the cool kids were. Because I wanted to create a space where the people who read my paid work could connect with me as a three-dimensional human being.

The second part of that didn’t work out quite as I had planned, in part because it turns out most people aren’t interested in connecting with journalists as human beings (or at least, they weren’t back in 2007 – I suspect things are a little different now that so much content consumption happens online rather than in print). But I did find the community I was seeking, not just in the fellow bloggers who became my offline friends (among them the three ladies who attended the Danielle’s fashion funeral), but in the community of people who have read this blog over the years, who have responded to what I write with more passion, gusto and connection than the readers of most of the work I am paid to write.

I love that you guys care; and that you care about the same things that I do. I love that you reblog and respond like crazy whenever I put together a post that means something, and that you absolutely could not give a fuck when I phone it in. Your approval (or lack thereof) is a surprisingly excellent measuring stick for the quality of my work. I love the intimacy of the relationship, even if the writing in question is posted on the internet for the world to see. And as a reader, I love that blogs allow me to discover new and beautiful minds (even if I have not been discovering enough of these lately!), in a way that newsletters, however fashionable they may be, just don’t.

All of which is to say that blogging may be dead, but this blog is not. I will continue to send you missives from my heart, even if those missives don’t come as often as I would like (a girl has got to eat, and my constant writing deadlines sometimes leave me in a state of paralysed anxiety).

And if you have any thoughts on the kind of writing you would like to see on this blog - or beautiful online minds you think I should discover - please let me know. I may not have Disqus anymore, but there is always email and the ask button.

Ask Rachel: Why don’t you post photos of yourself anymore?

Gemma asks: In avoiding the mountains of work I have to do I was looking through your archives and noticed that you used to post a lot of photos from your adventures out and about town and also a lot of head shots with descriptions of where you’ve been hanging out.

I’ve also noticed that recently you haven’t been doing that so much. Is there any particular reason for this? (I’m just curious because you have written about the whole social media projection idea before and I wonder if it has anything to do with that?)

I got ugly. And boring.

No, but seriously. As you would have noticed in your treck through my archives, there are a lot of things I used to post on this blog that I don’t anymore. Reblogs of from other people’s blogs with minimal personal commentary. “Witty” quotes from my friends and work colleagues. The complete text of every article I publish as part of my paid work.

The main reason I’ve stopped doing this is because, over time, I’ve gained a better understanding of what people are interested in and respond to here. And one thing they’re most definitely not interested in? The material details of my life, whether mundane or glamorous. So I stopped posting about it.

I think that different bloggers (and different media people more generally) have different strengths and skillsets. Some people are great curators. Others are amazing aesthetes. My personal blogging sweet spot seems to lie somewhere at the intersection of commentary, confession and reflection. So that’s what I do.

(And to be brutally honest, there probably was an element of that “new media narcissist” thing you allude to in your question back in the days when I did used to post literal snapshots of my life. When I first started using Tumblr, back in late 2007, it was the era of the microcelebrity and lifecast. So it seemed only natural to attempt to imitate those who were using the platform most successfully.)

If I’m wrong, though, and people really are interested in a visual account of my life, I’m happy to post the occasional shot. (Past evidence suggests that you’re really not interested, though.) And because I like to include some sort of image with every post, here’s a photo of me this very weekend just passed:

Got a burning question you’d like me to answer? Send it to rachel dot hills at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here.

Related: On 29 and ‘feeling old’.
Making magic 2: on the tyranny of images
Does this photo make me look phat? On cameras, beauty and surveillance culture

Ask Rachel: How can I increase my blog traffic?

Image by blakespot.

Elena Gomez of With Extra Pulp asks: How can we increase blog traffic? I’ve read so many of those ‘rules’ out on the interwebs and followed most of them, but it just doesn’t seem to be taking off. How do you balance the focus of creating quality content with (often shameless) self promotion?

Well, isn’t that the $100,000 question? And one that I can’t say I feel particularly qualified to answer, given that my blog stats - while not bad, by any means - aren’t exactly stratospheric, even by Australian standards. Hell, even the most stratospheric bloggers I’ve spoken to (I’m talking people with daily traffic in the tens of thousands) say there’s no definite formula for a successful blog.

So instead, I’m going to focus on what I do know, which is how to build an online readership that cares about what you’re putting out there (or more realistically, cares about some of what you’re putting out there).

- Publish good content, consistently. There’s a tendency to think that online writing is of a lower quality than that you’d find in print. This may be true on average, but it won’t get you any readers. Online, people have the entire internet to choose from when they’re deciding what to read, and if you want them to read what you’re putting out there, it has to be seriously compelling.

On the consistency front, you don’t have to publish the same number of posts on the same days every week (although it might help), but posting five times in one day if you usually post three times a week, or taking a month off, can alienate readers.

- Figure out who your audience is and give them what they want. This can very easily become a ‘chicken and egg’ situation: you’ll attract as readers the kinds of people who like to read what you publish, but if you want to keep them reading, you have to keep providing them with what attracted them to your site in the first place. 

My readers, for instance, tend to prefer longer, more thoughtful, even (*gasp*) researched posts on gender, popular culture and writing. This isn’t always what works online - many of the most popular blogs publish far more frequently, are quicker to respond, err more towards curation than original work - but it’s what works for me, probably because it’s what I’m good at. As the saying goes, "do what you do best, and link the rest"

- Differentiate yourself from others in your niche. Whatever topic you’re writing about, chances are there are a lot of other people writing about it too. If you want people to read your blog, you have to provide something different: maybe you’re the first to spot a trend, maybe you offer a different spin on things to everyone else, maybe you’re a really compelling writer. Maybe you’re just really, really ridiculously good looking (sadly, I think it would work). Don’t try to be Your Favourite Blog Part II (or The Most Successful Blog In Your Niche Part II, for that matter - just look at all those failed Gala Darling clones).

- But don’t think of them as your competition. One of the most fun things about blogging is connecting with other bloggers - my own blogging network, much like this blog, spans feminist/gender bloggers, lit bloggers, women’s lifestyle bloggers and politics bloggers, amongst others. And whether you’re talking about traffic or perceived relevance, there’s definitely something to be said for the power of a tight knit blogging network - would Mary Rambin have a quarter of the readers she does if Julia Allison hadn’t promoted her like she did? Or to take another example, look at the way the Feministing ladies constantly promote one another’s work. There is definite power in numbers.

That said, while links are awesome and an important means of building goodwill, community and recognition of your blog, don’t expect them to deliver huge traffic spikes. In my experience, that doesn’t happen unless the blog in question has traffic is in the aforementioned tens of thousands. Instead, view links as a great way to introduce potential new readers to your blog - once they arrive, it’s your job to get them to stick around.

- Make sure your site very quickly and clearly communicates what it’s about. As we all know, people tend to skim when they’re online. If you want to grab their attention and get them to come back, every element of your site - from the title, to the tagline, to the design, to the post at the top of the page - has to very clearly communicate what the site is about.

- Make it easy for people to come back. Give them multiple ways to stay in touch with you: twitter, RSS, email subscriptions - I would say a Facebook fanpage, but the word ‘fan’ still strikes me as a little wanky. The point is, make it easy for them to come back if they do like your work.

- Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. Share your posts on Twitter and Facebook. Send them to other bloggers whose audiences might be interested in them (but don’t be offended if they don’t feature them every time). Write guest posts for other people’s blogs. Submit your posts to blog carnivals in your subject area. If you can, get your blog featured in magazines and other mass media (it worked for Girl With A Satchel). Don’t do it to the exclusion of anything else, and make sure you promote other people too, but don’t be afraid to get your stuff out there.

And finally…

- Don’t expect things to happen overnight. Maybe you’ll be really lucky and they will, but for most people building up an audience takes time.

And now, over to you. How do you get people to visit your blog?

If you have a writing/publishing/media-related question you’d like to send my way, drop me an email and I’ll answer it here.

Related: Ask Rachel: So you want to get a book deal?
Ask Rachel: What should I charge for my work?

Elsewhere: ProBlogger.net’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog
Erica Douglass’ Blog Success Manifesto
Gala Darling’s Blogging 101
Literary Minded: What makes a successful cultural blog?

Alongside Clem Bastow's The Dawn Chorus.

Also glad to see Larvatus Prodeo listed under Politics.

Who do you think they missed? Hoyden About Town strikes me as an obvious inclusion under Feminism, and I would have liked to have seen a Media category, featuring Girl With A Satchel and mUmBRELLA.

If Gala Darling was still living in Australia, I’d love to see her listed, too.

As everyone knows, the less complex and nuanced the positions on a blog are, the more comments it gets.

Alan Jacobs (via Andrew Sullivan) Haha, so true. I think this is true of most media, though. Long essays in the New Yorker/Atlantic/Monthly etc - and quality books - excepted. And even then, these are usually distilled in other media to their simplest, often kind of bastardised, form.