Friday, August 6, 2010

What I'm Doing Wrong

The Displaced Plainsman has published over 100 posts since March, so it seems a good time to take a step back and see how things are going.

This blog has a daily readership that's akin to an average family: three adults representing parents and a step-parent, two and one-half children, a cat and a dog.  Actually, the two cats who allow me to live in the house that they own frequently peruse entries before I post them.  I'm not sure if any dogs or rodents read the blog.

If the goal is to get readers, I must be doing something wrong.  In the spirit of Socrates I'll do a bit of self examination.

Problem 1:  I am a lousy typist and I don't proof the drafts well enough; therefore, typos get published.  As an English teacher, I lose credibility when obvious errors appear in posts.

Problem 2:  I'm not really satisfied with my writing style.  Some posts seem a bit terse; I also need to work to create more vibrant, active phrasing.

Problem 3:  I don't post every day.  I think I'm regular enough unless I'm out of town, but I should try to have a daily posting schedule.

Problem 4: I am still looking for the right niche.  South Dakota educators are small target audience; South Dakota English teachers and debate coaches are an extremely small subset of that small pool.  Further, I can charitably be called a non-conformist, skeptic, or maverick.  Those less charitable may contend I'm a cynical cavalier iconoclast.  Cherishing the role of a voice crying in the wilderness and making every effort possible to stay far from the maddening crowd doesn't help build readership.  Obscure biblical and literary references probably don't help either.

Problem 5: Bloggers with larger readerships seem to nurture a sense of place.  Big boy bloggers at The Front Porch Republic have "Place. Liberty. Limits." on their masthead.  Bigger boy blogger Andrew Sullivan encourages place with his View From Your Window series and book.  Closer to home, The Madville Times celebrates "Lake Herman, Madison, and all of the great state of South Dakota."  I'm "displaced" so the local thing just doesn't work for me.

Problem 6:  I may be too stubborn to care about problem 5.

Even though blogging has a large element of readership recruitment and retention, it also allows one to do what this ayjay tweet suggests:  "Sometimes I write blog posts not because I have anything original or even distinctive to say, but just to find out what I think."

Herein endth today's introspection.


caheidelberger said...

In Doctor Zhivago, Pasternak says consciousness is like the headlight on a train: great for getting around Russia, but a disaster when you turn it in on the train itself. I'd like to see Pasternak and Socrates arm-wrestle.

Moving down the flow:

Prob1: As an English teacher, I've seen my concern for perfect typography diminish. I still correct errors when I see them, but I don't ride bloggers' or commenters' backsides for the inevitable keystroke inversions or other typos that come from this near-live communication. It's like policy debate: we value good communication, but a muffed word or misagreed verb here and there won't lose you the round.

Prob2: Some bloggers say terse is good. I haven't found you unvibrant or passive. But then I also can associate a cheerful yet forceful face and baritone with the words.

Prob3: Regular posting is good. I started blogging in 2005. I didn't make it a daily habit until Dec. 2006. I didn't feel like I was getting significant readership (and that's a relative term in the Lake Herman scheme of things) until maybe late summer 2007. Regular (and good!) content gives people a reason to add you to their daily reading routine.

But Tim Gebhart sticks with a less-than-daily schedule and still appears to get good traffic. Plus he writes interesting stuff. Daily isn't the magic criterion.

Tricky writer's discipline: we should post because we have something to say, not because we want to satisfy some arbitrary schedule. But at the purely personal level, writing can be like running or biking: I don't go ride because I have to go somewhere, but because I want to stay in shape.
[more to come!]

caheidelberger said...


Prob4: Niche? The whole darn state is a small market! I think my blog is a relatively prominent fixture of the South Dakota blogosphere... yet I would pleasantly surprised if even 5% of my hometown and 1% of South Dakotans are aware of my blog, let alone read it regularly.

Prob5: I've been big on sense of place since Chuck Woodard crystallized my thoughts on the subject at SDSU 20 years ago. I sometimes think I could build more readership by detaching from that sense of place and shot for a broader national audience (because how many people besides me and my neighbors really care about the Lake Herman Sanitary District?). But maybe place matters for intense readership and fandom. Consider Todd Epp's South Dakota Watch. When he expanded to the Middle Border Sun format to talk about South Dakota and Kansas politics, the blog seemed to lose focus. I think he thought it would bring in another audience of readers, but instead it appeared to diminish interest (I'm speculating from the outside; Mr. Epp could correct me).

I prefer having some local context. I like at least knowing the Travis is in Sioux Falls, that PP is in Brookings, that Sibby is in Mitchell (but check his writing: he's so glued to the World Net Daily reposts that you can hardly tell where he's speaking from... which is the case, really, with what seems to be a coordinated nationwide network of WND floggers who just fill the Web with the same content and try to hog up the Google juice on political issues and drive traffic back to WND). I might speculate that rooting some of your posts more identifiably in your local community could raise readership... but it would not raise readership if the local vibe isn't your vibe: You will only produce good stuff that makes people come back when you write what you want to write, not when you write what you think readers want you to write. (See the Rebecca Blood quote Tim Gebhart cited on his blog this week.)

I've had some dips in the readership curve, and I feel the angst: "Oh no! Readers are leaving! My writing doesn't matter any more! What do I do?" But I just keep plugging away. I write to focus my reading, to help myself learn, and to create a sort of flexible online brief book, an easily shareable file folder of articles and arguments on rural issues, education, etc. And every now and then, I get the bonus of another intelligent reader dropping by to correct me, support me, send me a useful link, and expand my understanding of the issue and the culture around me.

Prob6: I admire stubbornness. Stick with it.

There are plenty of search engine optimaization things you can do to fish for more Googlers. I sometimes get a kick out of riding a Google wave of people searching for a topic in the news and just happening to find a Madville Times post in the top ten search results. But once, when I was riding a wave of searchs for "when do we get our stimulus checks", I got disappointed with my inflated "readership" numbers. Sure, I got more hits, but out of a 100 visitors brought by Google search, maybe 20 or 30 stay long enough to actually read anything, and maybe 1 comes back for another visit. (Those random Googlers may contribute diproportionately to clicks Google ads, which is fine with me, but that's a whole separate issue from real readership.) I'm much more happy to look at my IP charts and see 60, 70, sometimes almost 80 percent of my hits coming from South Dakota (oops*mdash;there I go on place again).

So, what do you want your blog to be? Pleasant diversion and chance to practice brief but interesting writing? You've already got that... keep it up! Center of community conversation? Target that community, big or small, get their attention (link like crazy!), keep giving them reasons to come back. Massive hits and monetization? Feel free... and let me in the secret! :-)

caheidelberger said...

Amendment: I didn't really go hardcore-daily until August or September 2007.

LK said...


I appreciate the feedback. The last paragraph on your second comment sums up what I was thinking about.

I'm not sure what I want these musings to be, but I know that if I stop posting while I figure it out, I'll probably just stop posting, so I used a post to think out loud.

I didn't mention that one of the problems with focusing on teaching is the fact that not much happens in late July and early August. If I may flatter myself, I'm a good counter puncher, and it's really tough to counter "nothing."

I still think the sense of place and finding a niche are important. I probably won't do much about place until I get to a place I believe I fit, but I'll keep exploring niches.

caheidelberger said...

"thinking out liud"—perfectly valid blog function. Jill Walker Rettberg, Norwegian blog academic, once referred to tenkeskriving—"thinking-writing"! This could have classroom application!

Place, niche... there's a dissertation to be written about the extent to which an online community can become one's place, and how rural folks may be able to create alternate "places" when they can't find the critical mass of shared interest in their physical community. Wendell Berry would be appalled... but I reamin intrigued!