I’ll admit that back in the day I used to be somewhat obsessed with my site visit stats. When I was writing a Blogger-based blog I had SiteMeter measuring traffic and I would check them…”religiously” might be a strong word, but not by too much.
Since then I’ve mellowed out. I still check them regularly, but usually just once a day. That’s not only because I have other things going on that require my attention but because it’s not healthy to do so too often. You can start to get tunnel vision, believing that those numbers are the end-all-be-all of your value as a writer. The same applies no matter what your outlet of choice is: blog, podcast, video or anything else.
It’s likely because I’ve been doing this for a little while and have (hopefully) matured in my point of view that I had to shake my head in a paternal kind of way when I read a recent blog post by someone declaring that 1) They’ve been writing online for two whole months now and that 2) Their reading stats (it’s a Medium-based blog) weren’t great but that 3) They were going to keep going anyway.
This takes time. There are going to be good days/weeks/months and bad one days/weeks/months. You’ll have a great month and see solid growth in your visits or engagement and then the bottom will fall out for no discernable reason. You’ll put up a post that you think is alright but nothing special – one you publish because it’s there and there’s a hole in your editorial calendar to fill so whatever – and it will prove to be super-popular for reasons you also can’t understand.
These things happen. They happen all the time. You’ll spend hours trying to figure out what’s going on and eventually shrug your shoulders and say “I don’t know…Google, man….” You’ll try to capture lightning in a bottle twice and be frustrated when it turns out you can’t replicate the glitch.
When I’ve run content marketing programs, clients always want stats. That’s understandable. They want to see how things are going and if what they’re paying for is working. But I always told them decisions shouldn’t be made based on small data sets. It’s just like stocks: If you try to play today’s market you’ll stress yourself out and go a little crazy. Wait until you’re able to collect a couple month’s or quarter’s worth of numbers and look for trends. What categories of content are resonating? What connective themes are more popular than others? Are there shared characteristics in content that converts most effectively?
Sometimes there are clear duds. On more than a few occasions I’ve recommended spiking something after just a few weeks because it’s getting zero traction. Most of the time, though, it makes much more sense to wait until you have three-to-six months worth of data. It’s the difference between making knee-jerk changes often rooted in emotion and making informed judgements.
If you are always changing today’s tactics based on yesterday’s data, you’re not running a program and you’re not interested in long-term success. That kind of approach means you’re chasing viral success. You’re hoping one big hit will propel you into the stratosphere.
If so, do your thing. The downside is your readers or audience won’t know what to expect from one day to the next, so you’re not building any loyalty or sustainable brand.
This is a long haul. It’s a daily slog. You’re constantly being faced with the Sisyphean task of filling up the empty page. There are certainly examples of blogs that achieved overnight success early on in their lives. Most of those, though, happened before 2010. Trying to replicate that today, when the market is more flooded than ever and as people’s consumption patterns have changed so dramatically, isn’t going to be the most realistic goal. It might take significantly longer today than it did 10 years ago to achieve half the success.
It’s up to you to decide, then, what’s going to matter most: Your daily stats or the long-term goals you want to achieve. The tactics and mindset aren’t going to be the same for those two options. What becomes imperative, then, is that you adjust accordingly.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.