Want to become rich from Internet publishing or blogging? The first, and most difficult step, is to ignore readers. Not all readers, mind you. Specifically ignore the outliers and freaks of nature who email you, and comment too often.
Going to take a bit of a diversion from reviewing credit cards here to do something I rarely do: part the curtain and explain how I make way more than any 25-year-old of average intelligence and limited ambition should make from the Internet.
In high school, I founded a popular digital photography portal. The site grew rapidly, in step with the red hot growth of digital photography itself, and I eventually instituted a “premium membership” program both as a source of revenue, and to act as a barrier to entry (a photography forum filled with spammers and tacky baby photos was not something I wanted to be associated with).
In college, I continued to run the site minimally. I would get emails from paid members every now and then, some of them quite angry about a new policy or site feature — and since they were paying members, I felt obligated to always respond and explain myself.
So I would respond to a nasty email with a friendly three-page explanation of where their membership fee actually went (paying forum mods, advertising costs, servers, etc.), my vision for where the site was headed, and why the new feature should be met with patience and an open mind, rather than unchecked rage.
Normally, I would get a response back along the lines of, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting a response.” People are always grateful when you respond to their tirades.
Eventually this process started to wear on me, and out of boredom I stopped accepting new members, and then over the next year closed the site down altogether. This was pre-downturn, of course — I would never recommend anyone shut down a profitable web site knowing what I know today.
But at the time, I was focused on stupid college stuff, and had been led to believe that anyone in America with a 3.0 GPA and a decent smile would surely be greeted with a six-figure salary immediately upon graduation.
Skip ahead to about a year ago, when I was working at a publicly held media company as a reporter. Some irate reader searched for the email address of the executive who had hired me, and emailed her suggesting I be fired immediately.
She called me and brought the email to my attention. (Luckily, I was not fired: she seemed to find it amusing.)
What awful crime against the company’s readership had I committed to warrant some weirdo I had never met before beseeching my boss to throw me into the unemployment line? I interviewed someone the weirdo didn’t like.
It’s not as if I interviewed Gadhafi or something… it was just a well-known blogger and columnist.
Also worth thinking about: several years ago, a very popular self-help (sorry, “personal growth”) blogger I read sometimes made the controversial decision to shut off comments on his blog.
If someone wanted to sound off on one of his recent posts, he figured, they could write something on their own blog and post a link back to his original piece.
People were upset at the time. They could no longer siphon off of his traffic, insult him, or post links to their trashy loan modification blogs in the hopes of gaining some Google PageRank juice.
But his decision ended up being one of the best he’d made: more people linked to his blog, he spent less time moderating hateful comments, and could focus on growing his brand and his readership. Success.
I found similar success when I made the decision to a) stop responding to almost all reader emails, especially the mean ones and b) not listen to what comments say, at all.
In fact, sometimes I’ll do the opposite of what a commenter says and see what happens. Someone posted that they used to love my blog, but strongly disliked the introduction of photos accompanying articles — they preferred the text-only format.
Old me would have taken this into consideration, and perhaps even scaled back the number of photos. But knowing what I do now, I tried doubling the number of photos I would post in a single week.
The result? Returning visitors — which is one of the traffic metrics I most cared about — surged.
This brings me to my final point: those who comment on your blog are outliers. They do not in any way represent your “average” reader or fan in any way.
The guy who said he hated the photos was in the minority. A silent majority, meanwhile, enjoyed the introduction of photos (the Internet is a visual medium after all, and the majority of consumers prefer to absorb information visually) and since they liked the photos, felt no reason to write a comment saying, “Hey, nice incremental improvement to the blog! Keep it up!”
So if you want to listen to your readers, listen to all of them by following your traffic data very closely.
When returning visitors and RPM (revenue per thousand views) both shoot up, you are doing something right — keep doing it.
When returning traffic and RPM dip, you are doing something wrong — people aren’t coming back to your site, they aren’t hooked… and worse, they aren’t buying anything nor are they clicking on ads.
Find out what is killing the vibe and fix it quickly, silently, and without relying on jerk commenters to guide you. The comments section is an insane asylum, not a focus group.
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