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Like watching grass grow

© April 2008 Anthony Lawrence

I had a conversation yesterday with someone who does a small tech blog (I offered to put a link in this article, but he prefers to remain anonymous). His problem: slow growth. Not "no growth" - people are discovering his blog and apparently at least a few must like it, because both his overall visitors and RSS readers are growing.. but only by a handful per month.

"If this were grass, it'd be a long time before the kids could play on the lawn", he sighed. I know that feeling, but just like grass, sometimes it's mostly brown dirt today and tomorrow there's green fuzz everywhere.. if you've done the right things, raked out the rocks, planted the seed and watered when you were supposed to, all it takes is a little sunshine and your lawn or your blog will grow..

I can attest to that: I've been publishing at this address for over ten years and I've had periods where growth is very slow, and then poof! up it goes in a big jump. And of course the bigger you get, the bigger even "slow growth" is: I think of "slow" now in much different terms than I did ten years ago. What is now just "ordinary" would have been lightning growth back then.

What causes those big jumps? Usually it's that some bigger site in your same niche discovers you and gives you a nice plug. Its readers are people who are interested in what you write about, and some percentage who follow the link like it well enough to keep coming back on their own. That big site is your "sunshine" - it makes the seed grow.

Yes, it is harder now than it was ten years ago. Back then there were far fewer websites on any subject; the sheer volume of competition for web eyeballs today is monstrous. It's obviously much harder for your fledging site to get noticed. However, there is a flip side: there are a lot more eyeballs. When I started publishing, most of America still didn't have email, and if they did, they were likely locked into a proprietary jail like Prodigy or early AOL: the Internet didn't really exist for them. That started changing rapidly in the late 90's and today it's startling to find someone who isn't at least aware of the Internet. You have a much larger potential audience than we early adopters could ever have imagined.

At an earlier post entitled Late to the party, I had talked about this same subject, and also mentioned that your competition often fades as quickly as it starts up - these are "lawns" that got a bit of sunshine, grew quickly, but then nobody took care of them so they died off. In fact, in that very post I mentioned a tech site that had grown from nothing to two million hits per month in just six months.. impressive, but if you look at them now, they are aparently gone: no new posts since October of 2007. That happens to a lot of blogs; people don't get the financial results they expected or run into "writer's block" and they fade away.. the grass dries up, the brown dirt returns..

I can't guarantee that you will succeed if you just keep at it. As I said at Raw volume vs. popularity, some if this is just luck: being at the right place at the right time, having someone very big notice you, hitting Digg or Stumbleupon at the right time.. but as Louis Pasteur said "Chance favors the prepared mind" - if you do give up, you have no chance of success.

I have to go dig out some weeds now.. see you tomorrow.

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-> Slow blog growth can be frustrating


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Mon Apr 7 14:46:03 2008: 3988   rbailin

There's something terribly ironic about this guy complaining about slow growth and then declining the "sunshine" of your offer to plug his site on yours. Anonymity and popularity on the Internet just don't mix. Sort of like trying to grow (lawn) grass in your living room with the blinds closed. My empathy is severely limited.


Mon Apr 7 17:42:29 2008: 3989   TonyLawrence

I think it's because he doesn't want to admit the "slow growth" and his site has been linked to from other places here already.

Sat Apr 12 11:29:32 2008: 4033   RobO

I can sympathize in that it can be really frustrating to put so much effort into something and then it seems to largely go unnoticed.

One of the tougher things for me is to try to figure out why my bounce rate is at time so high. That is, I can tell with Google Analytics that people are hitting the site, but not sticking around long or moving on to any other pages than the one they landed on.

Like anything else, it's difficult to guage whether those bounces are because people didn't like the content or the presentation of it. Those who like what you have to say might leave a comment or two, but disappointed visitors rarely give you any feedback about why they are choosing not to stick around.

Sat Apr 12 13:11:29 2008: 4035   TonyLawrence

Well, look at where the high bounces come from. If, for example they came from a specific search on Google or from a focused directed link somewhere else (a link that said "go here to find out how to make the best tasting tuna sandwich ever" for example), it might be because the visitor found exactly what they wanted and have gone off to make use of it (make that sandwich?).

Unfortunately Google Analytics doesn't let you look at bounce rate by source, but it's shouldn't be very hard to cobble something up that could.. hmmm.. that's a project for a lazy day this summer..

Mon Feb 2 19:19:16 2009: 5281   VeryEvolved

Good illustration about the power of perspective. Of course it varies from topic to topic but I think that slow growth is much more viable than fast growth. Using a Digg or a StumbleUopn surge as an example, it may help get your name out there, but if the fall out doesn't result in an increased RATE of traffic or subscriptions then it has achieved nothing.

Like grass, really great things often move at a pace invisible to the human brain, but by golly they are moving!


Mon Feb 2 19:24:04 2009: 5282   TonyLawrence

Yes, I think there are good bumps and pointless bumps. At (link) I said:

Some sites recommend bumping up RSS stats by offering something free for a subscription. Maybe a free ebook or a tool download. Sudden increases from such promotions may not mean much at all . I may want your ebook but have little interest in your blog. I'll click the link to get the book and I don't necessarily unsubscribe - what the heck, it's down there in my "I'll read this stuff if and when I have nothing better to do" so it isn't hurting anything. You may think you gained a loyal reader, but you haven't.

I would say that if your numbers jump WITHOUT a come-on like a free download, that is meaningful. That means you are writing content that interested people enough to subscribe. Bribes like ebooks may falsely inflate subscriptions.


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