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How Google is Killing the Blogosphere We Know and Love

If you hate clickbait and listicles and love thoughtful posts from a diverse and independent blogosphere, then Marco Arment’s latest post should scare you:

Have a blog? How has your traffic been for the last year or two — say, sinceJuly 1, 2013?

Mine’s been clearly flat and slowly declining — the first time the trend has ever gone down — even in periods where I write a lot. I’ve talked to some friends who have seen similar plateaus and declines over the same period, also for the first time. Inbound links from bigger sites also aren’t worth as much as they used to be, suggesting that even big sites are struggling to maintain and grow their traffic.

Nobody’s really talking about it, but I suspect this is a wider trend: blogs aren’t dying, but they are significantly declining. 2015 might be a rough year.

In Is Google making the web stupid?, Seth Godin suggests that the declining prominence of organic results in Google searches is significantly to blame …

Arment is the first to speak publicly on a problem which I believe is widespread.

One used to be able to write good stuff and let people find it, but that no longer works. What works now is writing stuff which grabs people’s attention (clickbait) or which people like to share.

I would bet this traffic issue is why a bunch of major blogs (including Techcrunch, BoingBoing, and others) and midlevel blogs (including Geekwire, Liliputing) have all gone for a partial RSS feed in the past 18 months. They may couch it in different terms, but I’d bet it comes down to their traffic being soft.

I know mine is.

When I started this blog 5 years ago, traffic grew all on its own. My traffic in December 2011 peaked at 50% higher than in December the year before, and that pattern repeated itself in 2012. And then sometime in late 2013, the internet changed.

My traffic peaked in December 2013 at about what it was in 2012, and traffic in December 2014 wasn’t significantly better

To be brutally honest, this is the real reason why I changed the name of this blog and broadened the focus.

It’s a last ditch move to catch and keep more people’s attention. If I can’t get this blog growing again, I’m going to have to shut it down and go write for someone else.

Multiply that across the blogosphere, and I think you’ll see why I’m so worried. It’s not just that we’re losing independent voices; if the majors are seeing similar drops in traffic then they’re going to have to cut back on staff, which means fewer voices on those sites, or they’re going to have to write the stuff which gets page views.

Either way, it means fewer interesting articles.

P.S. Did anyone else notice the parallel between the decline of the blogosphere and the fall of newspaper?

P.P.S. When I said I’d go write for someone else, I meant it.  if you have the salary to hire a blogger with my skills and interests, drop me a line. Please.

image by Mike Licht

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jjj February 16, 2015 um 11:00 pm

Pretty sure it’s more about FB than Google , some bloggers just post on FB too and then there is the marketing on FB and Twitter ,something that might give more exposure to more known sites and clickbait.
The saturation in smartphone in the US could be a factor too.
And the rise of FB, Twitter, Inatagram, Youtube, Twitch should be relevant too as they occupy people’s time.
Google is just 1 tiny part at most.

Nate Hoffelder February 16, 2015 um 11:14 pm

Yes, people are spending more time in FBTW, but it’s all part of the same problem.

Getting attention in Google search results used to mean a solidly written and informative post. Getting attention in FBTW means clickbait and shareworthy content – which is not the same thing. And if I have to attract attention on FBTW then that means I write what gets attention – not the thoughtful posts I like.

Sharon February 17, 2015 um 4:08 am

I would hate to see you shut down the blog. But would understand. Yours is one of the few blogs I haven’t unsubscribed from in recent times (because, clickbait?)

It’s too bad Arment’s post didn’t allow comments. I had a few questions to ask him.

S February 17, 2015 um 8:30 am

Can confirm. Blogs are usually given low ratings when reporting quality to google.

Vonda Z February 17, 2015 um 8:49 am

Clickbait gets old real fast, though. After a while, you start to recognize it for what it is and regard it as nothing more than an advertisement with a flashy headline to suck you in. Useful information, on the other hand, never gets old. I am more likely to share useful information on my Facebook page than any flashy but empty webpage. Eventually people are going to get wise to the whole thing and stop falling for the clickbait. It is so ubiquitous right now that it is going to rapidly burn itself out and become the opposite of what it is: a click repellant. At least it has reached that point for me.

Will Entrekin February 17, 2015 um 9:09 am

Precisely why I’ve basically given up on blogging. Writing well for the web requires a huge commitment while yielding very little return for it.

Honestly, a lot of the sites I think are thoughtful and popular seem like they’d do better in a Tumblr format — sharing a post and offering further commentary on it. Like this one could have been a share of Arment’s post with your comment following.

But I also don’t look to blogs for long content. More than 1000 words? That’s what magazines are for. More than 7500? Kindle Single!

Dan Meadows February 18, 2015 um 12:35 am

In what sense a parralel? A few years ago, say 2009-10, I considered doing blogging more seriously but I concluded it inevitably had the same problem that was killing newspapers, a reliance on mass audience to monetize with some kind of advertising. I’m of the opinion that anything relying on that is in long-term trouble. The click bait stuff is the last gasp for that model. Eventually, it won’t work on a wide scale anymore either. Advetising as a means of supporting writing is what’s dying. As for the fall of the newspaper, I think that started happening long before their bottom line’s collapsed to match. What’s going to support this kind of writing in the future? Your guess is as good as mine but I’m willing to bet it won’t be based around raw traffic.

Nate Hoffelder February 18, 2015 um 7:01 am

" it inevitably had the same problem that was killing newspapers, a reliance on mass audience to monetize with some kind of advertising"


The difference between newspapers and blogging is that the latter is dying in a much shorter time frame.

Andrew Girdwood February 19, 2015 um 5:22 pm

Clickbait is a social media issue not a search one.

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