Now I know it’s not just me.
Nate Hoffelder’s article came across in my wanderings this week, commenting on a post he had read by Marco Arment about search traffic, or rather the lack of search traffic. (Follow the links in both articles too, for more on the topic!)
Basically, they’ve been noticing a drop off in traffic, specifically in traffic from Google.
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.
Marco even tied it to the closure of Google Reader, which is an interesting point on the internet timeline. Certainly the number of people using RSS feeds has dropped significantly since Google Reader closed, and I have absolutely noticed a drop in traffic to my blogs as well. Heck, one of them has all but disappeared according to Google.
But the larger point is the same one I wrote about yesterday. Now it’s all about writing a headline that will get shared, even if people never click the link and read what they are sharing. That doesn’t lead to really intelligent discussion of ideas, and Google is rewarding that sort of thing by making social sharing a huge part of it’s algorithm. Let’s face it, if no one shares this post on social media, as far as Google is concerned it might as well not exist, and increasingly, as people spend more time on social networks, in mobile apps, and not reading full on articles, no one will even know it’s here.
On the other hand, as someone who blogs simply for the love of it, and not to make money, I can’t wait for the advertising model to die, so businesses can go away and leave blogging and social media to the rest of us who just want to share information. And die it will, because eventually marketers are going to figure out the truth about social media, it’s great at generating buzz, but doesn’t engage people when they are in shopping mode.
Here is what I suspect about social media, and it’s a theory that all the recent studies are bearing out. We go to social media to connect with friends, to make new friends, to browse cat videos, to be shocked by the latest political outrages, to see cool photography, and so on.
When we enter shopper mode, we don’t go to social media. We hit Google or Amazon or eBay or hunt down own favorite local businesses (Tattered Cover, anyone?) or, heck, maybe we get off our butts and visit an actual store.
In other words, shopper mode and non-shopper mode are inherently linked to mutually exclusive Web sites.
This sounds a lot like how I use the web, by the way. I’m willing to bet it’s pretty similar to many of you as well. Advertisements when I’m simply trying to read something interesting that someone shared, or interacting with my friends to talk about sports, are annoying as hell. Eventually, marketers are going to realize that this is all a bubble, and the market for online advertising will dry up, forcing a lot of those sites that rely on ads to make a living, to go find something else to do. The smart ones will recognize that social media is a good tool for PR, and keep it around, but the days of making huge ad buys will eventually come to an end unless they can somehow change human behavior and turn people into shoppers while they are just trying to be social. (Good luck with that!)
In the mean time, what’s a wary blogger to do? Well, if you are in it for the advertising dollar, you might want to consider and plan for the possibility that dollar will go away eventually. Not completely, there will always be niche advertising that works, but the big dollar spends on web advertising, I believe, are not going to go on forever, unless you can turn your entire platform into a clickbait and sharing machine, but man I’d hate to think about what that site would look like. (Oh wait, we already know what that will look like, right TMZ?)
If that’s what you’re in to, good for you. Go, have fun with that. If you’re interested in reading a variety of voices on a variety of topics, you might want to ditch the idea of waiting for your social networks to share things with you, and get back to the basics of having an RSS reader, sharing important links, following others who do the same, and so on.
Remember, social media is as dumbed-down as we make it. Advertising dollars are pushing it towards the lowest common denominator, because that’s what mass media has to be, but as individual users of social media, we choose what we follow and where we invest our screen time. If you’re seeing a lot of links to things you think are stupid, find better people to follow.
To quote Marco:
Publishers are relying more on social traffic not because Google’s squeezing them out, but because that’s where everyone went. The dominance of mobile usage, social networks, and YouTube, plus attention-competition from apps, are the real problems for web publishers and blog writers.
The social and app revolutions haven’t been purely additive — much of the time people spend on those now has come at the expense of search, RSS, and bookmarks.
Every hour we spend on Twitter or Facebook instead of reading and writing elsewhere is just making this worse — and I’m as guilty as anyone.
Social networks have powerful benefits and are here to stay. But like any trend, we’ve swung too far in that direction for our own good, as both producers and consumers. I hope the pendulum starts to swing back soon, because it hasn’t yet. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, if it ever does.
If we want it to get better, we need to start pushing back against the trend, modernizing blogs, and building what we want to come next.
Maybe, if enough people start making a conscious choice to share good, quality, ideas, Google will take notice and adjust their algorithm again. Or we could stop using Google as it’s results get dumber and dumber and stop following social media accounts that get dumber and dumber too. That usually gets their attention.