You know how every millennium, turn of the century, decade, and lately year there’s someone who raises their hands in the air, empties people’s pockets and predicts the end is neigh? Well, every so often, you’ll get someone in the blogging or marketing community slamming their cheapest keyboard down and proclaiming blogging is on its last, limpy leg.
I’ve heard it so many times, I now do little more than roll my eyes. Today, I’m rolling up my sleeves and exploring the reasons why these claims keep popping up like a bad game of Whack-a-Mole for one last, hopefully well-articulated time.
The sound of the other shoe
10-15 years ago, almost everyone with a keyboard, a healthy dose of self-confidence, and some measure of writing training was a blogger. People in the blogosphere (God, I hate that word) had their own little clique. They were spending a good chunk of their day writing and another hefty chunk replying to comments to their posts. Life was engaging, if not all that financially rewarding.
But then they started inspiring people to start publishing their own blog posts and readers became authors themselves. So the people who were reading, commenting and, perhaps sharing, gradually started moving to the side of class where the cool kids were hanging out.
With the increase in volume, came an increase in junk, a chronic ache in today’s blogging community that’s largely self-inflicted. We told people they needed to be active, to publish every day and they did. Now, we’re complaining that blogging isn’t what it used to be and that the internet is littered with poorly-written copy.
When a service is open and free for all, as is the case with blogging, you behave like you have the coolest job/ hobby ever and evangelise that people need to post regularly, the good news is you’re going to get exactly what you asked for. Not everyone is a good communicator, not everyone is a skilled storyteller or a structured writer so, the bad news is also that you’re going to get exactly what you asked for. So, blogging isn’t dead, as much as it has become a tool everyone thinks they can master but, in reality, few can marginally use.
Sharing is caring…about oneself
Hopping back in the good old days of citizen’s journalism, as blogging was dubbed, one way that blogs and blog posts would gain notoriety is through other bloggers. A post was an open dialogue and people would reference and link to each other in an effort to add relevance to their own content. This is one of the reasons why, comment on other blog posts still tops most of the lists on how to market your own.
Where people used to be conversational, they’ve become transactional. There are a ton of blog posts out there that link to external content that’s barely in the same zip code with the original post. In return, authors get a link in an equally irrelevant article.
It’s a foul practice that’s perpetuated by publishers, in general. Just browse any online magazine and you’ll find at least 3-4 hyperlinks behind random keywords that add nothing to the content. As a result, readers have become accustomed to being served irrelevant, hidden links and tend to avoid them.
So, instead of driving a conversation by adding layers of relevance through the work of other contributors, we’re now looking for a quid pro quo, regardless of how useful it actually is to the reader. Seeing as high-quality content is what keeps users engaged, our selfishness is first and foremost hurting our own blogs.
Having said that, there are bloggers out there who understand that a blog post is a 5 minute intro to a much larger potential conversation with their audience and whatever links they may include, reinforce their key messages or provide in-depth information related to the topic they’re focusing on.
Self-hosted content is dimming
Much like a company or magazine, blogs were largely self-hosted. That means you’d buy a domain, create an account on a free blogging platform, install a template and boom!, you were all set to crack your knuckles and start blogging. This is no longer true.
Considering the evolving complexities of website design and branding, even simple pages are a struggle. Templates always seem to be buggy, once you start fiddling with them they rarely look as good as they did when you picked them, colours don’t work, features seem redundant so DYI-ing your blog is more than likely to turn it into a hot mess. To achieve a user-friendly, effectively-designed, well-branded blog you need the help of a senior designer, a brand specialist and a good content strategist. There’s no way around it.
Now, these services aren’t cheap, so people shortcut the budget, the hassle, the effort they would normally put into a strategic approach to blogging and just go for online publishing platforms. They give you an idiot-proof toolbox to deliver content to a pre-existing audience pool, in an already-designed environment.
What we gain is convenience. What we loose is identity and ownership. It’s a trade-off some people might and, considering the number of cringe-worthy blogs out there, quite frankly should make. Still, no publishing platform can ever build a strategy or write your content for you.
The result is a large number of accounts on these platforms that just sit there like a stack of abandoned suitcases in a train station. They post maybe once or twice, receive little to no engagement, don’t interact with existing content and, quickly give up. The general perception, then, is that blogging has left the building, while in reality, these people just can’t stick with it. Odds are they would’ve give up on it anyway, they just would’ve done it as soon as they realised the effort it takes to set up a self-hosted blog and run it.
The Bottom Line
Blogging is neither dead nor dying. Like every single digital thing, it’s changing. While you might feel nostalgic about the golden age of blogging from the early 2000’s, you can’t expect websites, comms strategies, branding, digital tools, user behaviour to evolve and have blogging remain frozen in time. Nor can you proclaim its demise just because it’s not what it used to be. Neither are rotary phones but I don’t see you ditching your smartphone for one.
It’s easy to adopt a high-level view of the fast-paced changes and high demands of blogging, and proclaim it’s dying out. The reality is that it’s more accessible than ever and with this access, we’re enabling a sample-type of behaviour and putting audiences in charge of both consumption and distribution. As such, content needs to be high-quality, relevant and strategically promoted across multiple channels to have any chance of standing out.