ecofren

The Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2013 at 3:52 am

The Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging

Now, it would be lovely to think – and quite easy to believe, from some of the location independent crap currently floating around the blogosphere – that bloggers just sit in a little fluffy cloud writing nice stories and taking pretty pics in between trips to marvellously exotic locations.

Y’know. Blogging. It’s like a holiday, right?

You just write stuff. Then people come and read it. EASY!

Unfortunately, it isn’t necessarily that easy.

And what’s becoming increasingly popular in the travel blogosphere of late is to spend one’s time on a depressing continuum of activities that run all the way from “dishonest” to “soul-destroying” with stops at “absolutely pointless” and “recipe for RSI”.

A depressing continuum of activities that run all the way from “dishonest” to “soul-destroying” with stops at “absolutely pointless” and “recipe for RSI”

The reasons vary. Some people want to make money, or gain “free travel” (although, as I’ve heard of travel bloggers promising as many as 30 blog posts plus rights to all their photos in exchange for a week’s press trip, I wouldn’t necessarily describe that as “free”).

Some, bewilderingly, just want to feed their monstrous egos.

Fundamentally, though, it’s all about “influence”. PRs and marketers invest considerable time and energy in identifying “influencers”.

So prospective influencers invest almost as much that time and energy in faking influence.

Bored yet? Here’s some pretty pictures of a town in China.

And, if you’re not bored, here are the Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging.

1: We Game the Ratings

Want to impress advertisers and PRs? Or work your way up the myriad top blog lists?

You can either install one of the visitor counters that include visits from robots and page crawlers – though even the most naïve of junior PRs is unlikely to fall for your Statcounter trickery, it might impress your readers – or you can game Alexa.

What’s Alexa? Well, it’s a bewilderingly popular tool for measuring traffic on blogs.

It does this by measuring clicks on sites by users with its toolbar installed, and extrapolating total visits to the site from that.

How many users have the Alexa toolbar? Nobody knows.

But from the ease with which a hundred clicks from folk with the toolbar installed can shift your ranking, not very many.

Each time you spark up the interwebz, Alexa counts this as a visit to your site, and extrapolates a large number of other interested visitors.

The first, entry-level step to gaming Alexa is to install Alexa on your own browser, and set your site as your home page.That means that each time you spark up the interwebz, Alexa counts this as a visit to your site, and extrapolates it to a number of other interested visitors.

Then, depending on how much shame you have, you can ask your mum, dad, siblings and close friends to do likewise.

Or, if you have lots of blogger friends, or belong to the bewildering number of blogger Facebook groups, you can join a secret group to exchange clicks.

Yes, that’s right. You dutifully click onto each other’s sites every day.

Or, of course, you can build up a cult following among fellow bloggers. Because even if no one in the general public actually reads your site, each of those bloggers will count for at least ten normal readers.

How accurate is Alexa?

Well, there’s another visitor measurement system called Quantcast, which installs code on your site so it can actually read who visits it, relatively accurately.

I compared one profitable, popular resource site, to one extremely high profile travel blogger. Both have Alexa scores in the 20,000 range, putting them, according to Alexa, in the top 30,000 blogs worldwide, and pretty much neck and neck in terms of visitors.

Look on Quantcast? One sees over a quarter of a million visitors per month. The other sees around a tenth of that. I will leave you to guess which one is which.

2: We Game Social Media

People typically find blogs in one of four ways. By word of mouth. By search, most often Google. By links from other sites. And by social media.

Getting Google search traffic takes a lot of work. You need to have a lot of useful, authoritative content that people are actually looking for, and that isn’t blatantly plagiarised from elsewhere on the interwebz. And you might need to understand some basic SEO as well.

(FREE blog tip: if you get all your info on a topic from the first page of Google, you are unlikely to find yourself on that first page of Google. Why? Because you didn’t know anything about the topic in the first place and you’re NOT ADDING ANYTHING NEW.)

Word of mouth is really hard. And the sort of links from the sort of sites that actually send more than a couple of visitors your way are also hard to get.

So, unsurprisingly, the aspirant pro blogger’s mind rapidly turns to gaming social media.

Some bloggers invest 10 or 12 hours a week – the equivalent of a long working day – clicking Like on StumbleUpon, and a growing trend is to use unpaid intern labour to achieve this.

The most gameable of social media is, almost certainly, StumbleUpon, a site for folk with a really short attention span. On StumbleUpon you click through pages, click stuff you like, click stuff you dislike, and eventually it delivers you pages that you like.

Or like enough to spend 10 seconds on, which is about all the time that StumbleUpon users typically spend.

The art of gaming StumbleUpon? Spend hours upon hours following other users (usually other bloggers), getting them to follow you back, and clicking like on interesting pages, and pages that the folk you follow send you – and, believe you me, they will send you pages! Lots, and lots, and lots of pages!

Then you start sending them pages, which can’t all be yours – StumbleUpon is wise to that sort of ploy – and “discovering” pages (if other people like pages that you add to StumbleUpon, the system shows the pages to more people).

Sound like hard work? Mind-numbing, tedious, hard work?

Well, in addition to clicking you also need to add reviews.

Well, yeah.

Some bloggers invest 10 or 12 hours a week – the equivalent of a long working day – clicking Like on StumbleUpon, and a growing trend is to use unpaid intern labour to achieve this.

Yes, seriously. You too could pay £9000 a year to go to university and your first post-college gig, your entry to the world of work – albeit unpaid – could be clicking Like on StumbleUpon. And clicking Like on StumbleUpon some more. And then some more.

Although that’s probably your fault for choosing Media Studies.

Why? Well, it doesn’t just do wonders for your Alexa (all those bloggers! Clicking on your pages! For five seconds.). Sometimes it can result in a page going viral on StumbleUpon, generating thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of views in a day.

And that IS really exciting, the first time it happens. Woo! Look! 200 people visited my site in the last minute!

But when you notice that 199 of them clicked off in under 20 seconds, the magic begins to pall. And, as this lady currently feels, in the end it’s not an effect worth courting.

3: We Buy Followers

Want to get a cushty press trip? Or a fantabulous social media deal?

Well, you can either build up a Twitter following the hard way, by posting interesting, unique and topical content (for an example of this, follow @legalnomads).

Or you can just go and buy yourself some Twitter and Facebook followers.

It’s the numbers, you see. They function as social proof. “Wow! 10,000 people follow this guy! He must be really important/interesting.”

So fake followers, at least for the moment, breed real followers. Because, sadly, people are sheeple.

These are not real people, mind. They are bot accounts set up specifically for people to fake their numbers.

Where can you buy Twitter and Facebook followers? Well, fiverr.com (the site where everything costs five dollars) is a good place to start.

These are not real people, mind. They are bot accounts set up specifically for people to fake their numbers. And, at least when it comes to Twitter, there’s now a programme that identifies which of your followers are fake (although, let’s face it, if they’re called @htyiphadfkpui56 or @BartimaeusFlood, it should be pretty darn obvious).

On Facebook, there isn’t one. Yet. Although these guys are probably working on it.

4: We Share Things We Haven’t Read

Now, the art of maintaining status in the global Twitterati is to tweet constantly. Which can be difficult. You might be, you know, travelling. In a bad mood. Hungover. Not at your computer. Not in the mood.

Any of a range of things can interfere with one’s ability to tweet (or, in my case, lead to a stream-of-consciousness borderline obscene wibble that loses me followers by the gallon).

But enough about drunk-tweeting. You keep up your influence, if you’re a Twitterato (or Twitterata), by scheduling tweets, using software like hootsuite.com.

More sophisticated is a system called Triberr, which describes itself as a “reach amplifier”. You join up with a group of other likeminded bloggers, and your Twitter account robotweets their new blog posts. You don’t have to read them! Or anything!

When you know you’re going to be offline for a while, you set up a bunch of tweets to go out in your absence. Or, if you’re in a certain time zone, and your followers are in another, you set your new posts up to Tweet while you sleep and they’re awake.

Or, of course, you can spam the system with 10 or 20 of your own blog posts, every single day, mixing it up with other people’s (ain’t that always the rule, in social media?) so as not to set off Twitter’s spam alerts.

More sophisticated is a system called Triberr, which describes itself as a “reach amplifier”. You join up with a group of other likeminded bloggers, and your Twitter account robotweets their new blog posts.

You don’t have to read them! Or anything! (You can, if you like, read posts before they go out. But most people find this time consuming.)

And the more Triberr tribes you join, the more you robotweet, and the more your tribe members robotweet you. (You can typically spot a Triberr retweet by its use of the Google URL shortener, should you wish to avoid them.)

Then come the auto feed Tweeters. You decide you like a blog. No matter what they publish. Even if it’s a guest post about cruises custom-written in a Bangalore sweatshop, you’re going to like it. And you’re going to share it.

So you tweet every single post they put up, when they put it up. (And, yes, you can also spam Facebook with the same method.)

5: We Massage Our Audience

Well, this one should go without saying, really, given the above. I mean, once you’ve added a few thousand bots to your Twitter followers, and a few thousand more to your Facebook fan page, what’s a little bit of lying about who visits your site going to do?

If our typical visitor comes through from Stumbleupon and views one page for 4 seconds, perhaps clicking through to the home page to bring the time on site up to 8 seconds, we will talk in terms of total page views.

This is particularly handy if we have, say, one post that brings in a million visitors a year. It’s also handy if we just bought 100,000 “real human visitors” on Fiverr.com. (And, no, they’re not real human visitors, folks. They’re a botnet operating out of Russia or Korea on a hundred thousand hacked and zombied computers.)

If our typical visitor likes to spend a while looking around, because they like our site, and views a lot of pages, we’ll talk about audience engagement.

If our visitors don’t spend much time on site, we will also explain that traffic measurement systems such as Google Analytics ignore the single viewer who reads one page for a long time and takes no action.

Which it does. It also ignores the time that you clicked on some piece of crap by mistake, it opened a new window in your browser, and you didn’t close that browser window until you switched off your computer.

It’s also handy if we just bought 100,000 “real human visitors” on Fiverr.com. (And, no, they’re not real human visitors, folks. They’re a botnet operating out of Russia or Korea on a hundred thousand hacked and zombied computers.)

And, if we don’t have many readers, we’ll talk about demographics. You know. Our visitors are cultured. 35-44, median income of $100,000 US, active travellers, SO TOTALLY GAGGING to buy your product you will have to HOLD THEM BACK, I tell you, HOLD THEM BACK, and did I mention THEY’RE LOADED?!

But… Did you tell the interwebz what your income is? Or whether you own a pet?

Unless a site’s traffic runs into the millions, or they have somehow managed to get a statistically relevant sample of readers to fill out a customer survey form, demographics are about as accurate as Alexa (which, not entirely coincidentally, also offers demographics).

6: We Pyramid Sell

Oh dear god. I’ve been guilty of thinking that blogging is an easy way to earn a living, that anyone can do it, and selling a product based on that.

No, blogging is not an easy way to earn a living. It’s certainly preferable to many other ways of earning a living, but it isn’t easy.

Because, without whining overly much about the difficulties of working location independently (jabbing at the reload button in an internet cafe full of teenage gamers, grappling with power outages, trying to put up a perky blog post when you’ve just travelled for 24 hours straight, etc), this is not a bed of roses.

And every single blogger who is selling you how to make money travel blogging ebooks (or how to change your life ebooks – or ecourses) is participating in a pyramid scam almost as toxic as those “hearts” clubs that were going around in simpler times.

Because, like any other “creative” (and I use the term loosely) “career” (and I use this term even more loosely), there are many, many more people who’d like to make a living blogging than there are who actually will.

7: We Get Stuff Wrong. Like, Really Wrong

God knows, I get stuff wrong. (Just check the comments on my Bulgarian restaurant piece.)

But – and I know this is old-fashioned of me – I do TRY not to get stuff wrong.

I have not knowingly recommended staring at the sun or stealing taxis, or promoted Cairo as a safe, fascinating and hassle-free starter destination for the solo female traveler.I only write language guides to languages in which I have a basic competence.

You know.

I try to spell the name of the town I’m in correctly. Yes, even when it’s a funny foreign one with lots of strange letters. Even when they’re funny foreign letters that can be transliterated in a range of acceptable ways.

I have not knowingly recommended staring at the sun or stealing taxis, or promoted Cairo as a safe, fascinating and hassle-free starter destination for the solo female traveler.

I only write language guides to languages in which I have a basic competence.

Further, I can (I believe) reliably distinguish “it’s” from “its” and “there” from “their” and “they’re”.

Yeah. A low bar, I know. But you’d be amazed how many people fail to rise above it.

And, no, prefacing a blog post about a destination with something along the lines of “I don’t know anything about this” or “Wikipedia tells me” is not a substitute for research. Unless it’s funny as fuck.

Or should that be “its”? Let me ask a blogger…

http://www.escapeartistes.com/2012/08/19/the-seven-deadly-sins-of-blogging/

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