This isn’t the first blog I’ve run. It’s not even the first blog I’ve run at this URL. From about 2002 until 2007 – the golden age of blogging – I ran another blog on this site. It did reasonably well at the time. And I can tell you firsthand, a lot has changed since then. In many ways, building your blog up is much harder than it used to be.
The blogging community is radically different than it was in the early 2000s. Political differences still existed, and were very real. But the community of people on these newfangled things called “blogs” were a lot closer knit. Blog relationships transcended party lines a lot more. It wasn’t just party lines, either. Pretty much anybody who had a blog on pretty much any topic would interact cordially and frequently with just about anybody else who had a blog on just about any other topic. Many of today’s biggest bloggers knew each other back then and got along very well. Back in the day, even the biggest of big name bloggers would respond easily to even the lowliest of other bloggers.
The blogging community of today is very fragmented. It’s fragmented politically. The “red vs blue” divide really hit home during the 2004 presidential election cycle. The political blogosphere segmented along lines that were somewhat party based, somewhat ideological, and pretty much all “I’m going to live in my own bubble now, thank you.” Beyond politics, the blogosphere has largely segmented into topical blogs that are far more focused. Back in the day, most bloggers talked about anything they felt like. Now most bloggers are looking for a niche. And those big name bloggers? They’re getting spammed too much, and it’s hard to get through their filters.
The infrastructure that supports blogging has also radically changed. If you wanted to “reply” to someone else’s post, you wrote a nice post of your own. And then your software notified them via “pingback” or “trackback” that you’d said something. These often showed up in the comments section of their own blogs, which served as a nice way to get more traffic to your own blog. Readers there would see the notification and (some of them, anyway) would come over to see if you’d said anything interesting. Comments themselves were a great way to get traffic. Leave an interesting comment on another blog and people would click through to your own. Even better, the links from pingbacks, trackbacks, and comments would all hang around – and the search engines would pick up on them. Your own blog would climb up the search engine listings, little by little.
Today, trackbacks are all but dead. WordPress still supports them, but they’re manual. Many blogs, if not most, ignore them now. So even if you take the time to do them, they often won’t show up. Pingbacks are still a thing and are still automated… but they don’t seem to actually show up on most blogs, either. Again, they’re mostly disabled. And comments you leave on other blogs? In many cases they don’t link directly to your own blog anymore, but to your “profile” somewhere – either on the host site or on the site of a third party comment provider, such as Disqus. You’ll still get a bit of direct traffic from people who click through, but the search engines don’t recognize those as links to your site anymore.
There are good reasons for all of these changes. Spam is the biggest one. If you had a blog back in the day then you know just how bad the problems of pingback, trackback, and especially comment spam were. Fighting comment spam could easily become a full time job all on its own, even for a small blog. Today’s automated spam detection tools are less than perfect. Back then they were barely functional. And many sites moved toward simply shutting down pingbacks and trackbacks as a direct result. The move toward comments without direct links came early as well.
Those big name bloggers who don’t respond to you anymore? It comes with success. Some of those guys get millions of page views a month now. They’re simply too busy for the unknown guy – just like every other celebrity. It’s sad, but it’s completely understandable. It comes with the territory.
Last but not least, there are far fewer blogs now than there were then. Most bloggers never had their heart in it to begin with. Many, like me, enjoyed it but couldn’t find a way to monetize it. I’ve since solved that problem. But blogging takes a lot of time, and without either love or compensation (or preferably both), most people either can’t or won’t keep doing it. That means that there are far fewer small name blogs, which means fewer opportunities to leverage their readership to help build your own – especially since the big name bloggers won’t interact with you as much anymore.
No matter how you slice it, most of the techniques for gaining traffic that worked back then are simply worthless now. Pingbacks and trackbacks? Pingbacks are automated, so you might as well leave them on. But trackbacks are worthless now. Commenting on other sites? It’s still helpful, but the return is far lower. Also, you have to be aware of what site you’re commenting on and whether those comments link back to you or not. There are sites I’d love to participate on, but since they don’t link to me anymore it’s not worth my time. I need to spend that time in other ways.
Building your blog is much harder than it used to be… or is it? Tomorrow we’ll look at ways in which blogging has gotten much easier over the years.