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Problems with technical blogging

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I've been running this blog for more than a year now. It's had its ups and downs but managed to serve its purpose just fine - as a way of documenting my past experiences and sharing my web development knowledge with others.

However, it's these downs that I'd like to talk about today. Even though I try to stay positive most of the time, there are some issues in this whole technical and general writing space that are just too big to ignore. So, I'd like for this article to have a form of a case-study, where I analyze all those issues from both the general as well as this blog's perspectives. Let's get started!

The "Top 5"

My blog certainly isn't the largest of its kind (at least at the time of writing ;-) ). It averages at about 40K to 90K monthly views, heavily depending on the success of individual articles. Thus, it's easy to separate the "top" posts that drive most of the traffic. These are:

  1. VS Code is not what it seems... (~52K views)
  2. VS Code vs Atom - how to decide? (~40K views)
  3. What's what? - Package.json cheatsheet! (~27K views)
  4. Node.js file streams explained! (~26K views)
  5. Getting creative with the Console API! (~26K views)

Keep in mind that these articles and numbers are from the period between the start of the blog and publishing this article.

As we go on to discuss all the problems, I'll be referring back to this list to better point out how particular issues have affected this very blog.

Bounce rate

First, let's talk about these varying monthly views. It's hard to admit but currently, this blog doesn't have much of a regular audience. There's just not as many people that come here specifically to read the latest article (great thanks to all of you in this small group!) as there are just coming around. This goes on to heavily influence my monthly views, especially in the periods when none of the published articles "take off".

But how does it represents the general problem? Well, because there are so many small writers and bloggers around the Web, with the content varying in quality, the general audience seems to care less and less about the other side of the spectrum. People search the Web and use these websites as a way of finding an answer to the given problem. This not only puts small technical publications in competition with services like StackOverflow but also results in an increased bounce rate (a metric determining how many users "bounce" from one site to another and how often).

I understand that there are two sides to the coin. As much as the publishers would like visitors to stay on their website for as long as possible, the visitors simply require answers to the questions they ask and nothing else. Thus, they usually leave immediately after they find the solution they seek. This more or less affects all the websites - no matter their size or the quality of content.

Google and SEO

So, if a website lacks a regular audience, where do all the visitors come from? Most of the time - from Google. Remember that people look at different websites only to get answers to their questions? It's more than likely that they use Google to do so.

How does traffic from Google happen? There are a couple of ways, but from my experience, the most notable ones are Google search results and the Discovery feed.

Search results are a no-brainer. If a user searches for something and it happens that your website covers it well, Google puts you on the top (below all the ads that is) and you get your traffic. If Google decides you're not good enough, then you land on e.g. 2nd or 3rd page, and you're pretty much done.

You might know that there are these magic SEO techniques that are meant to place your website higher in the search results. Personally, I don't know which of them work and which doesn't. I just have a pretty SEO-optimized website (according to Google Lighthouse at least) with what I think is quality content and good mobile support. I think that's enough when it comes to SEO and thus I don't see the reason/need to apply any other SEO mumbo-jumbo.

As for the Google Discovery feed, that's where things start to get interesting. This feed is, in my opinion, the sole decisive factor as to why many small blogs get their 1 to 3 days of glory, only to disappear immediately after. If you don't know what Google Discovery is, then it's basically a news feed that you've got access to only on mobile devices through Google and its Chrome browser. There's a high chance that you're checking it out from time to time and maybe even occasionally visit some of the recommended websites. Having your website there is a good way to get a nice increase in traffic, but only for a moment and usually with little gains in the regular audience.

So, as you can see, Google is the one deciding who gets visitors and who doesn't. In my case, many of the articles that "take off" start from Google Discovery. That's where most of the traffic for my no. 1 post came from. As for the search results, I do have a couple of my posts on the first page, but the most notable one is certainly the "VS Code vs Atom" comparison. That's how it achieved the 2. spot on the list. If you search for e.g. "atom vs vscode", there's a high chance that my article will come up as one of the top results.

Search results for "atom vs vscode"
Search results for "atom vs vscode"

Titles and clickbaits

So, I manage to get most of the posts out to Google Discovery, but if they don't get there, they usually end up generating low to no traffic at all. It might have something to do with the SEO, but as I said, I have a pretty SEO-optimized website and aside from writing quality content, I don't care much about it. There's one exception to this rule however - the title.

If you don't consider a good title to be an SEO optimization, then I don't know what is. A title is the single, most important thing that gets potential visitors and - most importantly - Google to your website. Still, it's hard to get these couple of words to correctly represent an entire 1K+ word piece of content you've just created.

I strive for my titles to be meaningful and attractive to potential visitors. Sadly, it's this category that I fail the most. If an article underperforms, it's usually because of the title being "weak" and not interesting for the potential reader. However, when an article really, really takes off, it usually comes at a price of using something that readers hate - a clickbait.

Honestly, I think that I've never "committed" any real clickbait. All of my articles do contain meaningful content and has something to offer when you eventually visit them. But I understand the situation. The Web is literally flooded with the content of low-quality that uses catchy titles to get clicks. That's a real issue.

But what's even more annoying about this whole situation is the fact that when you decide to "do the right thing" and prevent clickbait from happening on your site, you risk losing a lot of views. People want no clickbait, but they won't click unless they've got one! That's called irony and is the sole reason why I sometimes think about starting to use - as I like to call them - intriguing titles, more often. It's not like I want to use these techniques to accommodate weak content, but rather to reinforce the articles that are already good.

Topics selection

But let's leave titles aside and get back to the topic of people constantly searching for answers. Apart from bounce rate and other factors that I've already talked about, this shift in general mindset puts pressure on publishers and bloggers to write only about what's currently "trendy".

And thus, in web development, talking about JavaScript frameworks like React or hot new things like Svelte is in high demand. Articles that have a form of tutorials providing ready-to-copy code snippets have also seen a significant growth in popularity.

This results in tons of "redundant" content that covers the same topic over and over again. I wanted this blog to be a little different from everything else and thus, I'm not the first to talk about the latest trends and I don't have tons of tutorials to offer. However, in this regard, I really won't argue if you tell me I'm wrong. Maybe its this mindset of mine that prevents this blog from potential growth. If so, let me know in the comment section what kind of content would you like to see here in the future!

Other factors

Apart from all the things we've already covered, there are a lot of other factors that influence the success of both small and big websites. I'm talking about social media, newsletters, contacts, collaborations and many more.

From the case-study perspective, I don't usually see much traffic coming from social media. This blog is certainly present and visible on Twitter and Facebook, but that's about it.

The last spot on my list is taken by my "Console API" article got there because of being featured at the top of the JavaScript Weekly newsletter.

JavaScript Weekly newsletter
JavaScript Weekly newsletter

It had an effect of a one-time traffic spike at the time of the newsletter publication, but it went back to normal just after a few hours. Yet another temporary solution to the bigger problem.

Economics

We've already covered a lot of issues right here, but there's an elephant in the room that I haven't mentioned yet. What's the economic side of running your own technical blog?

It's a delicate topic so I don't want to generalize here. For me, it's OK. The blog itself runs on a dedicated server that comes at a cost, but the little ad on the top of this website (if you've even noticed) manages to cover that and a cup of coffee just fine. That is assuming that at least one post "takes off".

So, you basically get everything that's here for free, or more specifically - at the price of seeing (or not seeing) a single, unintrusive, programmer-focused ad. I think that's a good deal (at least for the reader).

I do also offer sponsored link placement under each blog post or sponsorship of the entire blog (hit me up if you're interested), but these options aren't sustainable for a small blog.

Bottom line

So, overall, these are the issues that I think are quite annoying and negatively affect the whole community of independent bloggers and publishers. It's understandable that as a reader you just want to get what you came for, but I think it'd be nice to appreciate the other side of the coin as well.

With that said, I've been mostly enjoying this whole blogging thing and I plan on continuing it. Not only that, but I also want to make it better for the readers by providing even higher-quality content and grow this whole thing even more! That's the goal.

If you like this post consider sharing it and following me on Twitter, Facebook or through my weekly newsletter for more web development content. Thanks for reading this piece, and have a nice day!

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