Over on his blog today, Studiopress founder Brian Gardner shares a thoughtful post on the definition of a successful blog. It’s a short read, and I highly recommend checking it out.

What stood out for me, personally, were these words:

I made some promises to each of you recently that I would not care about this.

That I would focus on being, and not focus on doing. That what mattered to me was the quality of life, and not in the quantity of life.

By doing just that, Brian’s daily web traffic has declined and people are unsubscribing from his blog. Signs of a bad strategy, right? Not necessarily.

If you gauge a successful blog on the amount of traffic it gets then, yes, Brian’s recent refocus on what matters to him is a bad strategy. But here’s the thing – focusing on traffic is the scourge of great content.

The Limitations of Forced Viewpoints

Run a Google search for “how to grow my blog” or “how to get more traffic to my blog” and you’ll find millions of results with all kinds of tips and tactics to grow your blog traffic.

Heck, I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past, with advice on using Stumbleupon to increase your traffic and how to use the web to find content for your blog (and grow it in the process).

And you know, some of these methods will work, and bring you extra traffic, and boost your Alexa ranking, or whatever metric you’re using to gauge your blog’s growth. But does it really matter?

  • By focusing on the traffic, you run the risk of losing focus on what really matters – the content.
  • By focusing on the traffic, you begin to write for Google and that direction is rarely a good one.
  • By focusing on the traffic, you write for what you think should be said instead of saying what should be written.

Simply put, by focusing on the traffic, you’re forcing yourself to adapt to different viewpoints that you don’t believe in, to capture the search of the day or the soundbite that might, just might, make your content go viral.

The problem is, while you might get the traffic, your limitations will be on show.

Targeted Content and the Failure to Deliver

By focusing on traffic, you’ve just become another cog in a highly greased content wheel, with a million other wheels trying to spin and gain traction at the same time.

You slip into the lazy creation of posts that proclaim, “The Top 10 Lessons to Learn From…”, “Be Awesome, Be You, Be Great…”, “Why Brands Should Do This, But Not That…” and other attention-grabbing headlines that promise much but deliver little.

Empty promises

You don’t really care about the content – you care about the new eyeballs, and the boost in traffic, and all the wonderful social shares that you’ll get.

The problem is, by putting traffic first as your goal, your content’s slipping, until the traffic you crave so much notices that you’re not really adding anything new and doesn’t bother coming back.

So now you think of new ways to target content, and you focus on that, all the while forgetting the real driver of traffic that matters – content that matters to you.

The Reality of Delivering

I get it. You want traffic, you want subscribers, you want social shares. You want your blog to be hugely popular. So you automate, you curate, you build tribes, all in the hope of getting the needle pointing upward on your traffic charts.

But what’s the end result?

Do the tribes bring traffic or just add shares and nothing else? Does the traffic stay or does it bounce and never come back? Do the subscribers click open your emails or have they forgotten you exist?

Because while you’re focusing on the traffic, the reality of delivering content that deserves traffic seems to be the number one thing missing in blogs that try too hard. This goes for both personal and professional/corporate blogs.

People are smart. They know when you believe in what you’re saying and when you’re saying things you don’t believe (but can turn the wheels on the traffic bus). They know if you’re in it for the quality of thought versus the quantity of shares and high bounce rates.

And then there’s you.

  • Are you really satisfied with the higher traffic spikes that give you a quick buzz, until you need to start the process all over again to get new buzz and new headlines?
  • Are you creating for your legacy or creating the fallacy of one?
  • Are you numbing your own brain as well as the eyes of your readers by the focus being where it is (traffic), versus where it should be (content)?

Chasing web traffic over quality content to drive the traffic is kinda like the first time you see a porno – exciting for a moment, but a false representation of the deeper picture behind the moans and slappy noises.

The Content Choice is Yours

By writing this post, I realize the irony of falling into the same category as all the other blog posts that ask what’s really important, traffic or content, and why can’t you have both?

The truth of the matter is, you can – if you’re willing to give up empty metrics for real ones.

  • How the finished article makes you feel;
  • The feedback you get from it;
  • The real goals that are met by its premise;
  • The ratio of repeat visits versus new ones;
  • The continued growth of your thinking versus the dearth of your creativeness.

It’s easy to ignore all of the above, and believe that traffic is the route of all success, internally as well as externally. And you know what – maybe it is. If so, I wish you well on your path.

Personally, I’m going to support the bloggers and brands that prefer the quality route instead. Perhaps I’ll see you there?

image: Zac Peckler
image: LiseLott

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  1. says

    Hi Danny
    Yes I read Brian Gardner’s post and like you I was impressed.

    Also impressed on how quickly you have put this post together to answer the questions raised by Brian’s post.

    I think that this is my first comment on the new style blog – love it!

    • says

      Hey there mate,

      Which proves the point of Brian’s post perfectly – write content that makes people think and they’ll run with it. That, for me, means more than traffic and shares.

      And yes – welcome aboard the good ship Sixteen Nine!

  2. says

    Danny, love your blogs! Blogs that make you think.

    This article makes one think.

    I know according to this article that “the right mindset matters”!

    Thanks again Danny……..

    • says

      Hey there Shirley,

      Thanks for dropping by – and yes, the right mindset is everything in pretty much all we do. After all, it’s what kicks us in the pants to try again when we mess up.

      Have a great weekend!

  3. says

    Geesh, you had to write me an open letter right here??? 😮

    Between you and John Paul Aguiar, I’m not going to have any butt left!

    Damn boat only had one frickin ore in it when I found the dang thing… And I don’t work with wood… Haha!

    Although, apparently some folks do???? HAHA – you kill me, man!

  4. says

    Beautiful post and I completely agree with you and Brian. Blogging has been taken to a whole new level, and while it definitely isn’t all bad, we also tend to lose focus of what we are all likely blogging for: writing content. I know that’s what originally got me blogging and now it seems like I spend very little of my time (by percentage) actually writing my content). These shared posts have inspired me to put more focus on that again.

    • says

      Hey there Geoffrey,

      Great to hear, mate – like you say, I think we’re all guilty of “losing our way” (I know I needed to refocus halfway through last year), and it’s always a learning process. I guess the key thing is we keep learning.

      Thanks for dropping by, appreciated.

  5. says

    Thanks for the post Danny — for referencing my own, and for taking it many steps forward and elaborating the points I wanted to make. I really hope that folks will hear our words, and put it into practice! :-)

  6. says

    I stumbled to your blog after reading and going through the comments at Brian Gardner’s blog.

    As someone who’ve just started blogging I have been struggling with creating content for traffic or myself. I think I have tried to do a bit of both and it’s not working.

    I know the importance of going after traffic especially at the beginning but now I am starting to see that it’s not the route I want to take.

    I don’t want to become a slave to creating content just for it’s sake. I want to write about what matters to me, what speaks to me and with my own voice.

    Thanks for writing about what matters to you!

    • says

      John, I’m going to be writing a post over the weekend that I think you might find helpful in your quest to kick things off on your blog. It’s about “reactive writing”, which I think can help you in two ways. It a) will give you ideas on things to write about and b) will help in that it will lend itself to reactive commenting.

    • says

      Hey there John,

      It’s a fine line, isn’t it? Traffic / content / personality. Getting it right (or as close to your right as possible) isn’t easy and can take time. The beauty is recognizing what that is on the way, and putting it into practice. Here’s to what matters to you!

      PS: “Luxury of Boredom”? Love the name!

  7. says

    This is a tough one. Being a journalist who has also been blogging in her own voice since 2006, I stay committed to valuable content. But as I write now, the key words and SEO tips, no matter how frequently Google’s algorithm changes, remain in my head. My heart though is in the right place hoping that my material helps people manage their stress just a tad better in our age of digital exuberance. @Judymartin8

    • says

      Hi Judy,

      I hear you – I think (especially for more news-led content) the SEO angle definitely plays a bigger factor. Then again, maybe that’s “played”, as social SEO seems to be gaining more traction over traditional SEO?

  8. says

    I have hit the “traffic” corner myself. I read Brian’s post as well. You two have been making me rethink not how, but why I am creating content… The last few weeks or so I have been diving into the idea of spreading my own ideas. I am an entrepreneur at heart, a marketer, but I am starting to think I am an idea and hope creator today… In the end, I just want to see people succeed is all…Time to dive deeper. Thanks Danny, great post as always! =)

    • says

      “An idea and hope creator” – I like that description, mate, something we can all aspire to without losing the “identity” of our content. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

  9. says

    So you just randomly turn off livfyre? Though I love that you welcome Alien’s here.

    I would rather have 10 readers with 5 who become clients than 1 million readers who will never give me business or make me money.

    So Vinny Warren left the big ad agency world to start his own agency. I don’t get to his blog the escape pod enough. No idea how many readers he has. I know his commenters is usually less than 10 people sometimes none. To me it is a must read if you are a creative doing TV advertising. I always pictured Vinny as a very successful independent ad guy. He would get one off work from major brands on campaigns even when those same brands have dedicated TV agency’s of record. I pictured him working out of a small funky office in Chicago and doing well enough.

    Then he announced the Escape Pod’s new offices.

    You would never know from his blog traffic how successful he is. But you would know how smart he is. And that is why his blog is linked to mine just like yours is.

    • says

      “Hootie from Timmy Hootons” – is that your attempt to be Canadian, Howie? :)

      That’s the thing with people that place so much importance on empty metrics – who cares if you have 10,000 subscribers and hundreds of shares if you’re not meeting the goals you set for yourself: sales, content or otherwise. It’s why I’m toying with the idea of limited sharing and seeing how that pans out – we’ll see.

      And yeah, love Livefyre, but for the design of this blog, I just felt native WordPress was a better fit.

  10. says

    Agree completely, but the reality is that one also must publish content that will generate interest on the other end of the communication line. There is a balance to publishing content that is true to your ethos and what will be of interest to others. When you can find that great balance, then you can truly have fun and success with content marketing. Who wants to communicate without an engaged and responsive audience?

    • says

      Hi Edwin,

      Very true – but there’s a way to do that while holding your own standards high, versus just posting easy link-bait posts to drive traffic, without caring what the bigger picture looks like.

      As others have said, I’d rather have 100 engaged visitors/readers, etc., that are delivering value as well as receiving it, versus 1,000 that are fly-by visitors, rarely coming back or referring.

      Like you say, it’s all about balance – here’s to the quality side of that balance winning through.

  11. says

    Hi Danny,
    Your post is reflective and gives a blogger food for thought. Quality content has lasting effect unlike traffic which could be beneficial in the short term. A lot of bloggers never get know this and it is not surprising they really are not making any headway with blogging.
    Well, I agree with your submission that traffic is a scourge of great content. Until many bloggers get to understand this, there would hardly be success in online marketing.

    For the value of this article, I have left the above comment in kingged.com – the IM social site – where it was shared.

    Sunday – kingged.com contributor

    • says

      One of the things I’ve tended to find is that evergreen content can drive traffic, regardless of age and posting. It’s why I’m always wary of a “Top 10″ type post that could be out of date weeks after posting.

      Thanks for the comment both here and on Kingged, much appreciated.

  12. says

    Finally, glad to hear someone who thinks the same way I do about blogs and traffics.

    A while ago I said screw them to all these gurus out there and started doing things the way I saw fit not how they preached.

    And yes, I have also wrote articles on how to drive traffic with Digg so you are not alone :).

    • says

      Thanks, Rick – always good to re-evaluate. Without that, we get stale. Get stale – well, why bother turning up, right? Good luck with the revamp, would love to hear how it goes!

    • says

      Yeah, I wish I’d taken some of my own advice when I was younger, Steven. And certainly in my early days of blogging, when I was guilty as the next person of the traffic chasing. But at the end of the day, it’s just a number that means relatively little compared to the quality of true content and interaction. Cheers!

  13. says

    Yep. I was definitely guilty of this early on. I found that writing about Facebook hoaxes, privacy settings and ad coupon codes brought me a ton of traffic. I obsessed over those topics. Yet, they didn’t lead to business, only traffic.

    Granted, I’m fully conscious of Google when I create my titles. But I’m most satisfied when I write something that is purely for the sake of being helpful. Not corrupted by affiliate marketing, selling my own stuff or manipulation of Google.

    I guess I’m even more satisfied when that purely helpful post also receives traffic. The need to be loved, I guess!

    • says

      It’s funny how easy we can get sucked into the traffic vortex, mate – that Neo guy had it easy in comparison. 😉

      One of the things that always bugs me is the titles. Like you say, writing catchy and Google-worthy titles is a big help; but when the content fails to live up to the premise, and is clearly just a traffic-driver? Grrr….

  14. says

    You really cannot please everybody. It is better to have a strong viewpoint and have a group of loyal fans rather than a big amount of followers. These followers will not be able to protect you but your fans can. They will be waiting for every word you say and they will stand by you all the way.

  15. says

    Excellent insight, Danny. It’s an interesting topic because traffic is seen as the key metric for success. To be honest, my blog is not a high-traffic destination, which can be frustrating because I think the content is pretty good. (I’m biased, of course!). 

    At the end of the day, you can tweak the SEO and social dials as much as you want but you need to decide why you blog. For me, I think it comes down to writing about things that I find interesting, which I think helps to build my brand. I have no expectations of every having a high-traffic blog but I’m good with that. 

    In terms of my own blogging, I’m focused on writing fewer posts (two/week), and trying to write longer posts. It seems like the right path.

  16. says

    markevans It would seem we share a similar mindset, mate. It’s funny to think back on how different this blog was a couple of years back, when it was all about the numbers (rightly or wrongly). But I wasn’t really enjoying blogging, nor getting the satisfaction I may have believed I’d get with higher traffic.
    Now, like you, it’s all about writing and creating content I’d want to consume as a reader. If others like it, great. If not – well, it’s always a good sounding off base for ideas and thoughts. Which, at the end of the day, is where the real reward comes from.
    Here’s to more approaches like yours.