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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