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You’ve been a blog reader for a long while, long before every single girl in America with a Rebecca Minkoff Mini MAC started one. You’ve had favorites who really spoke to you, but lately their blogs are disappointing. What happened to that awesome blog from 2007, 2009, or even 2012 that you loved so much? I’ve been blogging since 2005 and have made friends with many fellow veteran bloggers. We all hear this complaint from old readers that our blogs have changed, they miss the old us. Here’s some of the reasons why our blogs ain’t what they used to be:
It’s easy to be brutally honest and candid when you’re writing for an audience of 30. But when that audience grows to 3,000 or gosh even 300,000 you start questioning what you choose to share. On top of it, it gets weird when your blog life merges into your real life: work clients mentioning they read your blog, local politicians emailing an “Ask Allie” fashion question, distant relatives “Liking” your blog on Facebook, the mom of your daughter's friend asking if the birthday party the two of you are at will end up on Instagram. Suddenly those pageviews become real people who have influence on your day job, your child, your community, you and your family's future.
It’s not always easy to realize when your favorite blog has grown in popularity. Sure, they may have a few more sponsored posts or followers on social media, but sometimes when the increase in traffic is viral (Google searches, a link on a popular site or feature in a newspaper) that traffic can be hidden to the average blog reader but can cause the blog writer to have a minor freakout when she sees her Google analytics and make her more careful with what is shared.
When I started my blog I was 29 and thought I knew everything. I had a very definite opinion and voice on this blog, a voice I created envisioning my posts someday becoming a book. As my audience grew, I occasionally did things to be controversial to increase traffic because that bit of growth was so addictive. With time, I’ve gotten to know many of you as people I care about instead of exciting numbers, and my voice and direction for this blog has changed because of it. I also feel that with age comes wisdom and experiences that have changed who I am, my priorities, and my voice. A lot can happen in the years you’ve been following a blog: marriage, divorce, children, job change, religion or spiritual change, moving to a new location, weight loss or gain, health issues… all of these changes will affect not just the blog’s content but how content is delivered. As a blogger grows and experiences things, her voice will change with that personal development.
When I was pregnant I started a baby blog. I thought it would be a great way to journal the journey into motherhood, and maybe I’d publish it into a book that my child could enjoy when she was older. I shared all the vegetable and fruit she was supposed to resemble in my body, a very detailed birth story, problems with breastfeeding, experiences with cloth diapers and baby led weaning. It was all fine and good until she got to the age where she was being potty trained and I realized… this isn’t a sweater, this is a human being that is being raised in the era of the Internet. Do I really want to be sharing her bodily functions with the world? Should I be sharing ANYTHING about her for that matter? She doesn’t really have a say, and I’m here writing posts about her to garner attention and income. I made the blog private, and soon after shut it down completely.
My fashion blog also changed because of Emerson. My personal life no longer belonged just to me. While many readers had become friends, I knew there were a lot out there who were complete strangers, and I knew some readers didn’t like me very much. It felt very wrong to put my family and personal information out there to the universe, not knowing who was reading it and what they were doing with it. It’s a very weird experience being a blogger; the most intimate posts and details are the ones that get the most feedback and “likes.” It’s tempting to share more to get more positive feedback, but there’s this weird point where you wonder if you’re having special family moments for your family or your readers; if you’re infringing on your loved ones’ privacy by sharing that which involves and affects them. I've chatted with many bloggers who also struggle with this balance.
Lack of Comments
The old blog commenter, she ain't what she used to be either. With RSS readers, mobile phones, and social media, comment areas have become a wasteland of, “Cute shoes, check out my blog!” and spam for Viagra and Louis Vuitton. While my subscribers have quintupled in the past three years, the comments on many of my posts have dwindled down to a trickle. It’s hard to be real when you feel you’re talking to a wall. I'm grateful to you readers who do leave comments, and I’ve built up my Facebook community to have a platform to get real with those who use it to follow me and other blogs. But because comment fields have become a place for trolls, spammers, and self-promoting bloggers instead of a venue to interact and get to know readers, many bloggers are shutting down comments all together. I never wish to do that, but the longer I blog and the larger my audience the more I understand their choice. And this gets to my next reason…
The Anonymous and the Creepy
I’m not talking about the activist group, I’m talking about the ability for blog readers to be unknown. Anonymous comments, fake email addresses, tools to hide IP addresses and where they clicked from to get to your blog. Having anonymity gives people a feeling of power, and they sometimes abuse it. This isn’t about the anonymous comments or emails that say you’re ugly or fat; I’m talking about those who take it to the next level. Many of us deal with strangers who have threatened our lives, our careers, or our families and some have acted upon it, contacting places of work, blog advertisers, spouses, and neighbors to harm us in some manner.
Some other readers don’t try to be malicious, but they cross the line from loyal and loving reader to downright creepy. There’s a difference between being a fan and being a Stan, and this doesn’t just happen to the more famous bloggers. I know from experience and conversations with my peers that this happens to bloggers of all size and genre of audiences. We don’t talk about it because we don’t want to look ungrateful or as though we have a big head but it still creeps us out.
When you choose to be a blogger, especially one who works to grow her traffic and monetizes her site, you’re choosing to be a public figure. However, when things start getting upsetting and you’re not famous enough for an entourage to filter out and protect you from it (or have the bankroll to justify dealing with it), you can't help but have it affect what you choose to share on the blog.
Numbers Don’t Lie… or Do They?
We bloggers have a kazillion tools at our disposal to know about our blog traffic. We can see general demographics, location, and we can see which posts are shared the most. If you see that posts about a certain subject perform better (more shares on social media, higher traffic that day, other bloggers linking to it, more sales from your affiliate program, more traffic from search engines), you of course are going to write about that subject more often.
With the reduction in comments and an increase in traffic, stats are what bloggers go by to gauge the temperature of their audience and choose the direction of the blog. If you feel a beauty blog is writing too much about her home décor, it’s likely because her home décor posts are getting the most traffic. Most bloggers try to be authentic, but provide content they believe their audience desires, and we have to use our numbers to figure that out.
When I started blogging, I’d maybe change my blog’s background or font color but that’s about it for admin work, and that was more for fun. But blogging’s come a long way baby, and to stay relevant you’ve got to keep up with the times. This means templates that are clean, easy to navigate, and mobile-friendly. Images that are high quality but not so big it takes ten minutes to load a page. Ways to connect on social media and by email. Maintaining content not just on the blog but on social media. All of this takes time and some know-how. That know-how takes more time to learn, or a very nice person who will do it for a very nice price. Oh, and that awkwardly long blogspot.com URL has GOT to go, which means hosting fees and all that jazz. There’s gotta be a return on investment to make it worthwhile to successfully blog in this day and age.
As blogs have become more popular and more professional, it takes even more time to make a blog successful financially. Advertisers don’t just pick a blogger who writes about their brand. They look at the numbers, see how influential a blogger is on social media, and yes, how pretty the brand will look on that blogger and her blog. They don't just contact you and offer a free dress, now there are expectations for number of photos, word count, Pinterest boards, shares on social media, videos and content for their sites and social media. A regularly updated media kit and plenty of contracts and conference calls. Things that worked great in 2013 are archaic in 2014; advertisers want their brand featured on the latest and greatest and expect more with their partnerships.
And the ways to make money on blogs have changed dramatically. Two years ago, most of my income came from sidebar ads. Took only a couple of minutes to install the code, and it didn't interfere with my content. In 2014 though my traffic is much larger than it was in 2012, I make a third of what I did with sidebar ads. Money is now from affiliate links and “native advertising” (sponsored posts and partnerships). And sponsored posts continue to be more complicated – create a corresponding Pinterest board, lead a Twitter chat, create a DIY tutorial, make a video, have X amount of original photos and a minimum word count of Y. All of this used to be handled with a couple emails, now brands request phone calls, Skype sessions, proposals, and contracts. This means we bloggers need to work more hours and change our content just to make the same money we used to. To keep a blog from being one gigantic ad, you need to work extra hours to fill the space between sponsored content with authentic stuff, which makes that ROI harder to achieve. Vicious cycle, no? And you wonder why all the “good” blogs shutter.
If you are still reading a blog you read five or more years ago, it’s because that blogger is passionate about blogging. They're still here because they love it, and because they love you. In the internet world, if you don’t keep up with the times you might as well be Geocities, Friendster, or LiveJournal. And in the real world, if you’re the same exact person you were five years ago, you need to step away from the computer and live the real life. Blogs are special because they’re (usually) written by humans, not corporations. And humans change and grow, make bad decisions, feel pain and sadness, and learn from mistakes. Our blogs grow with us, and I’m pretty sure my peers would agree that we’re so honored that you have stuck with us through it all.
As for me, I’d love to hear from you. Wardrobe Oxygen is NOT what it was even a year ago, and it will continue to change. But let me know what you love, what you hate, what you miss, and what you wish I’d start including. With Disqus (the tool I use for comments) you can sign in as a guest and use a fake name and email if you wish to be anonymous; I also have a comment form where you can put in a fake email and name if you wish. I also take feedback on Twitter and Facebook. There’s no point in having this site if you don’t enjoy it. I look forward to connecting with you, and I look forward to the future of this blog and your part in it!