One Reason Your Blog Sucks

by Mike Duran · 24 comments

I recently visited a writer’s blog and scanned a week’s worth of posts. Frankly, I was underwhelmed. One reason: There were no comments. Zeroes across the board. Either: a.) No one was reading what he had to say, b.) No one cared what he had to say, or c.) He didn’t say anything worth caring about.

Like it or not, one gauge of a blog’s reach is the number of comments it consistently generates. (How to get folks to your site is another story.) Another, but often lesser appreciated indicator, is the type of comments it generates.

Question: What kinds of comments are you looking for on your blog? Are you looking for “amens” and “attaboys”? Or are you really looking for dialog?

Aside from the saturation factor, I have wondered that one reason writers blogs atrophy is because of what kinds of response we (perhaps unintentionally) covet. When you’re writing for publication, it’s a bit risky to go against the “industry” grain or challenge the status quo. As a result, rather than tackle controversial subjects or put new spins on old topics, many writers blogs tend to parrot conventional wisdom.

Which could explain why so many blogs are… boring. Lots of nodding. Lots of agreeing. Lots of “amens” and “attaboys.” And no bite.

Like it or not, topics that are controversial, provocative, biting, and out of the mainstream, tend to generate more buzz.

Tim Gunn at Copyblogger in THIS ARTICLE,  noted the benefit of “controversy” in generating comments:

In the blogging world, buzz mainly finds you in your blog comments. When you hit a hot button, that’s where you first find out.

When you look at great blogs, it’s not uncommon to find that the comments become even better than the post itself — so let them.

If you’ve written something that’s whipping up controversy, don’t hide from your comments.

Embrace the buzz, both positive and negative. Learn from it. Dive in and chat. Your readers will thank you (and become even more loyal on account of it).

No wonder that some writers blogs lack buzz. Not only are we afraid to address “hot button issues,” when we do, we don’t “embrace… both positive and negative” input. As a result, we end up parroting the mainstream, defending turf and rebutting dissent, rather than encouraging discussion. No, I’m not suggesting we become intentionally provocative or scandalous just to generate buzz. (Okay, so maybe a little.) But if we are constantly fawning over “the experts,” mimicking the market’s “talking points,” and marching in lockstep with “conventional wisdom,” is it any wonder we don’t get more lively comments.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you willing to risk controversy on your blog?
  • Or are you content to parrot the mainstream?
  • Do you allow — even encourage — dissent on your blog?
  • Or do you feel compelled to rebut every differing opinion than your own?
  • Will you willingly concede different perspectives other than your own?
  • Or is there really only room for one perspective on your blog?

Of course, many blogs are aimed at disseminating information rather than encouraging input. That’s obvious. And there are many reasons why blogs do well. Generating comments is only one of them. But taking a closer look at the number and the types of comments we are generating (or not) may be a good indicator of where your blog is really at.

a.dare December 17, 2010 at 7:39 AM

Amen!

Jay December 17, 2010 at 7:52 AM

Attaboy!

“Or is there really only room for one perspective on your blog?”

YES…I’ve actually disabled comments on my blog. I honestly have no need for them. If people have input they can email me (my address is on every page…no need to sift through). I didn’t want my blog to become a forum and I’m not interested in running contests or the like. I’d want people to go there for my content, not anything else. Narcissism in digital form.

xdpaul December 17, 2010 at 8:14 AM

This post sucks. I should know. I never get comments. Fortunately, I’m shooting for c), but am happy with b) or c)

Kat Heckenbach December 17, 2010 at 8:37 AM

Hm, what is the purpose of a blog? Is it to create a forum where people can discuss controversial topics? Or is it a place where a person can simply express their own views even when those happen to fall in line with the mainstream? Maybe it’s neither. Maybe they just want to show the world what cool video they found on Youtube the other day, or review movies or books, or talk about their dog or their kids, or contemplate the spot patterns on giraffes.

The thing is, a blog is a personal thing. Not everyone is going to agree about what should and shouldn’t be on there, or what is considered “interesting.”

Take Facebook. (Oh, please, take Facebook…:P) Plenty of people use it as a political forum, a place to stir controversy, and for all of the more tame things I listed above. You know what I’ve noticed seems to get the most comments? Stuff like “Homemade brownies! Yum!”

I’ve found plenty of blogs that follow this pattern as well. Hundreds of followers, gobs of comments, and posts that are nothing more than what you’d probably consider mindless prattle. But sometimes that mindless prattle is actually cute, or funny, or hits on something I’ve been feeling and spurs me to comment. Yes, controversial topics spawn comments in me, too, but it’s all a matter of mood. Sometimes I find reading controversial blogs posts tiring. And to be honest, if that is all that is ever posted, I can get bored. I find myself wondering who this person is–underneath, who he really *is*–so I have a reason to care what his opinion is.

That said, you’re right. No comments and dwindling followers need to be taken as clues that content is not hitting anyone’s mark. And if the reason for the blog is to gain followers–readers, if the person is an author–then they need to spiff things up and consider their audience.

xdpaul December 17, 2010 at 10:10 AM

What would have been really funny was if we all had conspired to leave no comments. Dang it!

Mike Duran December 17, 2010 at 10:56 AM

Thanks Kat! I’m definitely focusing in on writers blogs and “one” thing in their reach. I enjoy plenty of blogs that are not controversial or “deep.”So I wouldn’t want to be misconstrued as suggesting generating controversy is necessary to gaining readership. From my experience though, a lot of writers seem to get trapped in rather unoriginal content, possibly out of fear of jeapordizing their publishing chances.

Kat Heckenbach December 17, 2010 at 11:25 AM

“…a lot of writers seem to get trapped in rather unoriginal content, possibly out of fear of jeapordizing their publishing chances.”

I can totally agree with that, Mike! I think too many writers don’t let their personalities show through in their blogging either. Everything is “safe”–their commentary, the side of themselves they’re willing to show online, etc. Things can get stale fast. This is not a good thing if you’re trying to convince people that what you write is something they should pay money for! 😛

Alan O December 17, 2010 at 12:15 PM

1) Re: “attaboy’s”: One of my pet peeves is seeing blogs by editors/agents (i.e., “gatekeepers”) where every post is met with 387 comments like: “great post!” “thanks so much for that scintillating insight!” and “God must have given you these words today…” Nothing against positive comments, if that’s the way you feel. But I have to confess: anytime I read an agent/editor blog with thousands of followers, I get a tad suspicious that the primary motive for a certain (large?) percentage of those “commenters” may be an attempt to get noticed. Feels a little creepy and dishonest.

2) I agree with Kat…. too much controversy (or one that drags on…and ond…and on….) is tiresome.

3) Some of the “blame” for boredom has to go to the marketing guru’s, who insist that social media is a non-negotiable. Therefore, whether they’re good at it or not, a writer feels obligated to Twitter, and FB, and blog, and…. They don’t really know what to say, but they’ve been commanded to say something, so they do the best they can. It’s interesting, in the past few months I’ve started coming across more articles/posts (some by writers, some by people in the business) that dare to challenge that conventional wisdom. If you have a distinctive blogging voice (and I think you do, Mike), then blog. If not, then find something that works better for you.

4) attaboy…

Kat Heckenbach December 17, 2010 at 12:26 PM

Alan, I am SO right there with you re: the adoring followers of gatekeeper blogs. I wish I saved the rant/parody I posted on a writers loop about that very thing….something akin to:

“Omigosh, that was brilliant, (fill in agent name)! So brilliant I think I may pass out because of your awesome awesomeness, your supreme omnipotence, your complete and total rightness, your amazing ability to just NAIL it. Could anyone possibly BE more right than you are about that? About everything? Preach on!”

And that is, sadly, not much of an exaggeration. Sigh….

Brenda Jackson December 17, 2010 at 10:31 PM

LOL, Kat on the parody. Thanks for making me smile. 😎

Gee, Mike, I thought fot a minute you were describing my blog when I first started reading your post. 😎 I started a blog because it seemed the dutiful thing to do based on all the industry advice. I *thought* I was being focused about its goals when I started but I don’t think it’s focused enough and I must say, I’m a lousy marketer. I haven’t even taken time to review statistics for my blog-site. And I only get occasional comments.

I know over the long term I’m going to have to retool my site, but to be honest, it just isn’t a priority for me. As I’m still pre-published, I need to pour most of my time into learning my craft. So for the near future, my blog will continue as it is–sharing my journey of the writing life and passing along helpful tips and links.

In truth, if I had it to do over again, I would have waited until I could join up as part of a group blog–and may do it in the future if I find fellow writers who can form a niche group (in my case thinking of writers of non-romance historical fiction).

Jody Hedlund December 17, 2010 at 8:10 PM

Interesting perspective, Mike. I think you’re right to a degree. But I also think that there’s something to be said for community and the social part of blogging. When I’m able to visit other blogs and participate in the community of bloggers more actively, I’ve seen my number of comments rise. But lately, I’ve been too busy to visit other blogs on a regular basis. And I’ve seen a drop in the number of people leaving comments. Perhaps it’s a combination of both the socializing and the thought-provoking posts.

Johne Cook December 17, 2010 at 10:22 PM

I think it depends on what you’re looking to put in to, and get out, your blog. If you’re looking for dialogue with your readers, comments are a must. But comments can also be a velvet shackle keeping you from other writing. Tobias Buckell recently turned comments off on his blog and found it to be a net win.

ZOMG, No Comments? For reals?
http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2010/11/20/zomg-no-comments-for-reals/

No comments traffic results
http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2010/12/11/no-comments-traffic-results/

Comments Are a Lot of Work
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/11/22/comments-are-a-lot-of-work/

Mike Duran December 18, 2010 at 7:56 AM

Wow! Great links, Johne! Thanks. Personally, I find comments are a lot less work and a lot more fun than writing the posts themselves. And it’s worthwhile noting that your point, and your informative links, came by way of the… comments.

Kevin Lucia December 18, 2010 at 5:43 PM

I think this is why – unless I have publishing news of my own to share – I just tend to blog about my life, or whatever I really feel like at the time. All the things I could say about writing or publishing someone has already said or said better, I’m not a controversial “edgy” person by nature – very vanilla, and not even tapioca vanilla – so there’s nothing to blog about there, and Ijust don’t seem to have the energy to respond to most blogs, usually for the same reason: because someone has already said what I want to say in a comment, and I’ve got nothing useful to add.

And, I don’t want to get caught in the trap of ALWAYS having to think up some inventive question of the day to try and get comments and blog hits. Because I guess I just don’t….care? Hope this doesn’t make me seem wishy washy or of no opinion, but I guess what it boils down to for me is this:

I love to write and make stuff up. I love stories. I’ve never once bought a piece of fiction based on someone’s blog, or their topics (which I know is not exactly what you’re talking about, Mike).

Rather, I’ve read someone’s fiction and thought: “Wow. This guy’s got it going on!” and sought that person’s blog out. Or, I met the person at a Con, we got to be friends, so I check out their blog to see what’s going on in their life. I also don’t think I’ve got anything really important to say, and prefer say whatever I have to say through my fiction. I think if I based my blogging on the amount of comments I get, I’d just say ‘Screw it’ and stop blogging altogether.

Mike Duran December 19, 2010 at 8:02 PM

Kevin, I think you have a lot to say and really appreciate the comments you leave here. Personally, I could not continue blogging if I didn’t feel like I was connecting with readers. Yes, it takes a lot of time away from novel writing. But in the long run, the people I’ve connected with through this blog makes it well worth the energy. Blessings, my friend.

Jessica Thomas December 18, 2010 at 6:21 PM

I found that when I tried to consistently address “cutting edge” issues or come up with brainy posts, I didn’t have energy left over for my fiction writing. Not to mention, getting yelled at online and/or engaging in electronic arguments produces a strange uncomfortable yet appealing “high” that can become somewhat addictive (and is therefore also somewhat unhealthy…or can be).

The reality is, I only have so much energy. Spending it all on my writing blog instead of my actual writing seems counterproductive to me so I limit the time I allow myself to spend on a blog post. They’re not as good as they could be as a result, and not very controversial…but…oh well… (Gathering an audience takes a lot of energy too, and if you stop blogging for a stretch it quickly disappears…oh well…)

Kevin Lucia December 18, 2010 at 6:26 PM

Jessica – THIS:

I found that when I tried to consistently address “cutting edge” issues or come up with brainy posts, I didn’t have energy left over for my fiction writing

and THIS:

The reality is, I only have so much energy. Spending it all on my writing blog instead of my actual writing seems counterproductive to me so I limit the time I allow myself to spend on a blog post

Guy Stewart December 19, 2010 at 8:02 PM

You know, I had the idea for my blog before I read this. I wrote it, posted it…and I wrote something that I feel strongly about. The first Comment is from someone I’ve never met or heard of. And it’s a nasty comment, too, sort of. So, maybe you want to read what I wrote, you can see how I managed to get a comment…though what I’m going for is what my blog head says…hmmm…I don’t know if my blog sucks or not…

Guy Stewart December 19, 2010 at 8:08 PM

My current entry — the one that elicited a stranger’s nasty comment — is here — anyone can let me know what they think:

http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2010/12/slice-of-pie-we-are-not-what-we-believe.html

Patti Stafford - The Sassy Marketer December 19, 2010 at 8:53 PM

Very timely (and ironic) post.

I was a freelance writer for years. I’ve recently quit that madness. In all those years I felt I had to suppress my personality. I couldn’t say or blog about things like, “my cat farted” or I couldn’t be so bold as to say, “I have a bad case of gas.” Because one day some future client, agent, or publisher might Google my name and find out that I am sometimes less than professional.

It really wasn’t worth it. So now, I’m stepping off into the world of internet marketing, I’m being me and I’m having a blast. I can also say the word “fart” if I feel the need to do so.

My old blog, which has become my personal blog, has a lack of comments because, let’s face it, it was dull and boring. I plan to change that over the next few months. If I’m allowed a link it’s: http://pattistafford.com/blog. If not, disregard that and bleep it out.

Thanks for speaking up about this. Yes, writers should get a little more adventurous and start being themselves.

Patti

Kristen Lamb December 20, 2010 at 9:18 AM

Great blog, but I must qualify that writers must be careful what type of contraversy they are stirring up. I recommend avoiding highly charged contraversy unless that is part of your platform. Writers, in need of blogging topics, sometimes will start political or religious rants and that is a great way to end your career. Unless sex, politics or religion is part of your platform, stay far, far away. So if you are a political writer, stir the political pot. Otherwise? Steer clear.

Now, contraversy can take all kinds of forms, so I wholeheartedly agree. I regularly blog about writing, but I make efforts to dig deep and talk about the topics no one wants to address, the weaknesses none of us want to admit we have. And, because I have been willing to point out pink elephants, I have been blessed with many, many wonderful loyal followers.

This is a really excellent blog and very timely. Thanks!

Mike Duran December 20, 2010 at 9:39 AM

Kristen, I agree with your cautions about stirring up the wrong kind of controversy. I recently made the admission in a post entitled How Opinionated Should a Novelist Be, that even though I’m interested in sports, politics, science, film, and religion, they don’t have the same degree of pertinence to my brand. Occasionally, I will blog about some of those topics. But as a novelist, focusing on my brand seems the wisest use of my time. The fun thing is, like you, I have found lots of “pink elephants” in the writing community and don’t mind breaking our “code of silence” to address them.

Kristen, thanks so much for visiting. I love your stuff!

Dave Jacobs December 20, 2010 at 9:29 AM

I go back and forth on the “rocking the boat” thing. I have plenty to say that would be controversial, things I believe really need to be thought about, ideas that need to be challenged. But I don’t want to be just another one of those cocky, know it all, critical voices that are already out there.

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