The State of Blogging in 2018

I’m putting this post together as a way to gather my thoughts on the current state of blogging.

WordPress is a Bloated Mess

I’ve been using WordPress now since 2007. I use it on 5 of my websites now. It is probably still the best content management system out there. Almost 30% of all websites use WordPress now. As popular as it is, it has become increasingly more complex every year.

The number of steps I need to go through to properly set up a website using WordPress is tremendous. You can absolutely run a blog without a backup plan, broken link checker, sitemaps (XML and user), SEO, favicon, custom 404 pages, HTTPS, and 30 other things. But your chance of finding an audience against sites that get it all right will be weak.

Now combine this with setting up accounts with Google Webmaster, Bing Webmaster, Google Analytics, connecting the blog to a Twitter account, Facebook page, and Pinterest account.

Once you get all the moving parts working for both the browser and mobile, you will likely find the site moves slow according to speed tests. Many users won’t wait 3 seconds for a page to load. Some bail at 2 seconds. At this point, you can set up a Content Delivery Network to speed up the site. The speed tests will also provide a few clues on ways to make your site faster. Most will be too technical to understand. Often it means replacing things you just set up. Then you repeat the tests.

You might think that once this is complete, you can focus on the content. Nope. Because WordPress is built on an ecosystem of themes, widgets, and plugins that are updated (or not updated), sites will drift toward being sluggish at best or insecure at worst without a commitment to keeping up to date on all code and performance testing.

Recently a plugin I use on a few of my sites released an update that crashed my site. In the support forums, others had the same problem. Because I have been at this for a decade, I was able to connect to the server directly, rename some files, and get things working again.

The average WordPress user doesn’t have my technical background. The new users are just trying to come up with ideas for their next post. They have no interest in playing technical support.

I have had to fix numerous issues with WordPress over the years. It is rarely easy. And if you ever need to move web hosts, transferring can be challenging and almost never goes smoothly. There are tools now – if you can find them and they are still being supported – to make transfers easier, but more than once I’ve had to use my SQL skills to move a WordPress site.

Now bloggers have a legal risk with the GDPR and Privacy Policies should they not the follow the proper steps, of which as far as I can tell, there isn’t concise agreement upon.

I could go on and on. The short version is that running a WordPress site competently requires technical skills and a time commitment.

WordPress No Longer a Sign a Quality

WordPress benefited years ago when all the smart kids left Blogger, TypePad, GeoCities, MySpace, and ten other platforms to WordPress. Because these smart kids (as a former Blogger user, I include myself on this list), went to WordPress, the average quality of a post was greater than other publishing platforms.

If you don’t believe that, look at the comment section of any Blogger site circa 2010. Rampant with spam. WordPress, although not perfect, was the best at filtering out spam from comments. This in turn provided those blogs with a better community of users than non-WordPress sites.

In the last few years, the trend I have witnessed is the rise of the topic blogs created simply to make affiliate revenue. The writing is generic. The font and layouts are polished, but they are basically brochures used to direct traffic to Amazon. They all use WordPress.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of great bloggers that use WordPress, but I’m seeing a trend where the platform is increasingly being used by “bloggers” focused on affiliate revenue than those trying to share ideas. Today, you are more likely to see a WordPress blog post about the “5 Best Bread Makers” than something that is of lasting value.

Comments are Down, Way Down

Before I started this post, I had a hunch that people were leaving fewer comments on blogs in general, but more specifically this blog. So I hacked out an SQL query and confirmed that fact.

As you can see from the chart, comments per post have crashed on this site. The site traffic increased most years, so it is not for a lack of visitors. Not only did this blog receive more comments during the glory years of 2011 – 2016, but I was more likely to leave comments on other blogs. Now, I rarely do.

What about other blogs?

From the article Is Blogging Dead? How Blogs are changing and How You Can Stay on Top by ProBlogger:

So how many blog comments do you get, huh? Is it anything like the number you had four years ago? I doubt it very much. Practically every blogger I’ve talked to has said comments are on the decline. Why? Two words: social media.

I also know of several top blogs that removed their comment section after they achieved a certain level of success. They no longer needed the feedback from their readers or they consumed that feedback on Twitter or Facebook in bite-sized chunks.

I have a few more ideas on why blog comments are down:

  1. More readers access sites with mobile. Mobile is harder to use for commenting.
  2. Those damn CAPTCHA challenges.
  3. Endless pop-up newsletter forms.
  4. Accept Cookies pop-ups.
  5. Sites that make or request that you turn off ad-blockers.
  6. There are a lot more sites to read. More reading = less writing.
  7. Listening to podcasts and watching YouTube has made audiences more passive. (I’m guilty)

Over the years, I’ve received many outstanding comments on this blog that have taught me lessons and shaped the way I think. The comments were essential to my story. Now they are disappearing.

I haven’t done a good job of engaging my readers or my peers on social media. Social media is draining for me and I try to do as little as possible. That lack of engagement probably shows.

Now What?

The cool kids of today are podcasting, running YouTube channels, or have crafted email newsletters. Blogs are increasingly seen as a second channel to promote audio or video. Considering the effort it takes to run a maintained blog and the lack of engagement, is it still worth it? It seems to be for those running a business, but less so for those of us that want to write about our interests.

I have no interest in starting a podcast, YouTube channel or even running a newsletter. However, I do go back and forth on using Medium as a primary blogging platform. As a reader, I really like the experience and the articles do receive quality comments. As a writer, they make it so simple. 1000x easier than running a self-hosted WordPress blog.

However, like all other social networks, Medium hides content, even from those you follow. I also don’t know where that company will be in 10 years. Too many content creators have gotten burned digital sharecropping only to lose it all when it goes away.

Do you have any thoughts or advice for me or another blogger?

Published by

MAS

Critical MAS is the blog for Michael Allen Smith of Seattle, Washington. My interests include traditional food, fitness, economics, and web development.

15 thoughts on “The State of Blogging in 2018”

  1. @MAS
    1. Interesting post. I would be wary of digital sharecropping. You could post on both Medium and your domain though, if it’s not too cumbersome.
    2. Was your comment graph for this specific blog, or all of your blogs? If it’s just for this blog, I think you have to take into account that you basically announced the end of this blog, and then went dark for several months, before bringing it back to life. I’d assume that would bring down comments. Are page views down since the hiatus? In that case, did you chart comments as a proportion of views?

  2. Many sites require that you comment using your social media account or to set up another account. I have more than enough ID’s and PW’s. If there’s a hurdle to writing a comment I will quickly abandon the idea.

  3. @Jim – I did cross-post this blog to Medium. It might be the best choice, although the downside is the comments are spread across 2 sites. That was the big reason that I shut down the Facebook page for this blog. Another downside is if I need to add a link or fix a typo, I need to do it in 2 different places.

    Yes, the graph was specific to this blog.

    It is possible that my blog hiatus affected the comment numbers, but traffic in the first half of 2018 was higher than any previous year. This does appear to be a common issue with bloggers. With other sites, the comment drop off started in 2014-2016.

  4. Facebook ruined blogging for me. All of the time I used to spend cultivating comments and writing new content is now spent scrolling mindlessly up and down my FB feed.

  5. I don’t understand what is meant by “hiding” content. I’ve never registered with Medium, I’m not sure why. It is off-putting somehow. I do use Lastpass. I do respect paywalls. I tend to chose blogs to read based on the quality of the writing, the subject matter, or the quality of the content. It has to have an RSS feed. I am not interested in video or in accessing content on my phone. (Yes, I am over 50.) I don’t think FB is very good for substantive conversation, but that seems to be where people want to interact. I am on FB only for groups that are discussing skills I want to acquire (genealogy, extended fasting for weight loss) and for my immediate neighborhood, which has a sort of ongoing homeowner’s meeting via FB.

  6. @wsb – The way Facebook, Medium, Twitter, etc “hide” content is they won’t show you every post from every person you follow unless you only follow a very small number. What they do is try and predict which posts you are more likely to engage with and display them.

    Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    There is a Spanish writer on Medium that I follow that writes about technology. Even though I follow him, his content never appears in my feed. So I need to click my follow list, scroll down to his name, click it, and then I can see his new posts.

    Now imagine doing that for every person. That is the downside of these social networks.

    On Facebook, my INeedCoffee page has over 3,000 followers, yet I can see they only show posts to 100-400 people. I can pay $$$ to reach more people, but I chose not to.

  7. @All – I just learned that Medium has a direct RSS Feed for every contributor.

    https://medium.com/feed/@CriticalMAS

    This means if I were to move to Medium, I could redirect my current Feedburner RSS link and I could link to posts programmatically from here. Posts would not be hidden and hard to find. Not saying I’m going to do this, but this would make it easier.

  8. Wanted to contribute a comment… (you’re welcome)

    Seriously though, I really value what you write. I can see how it would be hard to juggle and question its value… but it is valuable. I don’t really care from where I get your content, just as long as I can. (Also, it would be nice to not end up with multiple copies from your different distro channels.) For example, I’m now following you on 2 channels from Feedly, and I also get your newsletter. The NL is cool, but I don’t need to get posts that way. (Its not a big deal.) But I wouldn’t want to miss something specific. So what’s an interested reader to do?

    That felt random, but I still mean it. 😉

  9. @John – Thanks for the comment.

    The old newsletter is now gone (MailChimp) and Feedburner newsletter is just for those that don’t use RSS. Once the dust settles on the GDPR laws in a year or so, I may revisit creating a custom crafted email. But I suck at creating newsletters, so that is very low on my interest list.

  10. @MAS – So I could cancel that without feeling guilty? Going forward, Which RSS feed to you recommend that will still get all your posts?

  11. @John – For a while, the plan was to put my tech stuff on Medium and everything else here. Now, I am reconsidering that. So, I don’t know yet. For now, all blog posts will be on the Feedburner RSS.

  12. I was managing over 10 WP blogs few years ago. Every time I was doing update of WordPress itself, plugins, themes or on VPS I was praying that nothing break. Plugins using some magic from PHP or strange SQL queries was breaking my sites most frequently but there was also problems like breaking changes in minor MySQL or PHP updates… It was horrible. I stared to understand why people pay a lot of money to others to administer WP…

    So for my personal blog I wanted something simple, fast and secure (best if nothing to secure instead of to be on top of last info about bugs opening entire system to attacker, updating and then finding that update broke all sites, again).
    Posting everything to social media? Nope, they come and go and change what someone else see on whim.
    I was considered Medium but somehow I newer liked it. From my point of view it’s still social media and I hate they commenting system (need to click 3 times to read longer comments, seriously? and when it move me to another page with comment to see replies to this comment I need to click again to load this replies…).

    Then I heard about static sites generators and was sold.
    Instead of writing here why read this article, old but still has a lot of nice info: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2015/11/modern-static-website-generators-next-big-thing/

    I’m using now Hugo + Minimo theme (https://themes.gohugo.io/minimo/ basically I went through almost all themes, opened network inspector, checked which has smallest footprint and choose one of them that I liked most).
    I’m hosting it for free on Netlify that do all necessary steps to generate and update my site after I push new content to git repository. There are also appearing CMS’s for this that prefer WYSIWYG editors.
    Fast, simple, secure. All data in open text and Markdown so no platform/database dependency and I can edit it anywhere the way I prefer.
    There are other generators than Hugo but I prefer this one because it’s one binary file (I don’t like that JS is ‘eating the world’…) and it’s really fast.
    One hint for Hugo: use page bundles for every post https://gohugo.io/content-management/page-bundles/

    There are, of course, cons like comments (I’m using now Discus but want to move to something more lightweight and without so much tracking, thankfully more and more alternatives are appearing). I also was using a lot of plugins for WordPress but today most of this stuff could be done with separate services that have free tiers.

  13. @Matrixik – Great minds think alike. I was on Nelify’s site this morning. The podcast Syntax.FM speaks highly of them.

    Before I consider them for this blog (1,500 posts and 10,000+ comments), I will try out their service with one of my other projects. Get some practice and then decide if it is right for Critical MAS.

    Thank you for all the tips. I do like the idea of using Nelify for some Progressive Web App ideas I have.

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