Why Blogs Fail

By Neuroskeptic | July 8, 2012 9:03 am

I can think of several new neuroscience blogs that started out with some really nice content, but then they disappeared after a few weeks or months. I’m sure the same must be true of other genres. This is a shame.

Thinking back over the early days of Neuroskeptic, my advice to new bloggers is: it gets better. The early days of any blog are psychologically tough because almost inevitably, your first posts are not going to get the recognition they deserve.

That’s because people tend to really pour their hearts into early posts – these are the ones that express thoughts you’ve been mulling over for ages and are finally writing about – and then inevitably, hardly anyone reads them, because it’s a new blog and no-one even knows it’s there yet. Certainly that was my experience.

Luckily, it doesn’t stay that way. Your first posts will flop, at least in relation to your own expectations, but remember that a) it’s nothing personal and b) no-one except you cares. Only you can see your traffic stats and whatever, but even if everyone knew them, they wouldn’t mind. You need to push on through that stage and once you do, you won’t care about it either.

To get past the first stage, you need to “sell” your blog. I think a lot of new bloggers forget this, or think it somehow won’t apply to them, which sets them up for disappointment. Of course, good content is essential – no matter how hard you try, you can’t sell crap. But great writing alone is not enough. No, not even yours.

Promotion is part of blogging, but once you get into the right mindset, you’ll realize that it’s not a chore so much as a natural extension of writing. You write something, and then you go and find people who’ll be interested in it, and who might have interesting comments about it, and try and get them involved. Or you get involved in conversations about the topics you’re interested in.

Sell, don’t beg. Outright asking more established people for links, retweets etc. rarely works and it looks bad. Get people interested in it. If that’s a chore, then it means you’re not really interested in your own stuff, in which case that’s a problem.

If you’ve done this for, say, a year, then I’d say you’ve given blogging a good shot and you can make an informed decision as to whether or not it’s for you. But if you quit after just a couple of months because “I tried blogging and it didn’t work out” or “I had a blog but no-one read it” then I’d say you’re probably making a mistake. You haven’t experienced all of blogging, only the start of it, which is the toughest and least rewarding part. It gets better.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: blogging, media, you
  • http://petrossa.wordpress.com/ petrossa

    Writing different from Mainstream content is almost a must.

    There is not much point in reading yet another Mainstream blog.

    One likes to be challenged, to read differencing versions of the matter at hand in order to better make up one's mind. Reading just a confirmation of prevalent opinion or a collection of subjects 'proving' a hobbyhorse is pretty timewasting.

    Sofar you are doing well for what it's worth.

  • sabbatini

    Simple: too many blogs, too short a time to read them all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14107632038306560194 Sidereal

    Well, in fairness, many blogs fail because they are simply crap. ;)

  • http://smoens.wordpress.com/ smoens

    Good post! I think petrossa makes a good point as well. There's a lot of neuroscience blogs out there, and well this goes for cooking or other stuff as well. If you want to be noticed you will have to provide content, whether that's neuroscience related or not, that provides a new point of view or covers a different topic within the field.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08382242668090490676 FredT

    Failure depends on your purpose for your blog. If you plan to develop big readership, and make money off your blow, failure is likely. If you write for the exercise of writing, and brain exercise of expression, creativity, and are disinterested in big readership, how can you fail?

  • http://davenussbaum.com Dave Nussbaum

    I totally agree that the first days are the hardest days and it's good to be reminded of that. I started my social psychology blog in May and it's been a lot of fun and I'm thrilled that there are more people reading it than just my wife and my mom.

    But some days it certainly feels like you've really invested in writing something, tried to spread the word, and then by the end of the day 4 people have read your post, and of those 4 you're pretty sure 2 of them didn't really read it.

    So it's nice to hear from others, who have been there before, that you've got to just keep going and not worry too much about who's reading it, at least not yet.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02259453981627589988 Moi

    Solid article. I'm a new blogger myself and it is indeed tough reaching a wider audience.

  • omg

    Neuroskeptic should make a neuroscience forum and put a paypal link on it. I reckon it would be one of the hottest thing ever online. Shape neuroscience discourse. On that thought alone I'd make a sizeable donation. I only read Neuroskeptic's blog when it comes to neuroscience, others are too long and pretentious whereas Neuroskeptic confronts the beast head on. Can you please sell t-shirts, mugs and stuff? I'm just such a big fan.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17166693823147681078 Gustavo Pérez Domínguez

    I agree with fredT: “failure” depends on “purpose”; it might be you don't look for an audience anyhow. A blog might just be an excercise in creativity, flow, sort of a way to build a written feedback to your own evolution in interests (and it doesn´t neccesarily mean it's gonna be dull or self-absorbed). Now, if you are into competition, then definitely it's a darwinian thing (and “failure” applies)…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12975382358013125434 Kay Walker

    I'm with @FredT. When I really feel something for a topic, I give it a go. If no one reads it, I still have my thoughts written down for future times when I get worked up about a similar topic! Sometimes I get more thrills from the comments I make on OTHER people's blogs, eg. Neuroskeptic's!

  • http://www.thatsmyphilosophy.wordpress.com Chrys Stevenson

    Perhaps I'm lucky that when I started blogging, someone told me that it takes a long time to build an audience. I'd say my blog is successful now, but it's taken a good two years work.

    I agree that promotion is key. It helps if you can build a network of like-minded contacts on social networks. It also helps to build relationships with people who a 'centres of influence'. I would caution, though, that these need to be *real* relationships, based on shared interests and reciprocity – not just a demand that they promote your blog!

    I think it also helps if you can use social networks to build a relationship with your readers – let them know who YOU are. This does mean giving up some online privacy, but, for me, it's worth it.

    I'd say blogging is a bit like body surfing. Whatever the subject, you won't get readers if your posts aren't newsworthy. I think of it a bit like body surfing – you have to 'catch the wave' of public interest. When something hits the news or becomes topical, jump in *then* and write about it – don't wait for a week until it's old news.

    Finally, I'd say, put your own personality into your blog.That's what will make it unique.

  • Anonymous

    @Moi: Given that you want to show that there is ample evidence for the paranormal as well as to expose the irrationality and religiophobia of professional skeptics and belligerent atheists, I would say that that is a very good thing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13405634373998361400 Haitham Seelawi

    There is a substantial grain of truth in this post and in many of the comments, and we can safely generalize all of that to writing in general.

    The thing I find almost always missing though in such analysis of why some blogs go viral while others don't, is a reckoning with the dynamics of networks, not least because they are not quite intuitive, and not fully elucidated yet.

    There is an interesting popular science book titled “Linked”. It is an excellent introduction to this field, but since it was written early in the forgone decade, it hardly anticipated the progress that had accrued to this field of research since then, and what a progress that was, and still is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18379669883853001278 TheCellularScale

    Do you have any tips for maintaining good content? My biggest worry starting the cellular scale was running out of ideas for posts. At 3 months, I was pretty excited that my 'list of ideas' was growing faster than my actual list of posts. But now at 6 months my 'new ideas' list is slowing down.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06647064768789308157 Neuroskeptic

    TheCellularScale: Great question! I don't really know how to answer that, ideas are weird and magical things and I'm not sure where they come from. I'd say, if in doubt, read something. Read as much as possible, ideas will come eventually.

    One important point about blogging though is that you don't need to have a new idea for every post. It's fine to repeat yourself. Everyone does it to an extent. You just need to find a new “hook” for each post – it can be a news item, a new paper, something that happened to you, anything. But the “big idea” it leads onto can be one you've covered many times before, although ideally not within the last few weeks. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

  • http://neuroscienceofpersonality.wordpress.com/ INTPblogger

    Thanks for writing this. As a beginner blogger I can definitely relate to other people's comments that sometimes the initial drive is simply to rid your mind of a constant deluge of ideas and thoughts, regardless of the audience. At least in my experience, my ideas are coming from a mixture of personal experiences and reading combined with my neuroscience background. But, as I've come to realize, our minds all work differently and are based on different sets of innate “filters” for how we perceive and judge the world. What one person may challenge as a bogus idea right off the get-go (without reading anything on the topic) may seem to another to hold the answers to the universe. So, write about your passions, eventually some people will listen.

  • Carpenter

    Hi Neuroskeptic,
    Thanks for writing this post! A fellow graduate student and I just started a neuroscience blog together and we're finding it a challenging, yet rewarding experience.

    I was initially surprised at how difficult writing is – I haven't done any legitimate writing since my high school days, and I'm definitely feeling the rust. I was also surprised to get some discouragement (from those who clearly don't understand how cool it is to blog about neuroscience) and that was tough to hear.

    Aside from that, though, it's been great so far. My mentor even enjoyed reading it :)

  • http://www.scienceofeds.org Tetyana

    Great post. I'm finding blogging really rewarding. It is actually so much more rewarding and fun than I ever expected . I started in April 2012. One, it is cool to get comments, feedback and general discussion going on the blog and elsewhere. Two, it is nice to think and write about an interest of mine that's not at all related to the research I do. Moreover, it is not only giving me something to do that I feel appreciated for and distracting me from the very thing I blog about (eating disorders). And probably the most important part, it is motivating me to learn grammar and improve my writing skills (which are awful).

    But anyway, your blog is one of my favourite neuroscience blogs. Great content, great writing, insightful comments and good length (my posts are way too long).

  • http://www.wiztechie.com/ Pinoy Tech Blog

    One of the hardest time being a blogger is when you actually just starting up your blog. Yes you write amazing post but get no readers. At that point, its like a wall you should cross, and that moment, that early moment separate bad bloggers and great bloggers. If you keep on going eventually you will succeed on it.

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Neuroskeptic

No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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