Image licensed under Creative Commons by Flickr user Johnson Cameraface.
It used to be pretty easy to grow an online audience, month-over-month, year-over-year. When I worked managing dozens of bloggers, I even had it down to a rough science: If you write six or more times a month, your audience will almost certainly grow. If you write five or less times a month, your audience almost certainly will decline.
There were exceptions — the truly great and the truly terrible writers could always confound the numbers — but the rule held true for probably 95% of the folks I edited.
But Marco Arment notes something folks are still mostly just whispering about: The days of easy growth are over, and independent blogs might well be the canary in the coal mines.
Shallow social-shareable listicles and clickbait headlines have always been plentiful on the web, but it does seem clear that they’re getting much worse and more dominant recently.
Google is making the problem worse, but they’re not the root problem. In fact, the real problem is a pretty big problem for Google, too:
Everyone’s spending increasingly more consumption time dicking around in apps and snacking on bite-sized social content instead of browsing websites and searching Google.
Publishers are relying more on social traffic not because Google’s squeezing them out, but because that’s where everyone went. The dominance of mobile usage, social networks, and YouTube, plus attention-competition from apps, are the real problems for web publishers and blog writers.
While once the web thrived when sites and services pushed their visitors on to other interesting things, the web is becoming much more a series of walled gardens: Traffic from referrers like news organizations or bloggers will go from little to less, while Facebook, the great traffic driver of the day, is augured by wiser minds to be planning to cut the flow of traffic soon in a bid to keep readers in its own garden.