5 Years of Blogging

by Benjamin Studebaker

August 4 is the blog’s birthday. Once a year, I permit myself to write a self-indulgent post about the state of the blog on or near the blog birthday. To date, I have maintained my promise to only do this once annually. I have no intention of regularly subjecting my readers to my banal self-reflections.

This series serves two purposes:

  1. Record Keeping–it allows me to record how the blog is doing and make a little history of it.
  2. Sharing–it allows me to share some of the experience of writing this blog with my readers.

If you are particularly interested in the history of this blog, feel free to check out the previous iterations in this series:

Let’s start with statistics.

The blog gained 649 new followers this year, down from 5,227:

The blog received 554,336 views this year, down from 1,469,160:

There are two core reasons for the decline:

  1. The primary reason is that in both years 3 and 4, I had a post that received more than 700,000 hits. The biggest post from this past year isn’t as strong (see below), and the vast majority of my hits come from a small number of viral posts.
  2. This is of much, much less importance, but worth mentioning–this spring, Google made changes to its algorithm which seem to have hurt my search engine optimization. Right wingers were complaining in 2016 that Google’s algorithm was too left wing, and in recent months many left wing sites have seen a marked decline in Google referrals. To be clear, I’m not accusing Google of ideological manipulation–I can’t prove that the change is ideologically motivated. But I also can’t prove that it isn’t. It’s a typical problem we get when we put tech monopolies in charge of algorithms that seriously impact social and political discourse–they get to regulate access to speech in a very opaque way.

I’ve plotted my Google referrals against my Facebook referrals over the past few months. As you can see, Google referrals declined even in months where Facebook referrals increased:

The June Facebook referral value is about 115,000–I had to leave that off the chart, or the change in Google hits would be almost imperceptible. June had a Facebook post that went a little viral, and viral posts do so much work for me that they trivialize everything else I do here. You can see why content creators become desperate for shares, and with search engine referrals harder to come by, getting shared on social media–and especially on Facebook–is more important than ever for sites like mine. If you like a blog on the internet, there is nothing you can do for that blog that’s better than a Facebook share, ideally on a page with a large following.

I wrote 97 new posts this year, slightly increasing my output:

I want to do enough new posts to keep this going but not so many that it becomes a major distraction from my PhD. 100 posts a year is probably around where it should be (around 2 per week on average). The days when I tried to do one of these everyday are long gone.

Here’s where the all-time numbers are at:

  • I now have 11,271 followers, mostly spread across Facebook, Twitter, E-mail, and WordPress. The Facebook followers–a hard core of about 2,700 people–do the best job of spreading my content by far. The Facebook page is also the place to go if you like commenting on articles and talking to other people about them. I got rid of on-site comments a year and a half ago because I couldn’t effectively moderate them and didn’t have time to try, and because I didn’t think they were adding substantive value to the site.
  • I now have 3,227,472 hits over the last five years, an average of about 645,000 per year.
  • There are now 737 total posts. Most of them are one or two thousand words long, so I’ve written somewhere between 737,000 and 1,474,000 words on the blog. For comparison, the entire Harry Potter series is 1,084,000 words long.
  • The heaviest day is still May 6, 2015, during Year 3. On that day, I picked up 455,374 hits.

The five most popular posts written in the last year were:

  1. Britain: For the Love of God, Please Stop Theresa May (June 6, 2017, 131,801 hits)
  2. How We Let the Orange Monster Win (November 9, 2016, 7,473 hits)
  3. What’s Going on With the Dakota Access Pipeline? (August 30, 2016, 6,425 hits)
  4. Who is the Most Qualified Presidential Candidate Ever? (September 28, 2016, 5,709 hits)
  5. The False Dichotomy Between Economics and Racism (November 13, 2016, 3,846 hits)

Here are the top five posts all-time (since August 4, 2012):

  1. Britain: For the Love of God, Please Stop David Cameron (May 2, 2015, 899,746 hits)
  2. Why Bernie vs Hillary Matters More Than People Think (February 5, 2016, 736,487 hits)
  3. Gary Johnson is Worse Than Donald Trump (July 29, 2016, 196,771 hits)
  4. Britain: For the Love of God, Please Stop Theresa May (June 6, 2017, 131,801 hits)
  5. 4 Arguments Against Accepting Syrian Refugees and Why They All Fail (November 20, 2015, 99,465 hits)

I had my first big viral post in 2015, and that brought a lot more traffic to the site. Here are the five most popular pre-viral posts (before 2015):

  1. Stagflation: What Really Happened in the 70s (December 30, 2012, 25,590 hits)
  2. A Critique of Existentialism (September 5, 2012, 19,972 hits)
  3. Why ISIS is Beheading Americans and What We Can Do About It (September 4, 2014, 17,581 hits)
  4. Developing Countries Shouldn’t Host the Olympics (February 8, 2014, 15,284 hits)
  5. Misconceptions: “Minimum Wage Jobs Aren’t Supposed to be Careers” (October 28, 2014, 12,812 hits)

In the past, I would go through and dig up lots of posts that weren’t very popular for a lark, but this year that kinda feels like work. These year-in-review posts never generate much additional traffic for them anyway. If you want to dig through more old stuff, the previous entries in this series have you covered (as well as the site archive system, which you can find at the bottom of the page).

I’m going into the third year of my PhD at Cambridge this year. There will be more teaching and more thesis work as I start to try to wrap things up. But as I’ve learned over the years, my academic work can fuel blogging as easily as it can displace it. It’s remarkable how much election writing–both US and UK–has impacted blogging since 2015. Almost all of my most popular posts have been directly related to a major election. Assuming we don’t have more elections in 2017 (and hey, we could–Theresa May is not in a very strong or stable position) there may be fewer hits on political blogs in general. So I don’t expect hits to match Year 3 or Year 4 levels, but I do expect to have more fun writing posts that are a bit more niche, like “Suburban Decay: A Theory of Decline in Towns,” “A Judge Judy Thinkpiece,” or “What’s Really Going on in Venezuela“.

To my regulars out there, both new ones and old ones, I want to thank you all so much for continuing to read what I write. I consider it an honor that you choose not only to read to the end of my lengthy posts, but that you return to read me again and again. I respect that you have only so much time and energy to invest in reading political material, and it is immensely gratifying to me that you continue to deem me worthy of that time.