The number of subscribers to your blog, as measured by Feedburner, will naturally fluctuate – and not just because people are subscribing and unsubscribing (see this ProBlogger article as to why). So when in late August I noticed I had lost 1,000 subscribers in one day I wasn’t too worried – I had seen this type of thing happen before. When it became apparent there had been some sort of glitch (that many people rarely unsubscribe in one day) and this number wouldn’t quickly be returning to its previous range in the mid to high 3000’s it gave me reason to think and reflect.

It is easy in life to become obsessed with numbers – for example our age, the balance in our bank account or the number of subscribers to our blog. But is this really a good idea?

I believe that while such numbers have meaning and importance, it is both dangerous and foolish to identify too closely with them. Huh? Ok, let me explain….

Age

“I want to die young at a ripe old age” – Ashley Montagu

In his article Is It Better to Be In Your Twenties or Forties?, Jeff from My Supercharged Life makes the point that life has its seasons. If you read his things that generally go with being twenty-something and being forty-something you will know he means (sidenote: apparently I am 26 years old going on 40!).

One thing that caught my attention is Jeff’s comment that we tend to be more adventurous in our twenties. Now this may or not be true, but what I would like to point out is it’s funny how such a belief can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I often hear people say “I’m too old to do that”. And usually I think to myself “No you’re not!”. I remember when I was at university there would usually be a couple of students in in their sixties in my undergraduate classes. At the time I thought this was kind of strange, but in retrospect I have mass respect for these people. A lust for life, a sense of adventure, a curious nature……  these are a few things that are often associated with being younger. But when you think about it, such things shouldn’t be tied to age. I wonder: can linking these things with being young just be an excuse for losing them as we grow older?

Money

“If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy” – Proverb

Lately my bank balance has been steadily increasing. I don’t say this to gloat – believe me, it is not that “gloat-worthy”. But it has been interesting to observe the psychological difference of having a few extra dollars in the bank. In short, it feels pretty good!

But things can change quickly. Investors will be well aware of this fact – in recent weeks fortunes have been made and lost as the price of shares have been on a rollercoaster ride. And home owners in the US have had the misfortune of watching the value of their home drop – sometimes quite drastically.

I have said it before on this blog, and I will probably say it again: it is nice to have money. It allows you to do “things” and buy “stuff”. But because of the fleeting nature of money it is dangerous to tie your identity to it. Just think, if you consider yourself a success or failure based on the size of your share portfolio you may have been having some suicidal thoughts in recent weeks.

I’m not saying these numbers don’t matter – obviously when it comes to share portfolios we are often talking about peoples’ retirement funds. However, as the above quote says when it comes to thinking about how rich you are don’t forget all those things money can’t buy such as good health, family and friends. I think these things are often too easily forgotten, or at the very least under-appreciated.

Blogging

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful” – Albert Schweitzer

So back to blogging and, in particular, my subscriber count. I’m not going to be totally Zen and say it doesn’t annoy me than 1,000 subscribers mysteriously disappeared in one day. You can see in the following graph how in late August it suddenly and mysteriously plunged:

Bloggers out there will know it takes time and effort to build a healthy readership, and having such a readership is handy for attracting advertising dollars and catching the attention of people who come across your site (in particular with StumbleUpon as you only have a few seconds to catch a person’s attention).

But that being said, this little episode with my subscriber count has brought me back to some simple questions:

  • Why do I blog?
  • How do I measure the success of my blog?

Recently I read Technorati’s 2008 State of the Blogosphere which asked bloggers these very questions. The answers were:

Why do you blog?

  • In order to speak my mind on areas of interest – 79%
  • To share my expertise and experiences with others – 73%
  • To meet and connect with like minded people – 62%
  • To keep friends and family updated on my life – 32%
  • To get published or featured in traditional media – 26%
  • To make money or supplement my income – 24%
  • To enhance my resume – 21%
  • To attract new clients to my business – 14%

How do you measure the success of your blog?

  • Personal satisfaction – 75%
  • Number of posts or comments on my blog – 58%
  • Number of unique visitors – 53%
  • Number of links to my blog from other sites – 46%
  • Number of RSS subscribers – 39%
  • Your Technorati rank and/ or authority – 33%
  • Accolades from other media – 22%
  • Number of people who are “favoriting” you – 18%
  • Revenue – 16%
  • Number and quality of new business leads – 10%

My own personal answers to these questions include many of the above reasons and metrics. But I’m willing to admit that over the past 18 months the two answers that topped my list when I first started blogging  – to share my experiences with others and personal satisfaction – have slowly slipped a few rungs down the ladder. And other answers – such as number of RSS subscribers – have perhaps been given too much importance.

The problem I see with placing too much importance on numbers when it comes to blogging is it can have a negative impact on your blog. If you’re obsessed with SEO (ie ranking highly on Google), you’re articles can start to sound awkward and uninspired as you start to shape articles entirely around keywords. If you’re obsessed with the social media, you may stop writing articles that are unlikely to do well on Digg/ SU/ etc (and yet, ironically, are often the most interesting) or may get on other peoples’ nerves by asking for “help” too often. How do I know these things? Because I’ve been there and done that!

Again don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying numbers aren’t important. But it you determine your blog’s success simply by its subscriber count or the number of comments each article receives what do you do if these readers disappear and the comments stop?

I put forth that it is possible to recognize the importance and meaning of the types of numbers discussed in this article without letting let consume you and determine your self-identity.

So then, what should I make of losing 1,000 subscribers in a day? Well as I said it did initially annoy me. But it has also helped me refocus, so perhaps in the end it will be a positive? After all, I believe that when “personal satisfaction” tops your list of success metrics often the others take care of themselves. So since it’s not something I can change, I think it’s best to just get over it and get on with it.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear about any numbers you see either yourself or others placing too much importance on.

Photo by Mykl Roventine

Peter Clemens

Peter Clemens is founder of The Change Blog and author of The Possibility of Change books series. Click here to learn more about Peter and his books.