What’s in a Number?

What’s in a Number?

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.

20 Comments

  1. what timing! i’ve been thinking about numbers matter to me as i get older:

    - analyzing my blog traffic from week to week
    - crunching & assessing revenue numbers for work
    - approaching the 3-0 in a couple of years & what that means

    i believe balance is key to everything.
    you can still keep an eye on numbers to learn/adjust but your purpose is the main driver.

    thanks for a great post!
    vanae

    Reply
  2. It is a strange problem. I just started blogging a couple of months ago and a couple of weeks into it I realized that I just HAVE to look at my RSS numbers if I want some participation on my blog. I blog about what I am passionate about but I am also passionate about sharing …so I need to understand what brings more readers and more participation.

    The funny thing though …very soon I can see how the focus gets away from the real stuff and gets solely on RSS numbers….But you know what, I am already getting a sense that the only way to get and keep readers is by being authentic and interesting in your posts. And once people stop by, be a warm host :)

    Mayas last blog post..Born Into Poverty : Blog Action Day 2008

    Reply
  3. It is never a good idea to obsess about numbers whether it is blog subscribers, age, or the balance in your stock market portfolio! Numbers rarely tell the whole story.

    You made this point very well in your comments concerning how one’s age effects their willingness to seek adventure. Age doesn’t tell everything about a person. I was grossly generalizing in my article to make a point and to stimulate discussion.

    Hopefully, we all have more noble purposes for doing the things we spend our time doing beyond just building numbers. Of course, a number here or a number there can be encouraging.

    Thanks for mentioning my article!

    Jeff@MySuperChargedLifes last blog post..Back To Basics: Stop Whining And Frugal Up Your Finances

    Reply
  4. Hey Peter, thanks for the link. Now you’ve got me really curious about why you lost the 1,000 subscribers. I have a hard time believing you suddenly pissed off 1,000 people one day. (Come to think of it, what post did you write that day?)

    You said there was some sort of glitch, and that must be the case. Either you didn’t really lose those subscribers, or you never really had them. And if that’s the case, then the lower subscriber count doesn’t mean anything at all!

    Hunter Nuttalls last blog post..Steve Pavlina Vs. The ThunderCats

    Reply
    • Looking back it may have to do with resyncing my feed. But I have done that before without any problems. Strange.

      Reply
  5. So many times people are limited by the number we see. Age is a good example. Too old to do something or too young to do something. I happen to chance upon a forum and saw a guy with an age of 21 asking whether is he too old to do really learn. I was fascinated by his thinking and wonder why people at a age of 92 can get a Phd and he is saying that his age has impeded his growth.

    I wonder…

    Vincent
    Personal Development Blogger

    Vincents last blog post..The Story Of A Butterfly

    Reply
  6. Something I’d add about not becoming RSS/hits obsessed is that your RSS count really doesn’t tell you how many people are actually engaged with your blog.

    By that, I mean a blog with 50,000 readers might have little impact on the lives of them; a blog with 500 or 1000 readers might be making a big difference in the day of every one of those readers.

    Speaking for myself, I know I subscribe to a few blogs which I wouldn’t really miss if they’re gone. I read some of their posts, skim or skip others, and don’t really dwell on them.

    Other blogs that I subscribe to or read have literally been life changing, even if in small or slight ways. I’d count The Change Blog amongst this group, and I expect that dozens or hundreds of your other subscribers would, too.

    Don’t think about the numbers, think about the one person who read The Change Blog today, and whose whole day was lightened by it.

    Ali Hale (from Alpha Student)s last blog post..Alcohol and internet connections don’t mix

    Reply
    • That’s a good way to think of it Ali :)

      Reply
  7. Numbers appear to be more connected to how our minds think than abstract concepts. When we hear that 3 people are going to a gathering instead of 8 people, we instantly have an idea of how things will go at the event. The numbers connected to concepts we bring up give them a value of importance.

    Reply
  8. I don’t worry about numbers…I want to live deeply and write about it. It is neat when some people connect with my posts and engage in a conversation, not just with me but with other commenters. But even if no one came I would still write. In fact, I’ve written millions of words in journals that I eventually threw away. Writing connects me with the deepest part of myself…I would be cheating myself if I didn’t do it.

    Jean Browman–Cheerful Monks last blog post..That Stir of Might and Instinct Within Us

    Reply
    • I haven’t been writing as much as of late and I’ve missed it. I wrote two articles this past week, though, so I think I’m back on track!

      Reply
  9. i have just started.blogging.seeing the blog stats increase daily does give you a sense of happiness that people are reading it somewhere in the world. i am an artist and also interested in self development. i have created images of my paintings with motivating thoughts in my blog to flip through when i am low in energy.

    semas last blog post..LOOKING FOR QUICK MOTIVATION ?

    Reply
  10. Hey Peter, it’s funny how I came upon this post. I stopped by to get a quote from my guest post and noticed your RSS numbers were unusually low (this shows how much of a numbers guy I am). Then I glanced up at your latest post and saw what it was about.

    I’m really glad I stopped to read it because you touch on some things I’ve been contemplating lately.

    It’s very easy to get OCD about the numbers and this definitely has a negative affect on the content you produce. Time and time again, the posts that draw the most interaction from my readers are the ones written when I stop worrying about what I’m writing and just write from the heart.

    You said, “After all, I believe that when “personal satisfaction” tops your list of success metrics often the others take care of themselves.”

    I keep finding this to be true. If more bloggers would think this way, we would have a lot more quality to enjoy. It sounds like everyone here is more concerned about connecting with their readers than worrying about their numbers. That’s great! Eric.

    Eric Hamms last blog post..Simplicity Saturday: Continuing The Crap Reduction

    Reply
  11. I will be lying if I said that I don’t care much about the number of subscribers. Haha.

    It’s a sure way of increasing morale when seeing an improvement on the stats from feedburner to the view counter.

    Of course, quality entries still counts as the top priority when I post on my blogs. Following blogs too helps make articles more relevant and that helps to engage readers and writers in a much more friendly way.

    Daniel Richards last blog post..11 Traits You Need To Getting Things Done With a BIGGER SMILE!

    Reply
    • I think someone subscribing to your blog is one of the best compliments they can give you. That is, they are saying “I enjoyed this article and want to read more of what you write in the future.” So I think subscriber count is definitely a good success metric to use. It’s just that I see a danger in becoming obsessed with increasing it for reasons I mentioned in this article. In many ways it comes down to having a balanced attitude.

      Reply
  12. That’s funny. I just emailed you to hassle you to digg/stumble my latest article, then thought, oh better go reciprocate – and lo! in my face!

    Ha – well, I get no particular satisfaction out of blogging into a vacuum, which I did for years before I ‘got serious’, so that is why I AM a little obsessed by numbers right now.

    But at the end of the day it’s a just a game, and not a very serious one at that.

    I think Bill Gates said something like “Business is a good game, lots of competition and money is just the way you keep score”. I guess in blogging subscriber counts / traffic counts are the currency that converts into bucks so …

    Oh speaking of billionaires, I just read somewhere a quote by George Soros “the money’s not the point. It’s an indication that I’ve succeeded in the grand adventure of understanding reality. ”

    Seamus Anthonys last blog post..How To Meditate While You’re Doing Housework

    Reply
  13. Running a site can be a challenging undertaking and it’s obviously a wonderful high to get a big following.

    I have to agree with what Peter says.

    Identification with these thoughts only make for unhappiness.

    Learning to accept things as they are, is very liberating.

    One can argue that letting go doesn’t pay the bills and that’s a valid argument, so let’s opt for balance.

    This way we can avoid major mood swings…

    Reply
  14. Above all, I try to limit any form of distraction and looking at numbers is highly distracting…

    If we expand the thoughts put into your post, which I believe makes some excellent points, we may consider the larger problem that blogging presents for the readers:

    Most bloggers are seeking to “steal” the attention of internet users to increase readership and falsely inflate their position on the web by asking their friends for “diggs” or “stumbles.”

    If we, as bloggers, seek to steal attention with catchy post titles and mindless lists, then we are not providing a useful service to our readers and we become no better than mainstream media.

    Unfortunately, the blogosphere is beginning to follow in mainstream media’s objective to steal readers attention by insighting emotion with less care given to accurate and useful information and more care given to the ultimate objective of increasing readership and/or selling advertising.

    “… in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” Herbert Simon (1916 – 2001)

    Reply
  15. Kent,
    I’m turned off my the attention-getting techniques of a lot of blogs. I also agree that focusing on our numbers is distracting. I’m not aiming for popularity…I’m aiming for some deep conversations. It’s a different approach to blogging, but it works for me. Oh, yes, it sure does.

    Jean Browman–Cheerful Monks last blog post..Doing Things the Hard Way…For the Sheer Joy of It

    Reply

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