Looking for love in all the wrong metrics

In Ben Brooks recent audio post regarding negativity, he advises new bloggers like me to avoid installing analytics on their blogs, because of how it can affect the way you write. It was his ranting, negative kinds of posts that got the most traffic on his site, and at the time he took it to mean that the critical tone was what resonated with his audience.

I’ve been thinking about this for days.

How can anyone know for sure what it is about popular posts that made them popular? You can know that they were popular, but you don’t really know why. I’ve got to say, I certainly crave that kind of popularity, even though I recognize there’s a huge amount of freedom that comes with anonymity. I don’t have an audience who feels like they own me, and complains when I use my platform for something that doesn’t interest them. I don’t really have a platform.

I’ve had analytics installed on this blog since day one, mostly because I want to know if anyone is reading this. So far, basically nobody. Most of my posts have zero views. Getting tons of views and readers was not one of my stated goals for this project. Establishing the habit of writing in my life is the main thing. So why do I even care about the views?

I think what I want is to be validated. To be noticed. To be known. To be the start of a conversation. To feel like what I’m spending my time on matters in some measurable way. Would thousands of page views do that? Maybe. Thousands of Twitter followers might do that, too. But either of those things would change the experience. You can’t use the thing the same way once you’re famous. Even if you’re just Internet famous.

And numbers of views are a pretty weak form of validation. You don’t know anything about them. What kind of person is this? Why have they chosen to start following my work? The guesswork begins right there. And my own confirmation bias could work out from whatever emotional state I happen to be in at the time, and set me down a path I might never have chosen.

Years ago, when I signed up for the Lesser Photographer newsletter, CJ Chilvers emailed me directly to ask a bit about me, and we had a short email conversation. I don’t know if he is still able to do that, but that blew me away, and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s still a newsletter I read every issue of. Now, thinking about it from the view of a writer, I think that was an excellent way for him to get exactly the kind of validation that I want: a personal connection with a real person. Even if it’s brief. And I’m sure that must have allayed worries about his audience. To some extent, he had an idea about who he was writing to. He didn’t have to invent personas or guess or just write for himself, unless those things were helpful to him.

Do metrics matter at all for this kind of thing? Even a little bit? Each of the few times I’ve shared a blog post in the comments section of a website, or posted it on Twitter, I’ve been wracked with fear about what people will think. It’s the not knowing that’s hard. Our brains are pattern-recognition machines, pulling meaning out of chaos. Collecting chaotic or random data is likely going to lead to invalid conclusions.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do: I’ll keep the analytics on the site. The ones I have are super basic and frustratingly non-granular. But I’ve decided on one thing to measure that will matter to me; something I can control: Did I post something today?

If getting direct feedback and conversations about this ever starts to really matter to me, then I’ll set specific goals to reach out to people or publicize posts in a manageable daily or weekly manner.

And for now, I’ll look for emotional validation somewhere other than numbers.

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