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I hate bloggers who waste their time on stats

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[This is part of the IWillTeachYouToBeRich Week of Discontent, which is now actually longer than a week.]

I keep getting emails wondering about how to make a popular blog and I just scratch my head. So today, I’m going to share the “secret” with you.

No, you don’t need 25 Steps to a Wildly Successful Personal Finance Blog.

No, you don’t need a beautiful design. For the first two years of iwillteachyoutoberich, this blog looked like a piece of crap and had hundreds of articles on it (over 1MB of text/images) because I didn’t know how to do archives.

No, you don’t need Feedburner and the fanciest stats package. In fact, the more stats you have, the less you’ll write.

No, you don’t need the fanciest relevance plugin from WordPress. Get a life.

The “secret” is simple: Write good articles on things people care about, and then tell the right people about it. But that’s not sexy enough, is it? Instead, people spin their wheels installing the latest plugin and wonder why their exquisitely measured site doesn’t get more readers.

Here’s an example. I recently switched my URL structure from iwillteachyoutoberich.com to iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog for some long-term planning. There were some unintended consequences: Technorati, a search engine used by mostly bloggers to satisfy their gigantic egos, started having duplicate entries for me:

  • Technorati rank for iwillteachyoutoberich.com: 3,684 (1,326 links)
  • Technorati rank for iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog: 32,116 (218 links)

I actually sent an email to Technorati to fix this until I thought about how stupid I was being. So many bloggers will look at this and say, OMFG!!11 I NEED TO FIX THIS!! LET ME RE-REDIRECT MY URLs AND INSTALL LOTS OF FORWARDING STUFF SO THAT THE TECHNORATI RANK IS FIXED!! ONWARD!!

Or you could just stop, realize how pointless that is, and spend those 20 hours writing good articles. The biggest growth from this site has not been the latest plugin or design change I made, of which there are few. It certainly hasn’t been from installing my “advanced” stats packages, which are not advanced at all. The growth has come from articles that resonated with people, who then went and told their friends.

J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly, a site that’s had stratospheric growth, writes about a conversation he had with a friend about growing his blog:

“Post lots of good content,” I told him.

“Yeah,” he said. “But what else?”

“There is no ‘what else’,” I said. Actually, I ranted and raved about how too many people focus on things that aren’t important and don’t bother to spend time on the content, but essentially it all amounted to “there is no ‘what else’”.

My friend went away for a few weeks to work on his site. When I talked to him again he told me, “I’ve switched from WordPress to Drupal. Do you think that’ll make a difference?”

“It’ll make no difference at all,” I said. “Readers don’t care what weblog tool you use. All they care about is the content.”

“Yeah, but Drupal offers so many more features,” he said. I just shook my head.

About a month ago, he launched his site. He posted an introductory article. “Looks good,” I said.

“Can you point people to the site?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I said. “You don’t have any content.”

Meanwhile he put up some Google ads and some Amazon ads. He posted a single link to another article at a big news site. I talked to him a couple weeks later. “Nobody’s coming to my site,” he told me. “Not a single person has clicked on an ad.”

“That’s because there’s nothing there,” I told him.

“What do you mean?” he said. “I spent a lot of time creating the layout and putting up the ads.”

“You need to focus on content,” I told him.

So he wrote another article. It was moderately interesting, but it was all in one h-u-g-e paragraph. That was on February 21st. There’s been nothing new posted to the site since then. The site layout has changed a half-dozen times, though, as my friend looks to make it as pretty as possible.

He IMed me last night. “Nobody’s coming to the site,” he said.

“It needs content,” I told him.

“I don’t have time,” he said. “I’m so busy.” I pointed out that he wasn’t too busy to party with friends. He wasn’t too busy to play soccer. He wasn’t too busy to tinker with the layout. These are all fine things, but none of them have anything to do with getting readers. “Can’t you point people to my site?” he asked.

“Maybe in a couple months,” I said. “Maybe once you have some content.”

“But Ramit,” you might say, “you always talk about measurable goals. Are you saying we should ignore you and not measure our site success.” Ok, listen up. The problem is not “which stats package is the best?” The problem is, too many people are wasting their time monitoring stats than writing interesting stuff that people care about.

Yes, stats are important, just like measuring your electrolyte level is important for OLYMPIC SWIMMERS. WHEN YOU NEED MORE ADVANCED STATS, YOU’LL KNOW. YOU’LL KNOW BECAUSE LARGE ADVERTISERS WILL START ASKING YOU THINGS LIKE THE AGE/INCOME/LOCATION/SHOE CHOICE OF YOUR USERS. UNTIL THEN, JUST WRITE. PLEASE. I SWEAR, IF I NEVER HEAR ANOTHER PERSON ASKING ABOUT WHICH STATS PACKAGE HE SHOULD INSTALL, IT’LL BE TOO SOON. DO NOT INSTALL A 2ND STATS PACKAGE. DO NOT INSTALL THE LATEST PLUGIN. DO NOT DO ANYTHING. JUST WRITE!!!!!!!!! AHHHHH KILL ME NOW.

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47 Comments

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  1. The more stats you have, the less you’ll write.

    This is absolutely true.

    In mid-March my stats provider went on the blink for a WEEK. For the first day, I was a wreck. Were people coming to my site? What were they viewing? How would I know if there were problem spots?

    Then I forgot about it and just started writing. It was nice, actually, to be free from the stats.

  2. I don’t even have a stats package for my guest blog at RoadToForbes (or maybe I do but I haven’t found it yet).

    On the control panel, I see how many people viewed the posts. If that number is higher than yesterday, I’m happy.

    Get Rich Slowly IS a great blog (as is this one). Build the content and be involved in the blogosphere and the readers will come.

  3. Snicker. Come on, Ramit, tell us how your really feel! You’re right, though, blogging is about content. I’m working on trying to figure out what I should talk about on my site, not because I have a lack of things to say, but because I like to talk about everything (and frankly, some of my topics really don’t need to be aired). You keep an even keel, which I admire. I’ll try to find more of a grove, and until then, I’ll take your advice and just keep plugging away. Cheers.

  4. Ha! One of the best posts in a long time. 🙂 This is very, very true & something that all bloggers need to take note of. I recently started a Photography Blog that discusses a variety of things in the genre.

    Now, while I’ll admit to checking on how many visitors stop by, I do make a concerted effort to write a minimum of one new post per day. I’ve also found that the more and more content you get online the more people will just “happen” by the site via a hit on Google.

    Content really is king! My readership is trending upward and all I’m really doing is writing new articles and occasionally announcing relevant posts on some of the forums that I frequent.

  5. Stats are important but content is more important, like everything else in life it’s about balance.

  6. so true, a lot of times we put too much importance in things that don’t matter at all, neglecting the fact that by focusing on things that matter, others will come along

  7. Which stats package should I install on my blog? 😉

    Good post.

  8. Here’s a little trick–imagine that some eccentric millionaire is paying you $100 every time you write a post.

    Do you think you’d write more?

    And here’s the thing–for a leading blog, $100 per post is chump change. It’s probably more like $1,000 per post.

    The difference is that the leading bloggers started off by priortizing their writing even when their Google AdSense stats showed that they made $0.01 per post.

    You have to invest to generate return.

  9. 100% agree on the importance of stats. There’s only one stat that matters: visitors. There’s only one way to get it: content. Anything else is a distraction.

  10. I recently switched my URL structure from iwillteachyoutoberich.com to iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog for some long-term planning. There were some unintended consequences: Technorati, a search engine used by mostly bloggers to satisfy their gigantic egos, started having duplicate entries for me:

    * Technorati rank for iwillteachyoutoberich.com: 3,684 (1,326 links)
    * Technorati rank for iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog: 32,116 (218 links)

    I actually sent an email to Technorati to fix this until I thought about how stupid I was being. So many bloggers will look at this and say, OMFG!!11 I NEED TO FIX THIS!! LET ME RE-REDIRECT MY URLs AND INSTALL LOTS OF FORWARDING STUFF SO THAT THE TECHNORATI RANK IS FIXED!! ONWARD!!

    Or you could just stop, realize how pointless that is, and spend those 20 hours writing good articles.

    Ramit, while I agree w/ the main points you’ve made about focusing on content and substance over layouts, tools and metrics, I couldn’t disagree more strongly w/ your comment about your URLs. Intentionally breaking every URL on your site is unjustifiable. If you’re rethinking your URL namespace, that’s fine — but for the love of all that’s holy, why wouldn’t you make provisions for bookmarks, 3rd party links, and search engine results?? URL rewriting is not very hard (if it took you 2 hours, let alone 20, you’re doing something very wrong)… and given the practically infinite URL namespace, isn’t suddenly moving every URL to a “/blog” subdirectory doing what you’re railing against? Namely, focusing on the “style” (of the URLs) rather than supporting the content?

    RESTful principles, SEO basics, courtesy to your users , and common sense all agree there’s just no good reason to break all your URLs like this, let alone to do so intentionally!

    BTW I’m an apache mod_rewrite guru, if you need my help let me know =)

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