Seek not the favor of the multitude; it is seldom got by honest and lawful means. But seek the testimony of the few; and number not voices, but weigh them.
Avoid popularity; it has many snares, and no real benefit.
How To Prevent A Well-written Blog From Being Well-read
The most significant blogological observation resulting from reviewing my experience in blogging since 2006 can be summarized as follows:
Despite posting content that, in comparison to that of many other, far more heavily visited sites, is better written, more informative, and funnier,1 I have managed to minimize this blog’s popularity.
Note that I am not whining about this discrepancy; heck, I can’t even bring myself to call it unfair. Short of voting fraud, what kind of complaint can one legitimately mount against the outcome of a popularity contest? “It’s not fair that she won; she’s more popular than me?” “This is supposed to be a popularity contest, but it’s turned into nothing but a popularity contest?”
I don’t think so.
So the good content-low readership phenomenon isn’t a rip-off (except in the most cosmically karmic of perspectives), but it is kinda interesting.2
Successfully minimizing the popularity of a blog that is well-written, informative, and funny doesn’t happen accidentally. It requires a strategy. As a service to bloggers everywhere, I’ve identified and listed a dozen methods I’ve used effectively to protect some outstanding content from readers.3
Erect A Defensive Perimeter To Deflect Potential Viewers
1. Divert readers with a clichéd, irrelevant, and, above all, dull opening before they become invested in your blog’s content
Try, for example, opening the post with an obscure, moralistic quote from someone like Immanuel Kant or William Penn.
2. Be a high roller at the Technology Casino
For example, spice up your trial and error code-writing self-education with a tinge of terror by making changes in your only copy of your blog stylesheet and template.
Use the cheapest host sites; how different could they be?
Experiment with every blogging tool, toy, and gizmo available, especially if (1) it’s new and untested4 and (2) you’re not certain of its benefits or potential problems.5
The technical problems thus created, however transient, can convince viewers your site is unreliable and can continue to diminish your audience long after those flaws have been repaired.
If viewers can’t view your site, you don’t have to worry about them as readers – or the links to you they might have placed on their own sites if they had liked what they would have seen – or their viewers who might have visited after the original readers (justifiably, of course) praised your talents. Every snafu that takes your site out of service (or just extends the time it takes for your site to load beyond a few seconds) has the potential to cause your very own [ choose one] vicious cycle or domino effect.
And, if Joe Bob’s browser can’t see your site, there’s a good chance Googlebot can’t see it either. Say goodbye to the search engine index.
Make The Blog A Challenge – Who Wants 3.2 Million Readers
If They Aren’t Willing To Jump Through A Few Hoops?
3. Always keep ’em guessing
Shun straightforward news, advice, story-telling, or humor. Waver ambiguously between serious content, pathos, complex parody, and pretentious metaphysics, always maintaining sufficiently sardonic tone to cast doubt on the intention, let alone the accuracy, of even the simplest statement.
4. Exorcise all hobgoblins of consistency, foolish or otherwise
Follow your own bliss within each posting. There is no consistency police to prevent you writing a single post that includes a critique of a movie you saw a decade ago, a review of an unrelated book you once read, a description of the best web sites for flash games involving gambling, Visigoths, and shellfish, the third cutest thing your kid said last week, a recap of Sunday’s sermon, and a paragraph on that armadillo dildo featured yesterday on the Discovery Channel. It’s a big world; there has to be somebody who will love that mix.
And remember, segues and transitions are for wusses.
As for your blog in general, stay true to the theme that you are far too special to be limited to a single theme. Resist and refute pleas to focus your efforts.
It is, by the way, inadequate to be merely inconsistent. There is the danger that some readers might enjoy reading a series of randomly chosen topics. To reliably discourage readers, one must be inconsistently inconsistent.
The writer sincerely desirous of thinning out the readership would be wise to affirmatively mislead the viewer into the conviction that a pattern exists, then expand and enhance that expectation, and finally, crush that hope. Imagine the disappointment and frustration, for example, generated when a viewer reads a couple of posts written on a single topic, notices an indication that another is in the offing (e.g., “There’s more to this story.”), becomes increasingly enchanted by the promise of the promised sequel (e.g., “You won’t believe which presidential candidate showed up at the orgy.”), but then never finds another mention of the issue at hand. (Note how this ploy efficiently aggravates the reader and amuses the author.)
5. Employ your writing style as a weapon of mass obfuscation
Be warned that a sesquipedalian vocabulary is advantageous but insufficient for the accomplishment of this goal. Eager beaver readers, for example, can simply look up the definitions of even the most impressively polysyllabic words.
Many of these individuals, however, can be flummoxed by adding a few obsolete words, preferably obsolete words that became obsolete because they were abstruse even when they were in common use.
Using an archaic definition of a frequently used word can also be effective. Using an archaic meaning of an obsolete word is, of course, blogging’s equivalent of Scrabble’s triple word score.
The clever writer, however, will recognize that the potential for befuddlement is greater still if one intersperses technical jargon, cultural or regional slang, professional argot, and the like indiscriminately throughout the composition. This tactic is most effective if these terms are stripped of any clues as to their origins; in such a pure synsemantic or KWOC format, these literary land mines are nearly impossible for the reader to defuse.
While depositing a foreign phrase (without translation of course), in the midst of an exposition has nearly become its own parody, one should not overlook this strategy, given that it not only contributes to the general mystification of those foolhardy enough to peruse that posting but is also the writer’s classic instrument of intellectual one-upmanship, n’est-ce pas?
Like a foreign phrase, figurative language, implemented carefully, can supersede and impede comprehension. No less an authority on confusion than Bugs Bunny provides an example worthy of emulation in the episode, “Baseball Bugs,” when he speaks directly to the audience prior to his final pitch of the game:
Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful paralyzing perfect pachydermous percussion pitch.
Similarly, allusions can be confounding – if handled correctly. Anyone can invoke and recognize Greek, Roman, and, all too often, even Norse myths. On the other hand, mix in a few Iranian, Oceana, or Mesoamerican deities (without explanation, natch), and you, my friend, have got yourself an allusion to disillusion – one that will drive the hardiest reader to despair.
Another good bet is a throwaway line linked to some scholastic trifle just familiar enough that most readers have probably seen it before but obscure enough that most won’t recall the specific meaning,6 thus inducing in your erstwhile reader an element of embarrassment and, with luck, some shame, effective deterrents to further reading. I have found, for instance, that references to the formal names of logical fallacies can be forced into almost any context and are thus invaluable in this respect:
That is a case of dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter.
You, sir, have fallen prey to the Fallacy of Undistributed Middle.
Rather than surrender to the use of a short, simple word if a difficult, arcane term cannot be found to fit the context, draw up your courage and invent an expression; this kind of neologisticity not only delights the writer but also bewilders the reader.
Finally, keep in mind that authoritative and conclusive reader-daunting requires simultaneously stocking ones posts with these impediments to comprehension while subtly sustaining the implicit value judgment that any competently educated eighth-grader would recognize these terms and their meanings in context.
6. Use complexity to transform each post into an obstacle course to deplete the reader’s energy and motivation
As assuredly as the unexpected appearance of the philanderer’s wife during his assignation with his secretary causes him, however ardent he may have been previously, to detumesce, a proliferation of subordinate and embedded clauses, compound sentences, prepositional and participial phrases, coordinating, subordinating, and correlative conjunctions, and especially correlative adverbs, along with their entourage of commas, colons, and semicolons leads to an analogous deflation of interest by the initially steadfast reader. A well designed post can demoralize the reader to the point of swearing off the perusal of blogs altogether.
7. Even if you can’t make it entertaining, informative, amusing, or touching, you can certainly make it long
Get your money’s worth from each post. It isn’t worth booting up that computer to write a two or three paragraph post someone can conveniently read in less than five minutes.
Besides those ne’er-do-wells who read your blog obviously don’t have anything important to do.
Don’t Make It Easy For Google And The Other Search Engines
– It’s None Of Their Business What Your Post Is Really About
8. A clever headline that amuses its creator, misdirects the reader, and, most importantly, obscures the content from the search engines is invariably preferable to one that simply and accurately describes the subject of the post
So what if search engines, which account for 90% of your readership, depend on the first few words of a heading to provide an indication of the content – they’re so smart, let them figure out that pun or your idiosyncratic tertiary references. With just this one tactic, you can both discourage those who have already landed on your blog and prevent many, many more from finding it at all.
9. Do whatever necessary to discourage links to your site
Just because Google and some other search engines use links going to your blog as the most important determinant in ranking your site in their listings doesn’t mean you need stoop to ask for a link, especially from a high-ranking site. And, you certainly abstain from writing a post about anything that might get another blogger or webmaster to link to your blog.
Just be patient and wait for those connections to come naturally. God – and here I’m thinking of one of those Mesoamerican or Iranian gods – will take care of those links for you when he/she/it is good and ready.
10. Don’t check your site’s statistics more often than every 3 or 4 months – and even then keep it superficial
First, if you don’t know which content is popular, you won’t be tempted to focus on that area.
And, by sporadically skimming stats erratically rather than carefully analyzing them on a regular basis, you reduce the risk of making the site more accessible. If you start thinking about the 65% of your readers with dial up access, for instance, you might decide to reduce the number and size of those images you habitually stick in every post. You might even begin including only graphics that are somehow relevant. And then you’re stuck with more readers. Besides, if they really want to read your post about the economics of the Asian trade deficit, they’ll wait the 45 minutes needed to load your logo featuring a life-size photo of Dick Cheney in a Wonder Woman costume.
Example of large, intriguing, and absolutely irrelevant graphic
gratuitously inserted into an already overblown post7
Best of all, without those pesky stats, you can continue to ignore that never-been-here-before segment of visitors who make up 96% of your audience and to pretend that one of your friends or family, i.e., someone who feels obligated to read and praise your blog every day, is your prototypical visitor. Writing posts for that elite target audience, who have already memorized all those clever pseudonyms you’ve assigned and learned the key words that are coded shortcuts to your blog’s inside jokes and who are predisposed to appreciate you, is, trust me, much easier than writing those clear, high quality, interesting posts all those strangers are likely to demand.
Create A Persistently Dissatisfying
Experience For The Reader
11. Don’t discount the capacity of the little things to make your blog irritating, annoying, and generally off-putting
I advise, for example, publishing lengthy essays in tiny, light-colored fonts on a barely contrasting off-white background.
Note: Originally posted Feb 22, 2007 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com
- While “better written, more informative, and funnier” is an assessment so broad and subjective as to be both irrefutable and indefensible, I believe I can present side-by-side comparisons that are convincing. More to the point, the remainder of this essay would equally valid if this initial conditional phrase began “Even were I posting content that is … better written, more informative, and funnier.” In any case, I’ll switch back to my more characteristic false modesty once I’m finished arguing this point. [↩]
- And yes, the fact that I think this sort of thing is interesting – and then write about it – may itself have something to do with why Heck Of A Guy has not reached its peak popularity potential. [↩]
- I started with “Top Ten Ways To Minimize The Popularity Of A Well-written Blog,” but expanded to 12 upon recognizing the importance of prolixity and over-explaining in discouraging readers. [↩]
- If it were unsafe, would they let you download it? [↩]
- You can significantly increase the chances of botching your blog’s mechanics by the simple expedient of simultaneously experimenting with several new add-ons, plug-ins, and tools (a minimum of a half-dozen with no limits on the maximum sounds about right); not only do you improve your odds of happening onto faulty software but even if each program is well constructed, there is still the potential for two or more to prove mutually incompatible. It’s also a nice touch to schedule these trial runs to take place just before publishing a time-sensitive post; this tactic not demonstrates your flare for the dramatic but also broadcasts that death wish aura that only the hardiest and most mordant viewers can tolerate. And, don’t bother reading the installation instructions, warnings, or requirements; how are you going to add eight new plug-ins 15 minutes before your sports blog’s Super Bowl post is published if you have to read about every one of them? [↩]
- Cinema fans will recognize this tactic as the “Woody Allen Gambit” [↩]
- The otherwise fascinating image is “Amphitheater of Eternal Wisdom,” painted by Hans Vredeman de Vries, c. 1595 [↩]
- Use footnotes (and parentheses) whether they are needed or not [↩]