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10.25.2008

A Conference for Wine Bloggers

A strange concept if there ever was one. A gathering of more than 150 wine bloggers in one place. Such a notion conjures a medley of reactions in my brain, but mostly it makes me feel old.

"Why Sonny, I remember when there were only three wine blogs in the world..."

I had planned on attending the entire two-and-a-half day event in Santa Rosa, California, but then my wife Ruth fell ill, and all sorts of things got put on hold. As a result I've driven up today to speak in one of the breakout sessions with my friend Tom Wark and depending on how Ruth is feeling, I may have to head back home, or I may be able to stay and satisfy my curiosity a bit: how many wine bloggers does it take to screw in a lightbulb, and what do some of these people look like in real life?

The topic of the session that I am conducting with Tom is entitled How to Increase Traffic to Your Wine Blog.

Now I'm all about providing value to people, so I'm going to tell them everything they want to know. All the secrets -- 45 minutes of free consulting from a guy that runs a company helping big companies make more money on the Internet. I'll give them the keys to the Google treasure box.

But I'm also going to challenge the crowd of eager, ambitious bloggers that the premise of the session is entirely irrelevant and misguided. I'm not sure how much time we'll have, or how long I'll be able to continue on this tack before I'm pulled from the stage and beaten to a pulp, so I thought I'd put down my thoughts on the subject here. At the very least anyone who wants to revisit my advice can do so while I'm recovering from the mob's attack.

Any wine blogger obsessed with (or even mildly anxious about) increasing the traffic to their blog is both misguided in their thinking and setting themselves up for a lot of disappointment.

Let's get this out of the way for starters: wine blogs, even the most successful of them, don't make much money at all. If you've started a wine blog with the idea that all you have to do is write a blog, get some traffic, sell some ads, and then you can quit your day job, you've drastically misjudged both how much traffic you need to do so (a hell of a lot -- more than any other wine blog out there) and also how much interest there is in advertising on wine blogs (very little -- all the money, what little there is, is focused on print advertising).

Even folks who understand this reality, and those who honestly didn't ever think of their blog as a potential source of revenue, still (wrongly) consider their traffic numbers to be a measure of their success.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter: what constitutes a successful wine blog?

At the end of the day success is a judgement that only we can make, and it is an assessment of how well we have fulfilled our own intentions for an action. Based on this definition, most people suffer from a simple defect in their thinking about the success of their blogs -- namely that they have never defined for themselves what they are trying to achieve. Instead, they adopt the common sense notion that a successful web site is one that gets lots of traffic, and then spend their time fretting about how they don't measure up to this misplaced criterion for success.

Instead of some adopted notion of success, bloggers need to really think about what they are trying to achieve with their blog. There are a lot of answers to this question. Here are the three best ones that I know of:

1. Have a wine blog because you enjoy it. This isn't the reason I started Vinography, but it is the reason I kept writing after the third week, and it is still the reason I keep writing here.

2. Have a wine blog to practice being a writer. Studies (real ones) have shown that in order to master a complex skill and compete at a professional level, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice. This is true for dancers, poker players, and writers. One of the best reasons to have a wine blog is that you haven't hit your 10,000 hours yet.

3. Have a wine blog because you want people to pay you to write about wine someday. In order for folks to pay you to write, you have to prove that you can. A blog is the easiest way to ply your craft as a writer.

So guess what all three of those (and most of the other good reasons for having a blog) have in common? Site traffic has nothing to do with them. No bearing. No effect. None.

Of course, there are those who blog because they seek attention in some form or another. To these folks, traffic numbers might indeed seem like some gratification of their desire to be listened to or paid attention to. While the mainstream media rightly uses such self-indulgent bloggers as reasons to doubt the value of the entire lot of us bloggers, such activity is the reason blogs were invented in the first place. Before anything else, a blog was a place that someone could write instead of in a diary. But even to these folks, who may be looking for nothing more than a little personal validation, I say quality is going to be better for you than quantity. One person commenting on your latest post is better than 100 faceless "hits" delivered like the morning news from your web stats package.

I think deep down in a lot of bloggers' questions about web traffic there is a tiny little question that they are afraid of asking but which underlies much of the talk about traffic:

"How will I know if I'm any good?"

There are two answers to that question, one that is nice, one that is not so nice. The nice one is that we are all good, and all we have to do is go ask our parents and friends to find that out. The not so nice answer to that question goes something like this: if you really are good, then the last thing you have to worry about is finding ways to increase your traffic. If you're good then you will get web traffic because there are millions of web-savvy wine lovers out there looking for something good, and as the old saying goes, they know it when they see it.

So stop worrying about your web traffic and figure out what you really want to achieve. And then go write for it.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.