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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.

Comments (14)

ryan wrote:
10.26.08 at 5:29 AM

Here, Here! Great post! I think this also ties into the "why won't anyone pay attention to me" lament. In the end traffic and respect come from perseverance and good writing.

Ken wrote:
10.26.08 at 7:42 AM

If not for enjoyment, why did you start Vinography?

1WineDude wrote:
10.26.08 at 8:21 AM

Well said (as always). Gotta go cash my advertising revenue checks (not).

Great meeting you at WBC, by the way. Keep fightin' the good fight!

Cheers.

Alder wrote:
10.26.08 at 8:32 AM

Ken,

I started vinography for two primary reasons -- the first was that I wanted someplace to record my notes on food and wine that I could also share with my friends (instead of answering the same questions over and over again about my favorite restaurant in San Francisco, etc. etc.). The second was to learn about what blogs were and how they worked.

But after about three weeks I found myself posting every day, and it became clear that the writing process itself was what I really enjoyed. Oh yeah, and the tasting process, too.

Alder wrote:
10.26.08 at 8:33 AM

Ryan, thanks for the comments, and for re-emphasizing the most important point. Good content = good traffic. Amen.

Dylan wrote:
10.26.08 at 2:49 PM

Alder, thanks for setting the record straight. The definition of success has to be a personal one. I find once you set your own ideas for personal success and begin to meet them, that sneaky general definition becomes a reality.

For example, your idea of success may be becoming a better writer, by doing that you're producing better content, and soon enough, more traffic. Oh, hello there general definition of success, where did you come from?


Sam wrote:
10.26.08 at 9:40 PM

What a great conference!

You and Tom gave a really great speech.

It definitely grounded me a bit. Which was good because after Gary's speech the night before part of me wanted to be a full time blogger. :)

What study/ies showed it took 10,000 hours to get to a professional level?

I love rules of thumb like that. But I'd always thought it was ten years, which isn't exactly the same thing.

Frank Morgan wrote:
10.27.08 at 9:56 AM

Alder,
Thanks for Vinography! Great post – you saved me a trip to SFO! Unfortunately, by the time I got this wine blogging 'thing,' the enrollment capacity at the Wine Bloggers Conference had maxed out.

Sam,
I believe the 10,000 hours morphed from 10 years. Scientific American magazine published an article titled ‘The Expert Mind’ back in 2006 which seems to one of the origins of the ’10,000 hours (~10 years) to master something theory.’
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-expert-mind
(“...10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field...”)

Alder2,
Much like your beginnings, my sole reason for starting a wine blog is to chronicle my wine experiences for my own future use and to use as a mechanism for a few friends/family members to keep up with me.

In talking to several wine bloggers that I have met as a result of my ‘blog,’ I am a little surprised at how many seriously feel their blog will soon lead to a lucrative career in wine writing/traveling/tasting/whatever. Good on them – perhaps that will happen – if so, that is awesome! I suspect the subject of your talk at the WBC may have seemed blasphemous to some.

I certainly think that the majority of wine bloggers out there are like me, just wine drinking folks who want to write about their wine experiences with no other ambitions other than to meet other wine drinkers (or, maybe I’m being a bit naive?).

Thanks again for your contributions to the wine blogging world!

Alder wrote:
10.27.08 at 5:39 PM

Sam,

Thanks for the comments. Here's the primary study

http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.pdf

Ayala wrote:
10.27.08 at 6:14 PM

Well its a number game at the end of the day - if one blog makes you $1000 a month then imagine if you had 10 blogs!

Clive wrote:
10.27.08 at 8:39 PM

Alder, what a marvelous post! You offer such sage advice and in a touchingly avuncular fashion unmask the pathological advice giver with his delusions of guru. Your blog radiates a sincere love of your subject. Thank you.

Tish wrote:
10.29.08 at 3:13 PM

Alder, now you have been to both the bloggers conference and the wine writers symposium, correct? It seems that the bloggers event was larger and perhaps more vibrant overall? Curious as to your take.

James wrote:
11.06.08 at 6:40 AM

Great post, Alder. This advice applies not just to wine blogs of course, but should be shared with everyone who blogs, especially now that the world of "business" has discovered blogging. So many people are trying to use their blog to get ahead, desperate to be seen as a "pundit" at something or other. It's refreshing to read someone who shares the same spirit in which I began blogging, way way back in 2000. Chasing traffic is a mug's game.

Steve wrote:
07.29.09 at 9:30 AM

I agree with you. Writing a blog requires a passion for the topic.

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