I am changing the look and feel of this blog. The main emphasis will be simple: on the words. From a reader’s standpoint, the design will be more akin to reading a book and less as if you are reading something generated by a bunch of code on a computer screen.
That means cutting out the added rubbish that has crept up on this site over the past few years: cover photos, share buttons, pop-ups, bylines, emphasis on sharing or leaving a comment. Hell, even the main menu.
This is an experiment in extreme minimalism, blog style. It’s probably a terrible idea, but here goes nothing.
A SYNOPSIS OF WHAT I’M TRYING TO GET AT
Here’s a condensed list of the things that I’m fed up with that I will then go into more detail about as this essay continues.
As the writer behind this site, and I’m sure I’m not the only blogger who feels this way, you get caught up in trying to find the perfect image for a post (the cover photo, then supplemental photos within the body of the text), then you have to re-size the photo, upload it, plug in alt-text and descriptions and captions, etc. Then, you have to add in sharing buttons so people will share your post on social media. Then, you have to remind people to use the share buttons at the end of the post. Then you have to plug in tags so people find it on blogging platforms. Then, you have to make sure your SEO is on-point so Google picks it up. And so on and so forth.
Slight digression: I’m no longer on any social media and haven’t been for quite a while, and one thing I despised was posting a status update to my latest blog post, and asking people to go check it out. I hated doing that. I felt like some self-promotional asshole, and I don’t like feeling that way. So, why do I then continue to feel the need to dress up my blog in much the same way with the same calls to action?
I’m pretty tired of fiddling with all of the nonsense, and I’m pretty sure you are tired of seeing it too, even if you aren’t consciously aware of it. It’s gotten to the point where the words are just one small box you have to check off to publish your writing into the world.
Then, there’s the burden I feel I am placing on you, the reader, at the end of each post:
“Make sure you comment before you go.”
“Make sure you share it with your friends.”
And, I don’t like that. I don’t want to be the guy on the side of the road dressed up like a cloud, dancing on the sidewalk, holding a sign that says, “50% off all mattresses. Today only!”
Instead, I want to be the familiar restaurant you go to, not because someone tells you their blackened tuna bites are banging, but because it’s a place you enjoy going, without pressure from anyone. You like the atmosphere. You like the lighting. The music. The food. You know what you’re getting when you go there, and that’s why you return. Hopefully, like this blog.
Maybe the food and atmosphere is so awesome you’ll decide to share your experience with others. Maybe you won’t. Either way, I’m not handing you a survey at the end of your meal with a link to our Yelp and Facebook pages, and asking you to leave a review.
SOME THOUGHTS ON SEO, PHOTOS, AND COMMENTS
A few key areas I’ve been thinking about lately and/or will be changing immediately in the new re-design.
Ignoring SEO, or search engine optimization
The supposedly sage advice from the world of SEO bloggers has clouded our judgment and our passion to do what we set out to do in the first place when we started our blogs: write, and have people read what we write. It used to be that simple.
Well, I’m officially throwing in the towel when it comes to the wisdom of SEO marketers and influencers (what a self-aggrandizing moniker if ever there was one). I apologize for the cynicism, but I’ve been holding this in for about five years.
Actually, I’m not throwing in the towel. As I did when I canned all social media from my life, I’m throwing a flaming bag of dog shit at their front doors and ringing the doorbell and running off into the dark of the night.
To quote legendary American-born philosopher Clark Griswold, “Eat my rubber. Burn my dust.”
Here’s the thing: if you’re a blogger, it’s not like it used to be in which you write something and post it for others to read. It’s different now, and many of us, myself included, have fallen into the trap of listening (entirely too much) to what SEO marketers tell you as it relates to boosting visibility of your blog, and making sure we check off all those boxes on our checklist, so that we grow year over year:
Am I writing a blog or trying to sell timeshares in Florida? Stick a fork in me, I’m done.
I’m not a photographer, nor do I have any desire to be one. Sure, I like images and other visuals, but I like words better. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, so is a thousand written words; and I can write a thousand words in roughly the same amount of time it takes me to hunt down the perfect cover image for a post, resize the photo, adjust the levels of the photo, upload the photo, plug in the alt-text and descriptions and captions and yadda yadda yadda of the photo.
So, here’s to less photos on this blog. It doesn’t mean I won’t use any photos going forward, or that I will be deleting out photos I currently use on existing blog posts; but there will be far less appearances of photos on this blog, and when I use them, it will be more intentional.
In today’s age, most people don’t leave comments on blogs. I used to write for The Nervous Breakdown, which, at one point in time, received hundreds of comments a day on pretty much every post. There was genuine conversation that existed between writers and readers, and it often went into interesting territory depending on the commenter’s unique life experience.
So much so, Brad Listi, founder and editor at The Nervous Breakdown, and Justin Benton, an author on the site, even compiled the comments and created a work of experimental fiction (Board) using only the comments as the narrative. Visit The Nervous Breakdown today. Here’s the link. And, you’ll quickly realize what was once a living, breathing thing (comments section) is largely deserted. You may see a fly-by commenter once every blue moon. That doesn’t mean people no longer read or visit the site.
I was just there the other day reading Bud Smith’s latest essay “Little Guy,” and laughing at some sketches drawn by author Adam Soldofsky titled, “I Have a Terrible Feeling.” It just means people don’t leave comments anymore, because that’s like soooo 2008.
I wish it were different (here, there, everywhere), but no genie is coming out of that bottle any time soon. My conclusion is that social media (Twitter and Facebook especially) killed the comment star. Instead of an organic conversation taking place on the platform where it originated connecting friends and strangers alike, it’s been, if it happens at all, taken to a separate platform by some global conglomerate, where the conversation becomes siloed. It is what it is.
Judging by the visitor traffic to my blog, I’d say it’s roughly 1 out of every 1,000 (or more) visitors who leaves a comment. But if you’re a new reader, that thought doesn’t cross your mind. You see a new post, you click it, and it’s been live for 2-3 days or longer with 0-1 comments, and you think, “No one reads this blog.” Wrong. Literally tens of thousands of people read this blog — from all over the world. They just don’t leave comments. For me, it begs the question: with a negativity bias in play (little to no comments creating the impression for new readers that it’s a lonely site), do I even keep a comments section active on my blog? Zen Habits doesn’t allow comments. Mark Manson, nope. Seth Godin, nada. Should I?
Comments are staying, at least for now. I considered removing the comments section entirely from my blog. Not because I don’t want people to leave a comment or that I don’t appreciate kind words, feedback, or a conversation. I do. Comments are just so few and far between that it brings me to my next point.
In addition to what I noted above (that comment sections are largely dead on the Internet now due to social media), there’s also this weird validation thing going on, at least for me. Or, positive affirmation. I always get the two confused.
I write; and as a writer, I want to know people are reading. So, when I write something that I put a lot of time (or heart) into and it’s crickets in the comments section, I start judging myself harshly, saying things like, “Well, I must have laid a dud on that one” or “Apparently, that was a waste of time.” Even though, I’m aware of what I already stated above in my example of The Nervous Breakdown.
Case in point, this post: “Writing A Book Is a Very Different Experience Than Reading a Book.” I received one comment: my mom. Thanks, mom. And, because I only received one comment total, I felt like what I wrote was obviously utter shit to everyone reading it. At the same time, I don’t want you to feel compelled to leave a comment to validate me. I don’t want to feel like I need validation or that I’m seeking validation. My writing stands on its own. If someone reading feels compelled to leave a comment, great. If they don’t, that’s fine too.
Perhaps I should have given it a different title. Perhaps I shouldn’t have published it on my blog at all. I’ve thought both. The reality is that this post has a limited audience because of the subject matter (writing a book), and that limited audience (people writing books) is not the bulk of my subscriber audience (people who read stories, but don’t write them). The traffic that will more than likely come to this post will come via organic search traffic from Google. It’s a waiting game while it jumps up the search rankings.
I would say that most conversations happen elsewhere on the Internet, as in social media, (that’s what the SEO marketers say) and I think to a certain degree they do; but, by and large, I simultaneously don’t really believe that.
I think we used to participate in conversations online. That was the beauty of the early Internet. Now it’s mainly just a bunch of clicking and scrolling, clicking and scrolling. If a conversation starts on Facebook, it’s usually because someone died, had a baby, or you can’t turn off the urge to not respond to some idiotic politically motivated post by one of your relatives.
I think social media, despite what it wants to portray in its outward appearance, is a very lonely place. Think about it: it’s literally people sitting in their homes either by themselves or not and/or isolating themselves in public amongst other individuals living a second reality (a virtual reality) online.
So, comments. For now, they are staying. I’m going to revisit this though. In the olden days, bloggers used to ping each other more often. Can we bring back pinging? You read a post and you respond to it in depth, not in 140 characters of less. The good old days like morse code on the web.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE NEW DESIGN
The new design is ultraminimal. There is one font and one size for that font. Maybe you like it, maybe you hate it. Personally, I love it. It’s liberating to me to not have so much shit competing for my readers’ attention. Just the words. That’s what I want you to pay attention to. That’s it.
While I may tweak some things here or there, a few items that won’t be returning to this blog are social media buttons, pop ups, and cover photos. Except for the posts that are already in existence, there will be no byline at the end and no calls to action to leave a comment or share it. If you want to do either, you’re more than welcome, but I’m no longer asking.
There are so many distractions in the world, the Internet feasibly the biggest contributor, that I’d like to cut through all the noise with a knife. There’s little in the way of life as we know it I can change. I can tame digital distractions in my house — for me and my family. I can physically clear clutter in my home and office. I can create white space in my day through pausing to breathe at the end of each hour.
Outside of that, there’s little I can do. The world is an overly stimulating place, particularly because of technology and incessant marketing. However, what I can do is not add to the noise, which is why I am making this change to my blog.
All of these changes are supposedly terrible for SEO, but again, I don’t really care; and I’ll tell you what’s far worse for SEO than ignoring all of their Top 10 Lists for Gaining More Traffic: not writing enough, or often enough, which is essentially what I’ve been doing from trying to check off all their motherf–kin’ boxes on their checklist.
The #1 most important tip is all about the words, or as they call it, “Epic content!”
Whose with me? No one. Ah, shit! Another dud.