Where have all the blogs gone?
Today's post is quite reflexive as I delve into the real nitty-gritty of why beauty blogs have disappeared from the internet.
Every few months I come across a lamenting cry of 'why have people stopped blogging?' It has become second nature now to roll my eyes, sigh and move on. It's quite a long-winded answer that on most days, I'm just not prepared to answer or defend. If you really want the answer to why blogging is no longer popular, here it is in an unvarnished truth.
The internet is full of people who will go out of their way to tell you that you're wrong and my general experience is that there is always at least one person who will make it their special mission to tell you that heaps and heaps of people love reading blogs. The reality is far from that. The overwhelming majority of beauty consumers prefer an edited video format under studio lighting.
Internet culture and behaviour
Blogging goes against the current trend to post photos on Instagram or upload videos to YouTube. People are busy, on the go and now smartphones are the size of one's face so you can comfortably watch a video when you're commuting to school or work on public transport or you can watch on a tablet or laptop before going to bed. Video content is easy to make and easy to consume.
I can already hear the rebuttal through the screen that "People love blogs. Maybe they just don't like reading your blog". That's entirely fair. I am a long-form writer and I tend to digress into waffling prose every now and then. I know that my style of writing is not for everyone.
My readers are learning that mobile access to my blog isn't the best way. I write long posts and my photos are uploaded in large, high quality files. My photos are now at least 7MB whereas a photo uploaded from an iPhone is only 2MB. I've seen a massive shift from mobile consumption to desktop consumption within the past 6 months because scrolling on a mobile phone will probably cause carpel tunnel.
Within the last 3 months, I've seen a tilt towards the computer access with now 60% of my audience reading from a computer or laptop, 35% from a phone and 5% on a tablet device. At the very beginning I started with 70% rate on mobiles so it goes to show how cell phone technology has transformed the way we consume online content.
Google has made it a top priority to push video content to the top of their search results. Everyone uses Google. You think your computer has done you dirty if it suddenly reverts to Yahoo search or heaven forbid, Bing. This move was the beginning of the end for bloggers. A Millennial's Notebook is not my first blog. It's my third serious blog. I published during the golden age of blogging in the mid to late 2000s and blogging now is an entirely different beast.
There is no conceivable way of being noticed organically should you wish to start a blog now. Unlike YouTube which uses a series of algorithms to recommend similar videos based on your existing history, blogs don't appear in one's regular field of vision. You can be found via Google search results if you're somehow ridiculously early in posting a review of a new product. It's not going to be within the first few page results though because Google also priortises websites that sell the actual item before any other site.
If someone lands on my site via Google, it's because they've been researching a very specific item they are considering buying. My analytics show me that within a 3 month period I received 469 out of 1419 visitors from search engine clicks. A 48% visitor rate from Googling is pretty extraordinary for me and it's higher than my usual count. I think it might be because this was during Covid-19 lockdowns or quarantines and people suddenly had a lot of time on their hands.
The other hits to my site are from people who are subscribed and on the mailing list or who may have bookmarked my blog for research purposes. I also receive a significant number of hits because I link my Japanese fude blog posts on Reddit. I have a tiny tiny percentage of 1% who arrive via my Instagram page and another 1% that accesses my blog from another website which links to it such as a RSS feed reader. This means that bloggers need to hustle. You need to self-promote. That's my advice: promote or perish.
I'm not going to lie. If feels cheap, degrading and exhausting to constantly promote your own blog. The phrase, 'have you no shame?' comes to mind. Everyone hates when Beautubers tell you to "hit the 'like' button, subscribe and make sure you ring the bell for notifications!" The bloggersphere equivalent is to link your posts on social media. Very few people will subscribe because we're all receiving too much junk in our email inboxes anyway.
Reading literacy and writing skills
This is around the point that I will have lost some readers. The 21st Century reality is that people don't like reading. My blog posts always have an estimated 'read time' at the top. This is an AI calculation of the average length of time a visitor with an English-speaking background and a high school education takes to read the post. It's sitting at 3 minutes right now.
I get a lot of push-back when I say that people don't want to read. I can quantify that for my blog. This is the average session for the past week. This tells me that many readers just want to see a swatch photo.
The average time that a person spends on my site amounts to 1 minute and 33 seconds. When I check the analytics for the majority of posts however, the average is only 30 seconds. I am balanced out by a few individuals who spend a lot of time using my posts for research purposes. For example, this month I had 3 German visitors who each spent a minimum of 7 minutes on each of my introduction to fude posts. Sometimes I see that readers spend a total of 30 minutes bouncing around from post to post. I have the highest bounce rate from European visitors. By contrast, in the same week my visitors from the USA spent an average of 33 seconds each on my site. Americans make up the majority of my readership but they spend the least time on my posts.
My instincts told me that I needed to insert another visual here or I'd risk losing another chunk of readers. Statistically speaking, I already have. My instincts also tell me that there are some readers who got a bit huffy reading that and defiantly declared 'that's not me, my attention span isn't that short!' They'll keep reading out of spite so I might as well get an insulting truth out of the way now.
There's another huge reason why blogs aren't common anymore. It's offensive to say this but here it goes: beauty content creators are inarticulate. Most beauty content creators lack the ability to choose the words that best describes product. How else did the phrase 'I'm gonna pounce my Beauty Blender over my face' make it into the common vernacular? The correct word is 'bounce'. Lions and panthers pounce on unsuspecting gazelles or unattended baby giraffes. A professional in the printing business once told me that 'pouncing' is the technical term used in lithography to press inks through a mesh onto the canvas much in the same way that a sponge will release foundation through its porous material. I think we all know deep-down that beauty creators weren't thinking of lithography when 'pounce' made its way into everyday use. My personal pet peeve is the use of the word 'love'. How many gurus tell you that they 'love' a new makeup product? What they really mean is that they 'like' it or that they 'enjoy' it. A bit of hyperbole is to be expected. I get it. I love makeup too but it's not Sophie's Choice to choose between two eyeshadow palettes. My point is this: consumers don't buy as much as what content creators receive or purchase themselves. It is difficult to cut through the spin when there is a monthly favourites video featuring ten products that they love. 'Love' and 'favourite' has lost meaning since we know next month's list will consist of entirely new items.
Semantics aside, human beings are told to 'show' from an early age. Remember the weekly 'show and tell' part of school? By the sixth grade I had taken to bringing in my mother's new-fangled kitchen contraptions to show my class in an attempt to waste away a large portion of speaking time while my teacher gaped on, trying to surmise its function. I ended up churning butter or rather, mixing cream for five minutes. They say that 'a picture is worth a thousand words' so one can only guess how many pages a video would fill.
Bloggers rely on words. Sure, we can post photos or even videos if we wanted to but with the amount of photo editing online, swatches become unreliable. Photography also has the tendency to dull colours or lustre so you don't always see what the naked eye will. I always take any photos of my face in natural indoor sunlight and I never retouch them. The goal is to depict what products look like in real life but descriptions are still useful to consumers. In describing the Lisa Eldridge True Velvet lipsticks, I said that "Velvet Fawn looked like a light terracotta, almost akin to the terracotta pots you see at a homewares or gardening store where there's just a fine dusting of white powder on the earthenware. Velvet Muse on my lips looks like the clay earth after it soaks up rain or for anyone who knows what the Australian red soil looks like after a bit of watering, this is it." I'm not aiming to write poetry but hopefully you'll be able to better understand what I'm trying to convey. If bloggers repeatedly write 'it's a nice product' and 'I love it' post after post, then people won't continue to read our content.
If you want return readership you're going to need to show your personality through the words you choose. We can't laugh with our readers or engage on the same level that video allows for. You get to know us through our 'cadence' or the 'tone' we try to create. At the end of the day, you're guessing what I sound like and I'm trying to minimise any opportunity of being misconstrued.
Swatch photos on blogs are great. I rely on other bloggers' photos to inform my own buying decisions but if you're just posting swatches on your blog, you might as well just open up a Vimeo account or post up to Imgur which will host all your content for free. Why even go to the effort of doing that? Instagram is where everyone's swatching now anyway. No words are necessary on Insta either. Hashtag away.
How to attract readers
Let's return to the analytics now. Other than hustling via shameless self-promotion, how else do bloggers who aren't Christine of Temptalia or Sabrina from The Beauty Look Book draw views? Everyone talks about how saturated the beauty market is and how saturated the beauty content creator community is. How can anyone break through? There are thousands and thousands of beauty gurus or wanna-be gurus on YouTube and Instagram.
For me there is one avenue to draw readers in. I only receive big numbers to posts about Japanese fude brushes. It's a highly specialised and niche beauty topic. In a world where makeup products are going vegan, I'm writing about hand-made natural hair makeup brushes. My blog might be seriously screwed if we run out of squirrels and goats. Here are my top performing blog posts within the last three months from March 2020 to June 2020. I'm sensing a common theme here. Guys, I posted a delicious cheesecake recipe, you know?
So let's recap. Blogs are gone because Google loves YouTube. Blogs are gone because people hate reading. Blogs are gone because it's hard to string words together. Grab a drink or a snack because I'm not done writing yet.
The financial reason
The next and final reason is complicated, controversial and something which I procrastinated in writing because it's going to draw ire. The last reason why blogs are out of vogue is because there is no way to make money. Ok, fine. That's not true. There are four ways of making money and all of them are hated by beauty content consumers.
The easiest and most common method is to employ advertisements on the site. Google Adsense allows for a myriad of ads. These include a banner ad over the top of the site, a side panel of ads down either left or right (or both sides) that roll when the user scrolls down the page, pop up ads, embedded videos, pop up videos and ads on the bottom of any newsletters sent out to subscribers.
This is the point where many fair minded readers would say, "I understand that you might want or need to make money. Sure, put them in." I'm unwilling to allow ads to be shown on my site for two reasons. Firstly, it's an eyesore and while some people would put up with a banner ad, no one will tolerate a video. Most of my viewers visit via desktop anyway so I imagine that they'd have AdBlocker already installed. The second reason is that the ad revenue on a beauty blog is extraordinarily low. Guess how much money a blog such as mine would receive? Halve the number you thought of then halve it again. Now take that number and halve that again. I wrote about the content saturation in the beauty world and this is one of the major factors for how much money Adsense will spread to makeup content. I would receive USD$2 for every 1000 hits assuming that I only write about niche products. This may also be considered taxable income in some countries. Therefore, I would risk alienating an already small readership with annoying ads for $8 a year. No thanks. Here's the money from 28 days' worth of data. I'm serious when I say there is no money to be derived from blogging.
The second way to make money is to take on a sponsorship. After leaving employment with a broadsheet newspaper, I needed money quick-smart. An old friend from university suddenly decided to move to London, England. She pushed me at her employer in my time of need and my sole job soon became to write sponsored content for tabloid newspapers, magazines and online media. Sponsored content is something I know very well. It comes with many conditions that are underscored by complex legal contracts. Specific words must be used, certain phrases are prohibited and most require an integration of product praise to feel organic. An example of this would be if a magazine interviewed a celebrity and they were asked how they managed to keep themselves so youthful. A prior agreement would have been made between management to tweak the interview so that they'd be able to weave in a sponsor. You'd read about a recent decision to quit alcohol, hire a personal trainer, go on a juice cleanse and oh yeah, they always always carry this magical multi-purpose cream in their handbag that they slather on their faces, necks and hands on planes. I simply don't have the readership numbers nor the wide reach to be offered such a revenue stream. Also, I'm certain that if I ever did that, my small readership would abandon me.
Bloggers need to reach the masses before a beauty company will even think about offering a sponsorship. My aim is not to reach the masses. There are many reasons why I don't even try. I know that I can't reach the same audience via blogging that YouTube can. I don't buy every new release and in fact, it's rare for me to do so. I wait for someone else's review before diving in because I'm not willing to waste money in the hope that I'll be noticed. I also have a full time job in a non-beauty related sector so my blogging is really just a money-sinking hobby for a former journalist. I'll blog whenever I have the time and usually it does take a lot of time. I currently have 5 drafts that are at different stages of completion.
The third way of making money pertains to affiliate links and PR. As a side note, I find the beauty community's use of the term 'PR' a little ridiculous. Nearly all journalists who have the same Bachelor's Degree as I have needed to study the topic of Public Relations. I minored in it and after my stint shilling sponsored products, I went and worked in PR. The beauty world considers PR to mean 'free product'. That's only one part of it. Public relations is in reality more about fostering relationships so you can really encourage the article-writing, the Instagram posts, the trying on new products on YouTube as an organic part of the content creation. It's called 'native advertising' and the best part of it is that they'll spruik you for free. It's about balancing community engagement so that consumers view your company in a positive light and crisis management (my specific area of employment) so your potential customers won't think you club puppies to death every day.
Public relations and marketing campaigns send out samples because they want to create buzz. It's a win-win because content creators receive free products to help them create more content. The economic cushion that free products create is beneficial for bloggers who are under the 10 000 hits per month criteria. Once you're over that threshold, you'll be able to combine ads, affiliate links and sponsored content to counteract any purchases or site expenses. This is not the same for bloggers who cover other fields. Finance bloggers can consider quitting their full time jobs if they receive 50 000 hits a month because the ads, the sponsors and deals are more lucrative. To comfortably want to produce content full time, a beauty blogger would want to have 100 000 hits a month but that still will not pay a mortgage for a Sydney home. I will never aim to produce beauty content full time. The reminder that I am a former print journalist is enough to kill any ridiculous fantasies that I could turn this into a sustainable source of income.
Beauty consumers want information and they want it immediately upon the release of a new product. I'm not on many PR lists (and to be honest, they're mostly food and coffee-related or entertainment-related given my former professions) so I don't receive many things to try before it hits the market. I don't expect to be added to a makeup company's PR list because I have a small readership. That's also fine because some have indicated that they disregard any review I post of brushes which I've received in PR.
I like to think that I always offer a fair review of anything but most beauty content creators probably think that of themselves as well. People who know me tend to think of me as a 'half glass empty' type of person so you'll tend to find more critical reviews on my blog. Interestingly, the coffee world isn't as dismissive of a review of free beans as the beauty world is of makeup. I consume approximately 30 bags or 6.5kgs (14lbs) of coffee received from roasters each year for review or to provide feedback on and no one has ever told me that I'm shilling. The beauty community is particularly disdainful of PR.
The fourth and final way of making money on a blog is to ask for it. YouTube allows for monetary payments to be sent during live streams as do sites like Twitch which is for gamers. Twitch is backed by Amazon and if you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you get $5 of tokens to gift to your favourite content creator every month simply because you have Prime subscription. Any Twitch streamer will receive $2.50 of that $5 token if it is donated to them but if you pull in big views then you get a bigger cut. YouTube takes about a 30% cut of any monetary payment given but those are still viable and popular ways of making money from viewers on video. Wix (where I host my site and private domain) recently added a PayPal 'donate' button for bloggers but I am loathe to ask people for money in this economic climate. Somehow it feels wrong for me to ask for money. I know I create interesting and valuable content that in other contexts would receive monetary compensation. I have money from employment and in my head a 'donate' button belongs on a charity site. Nevertheless, I've recently added it to the site and readers who would like to support me monetarily may choose to do so if they are so inclined.
How much does it cost for me to run this blog? Sometimes I pay for longer periods to save money but I typically renew my plan once a year because I don't know how long I can keep this up for. Dividing everything up, I paid US$!66.33 (including tax) for 2020. Usually it is a significant upfront payment of USD$350+ in one go. Both my plan and my private domain will expire in December 2020. I could consider moving my site to a cheaper host but it is easy to post here. If my hobby became tedious then it would take a lot of joy out of the activity. On one hand, asking for money might help to reduce my running costs or even mitigate it completely if I'm lucky and on the other hand, I'd have to ask.
At this point my AI tells me it would have taken you 15 minutes to read this post. I think those that reached this point are generally avid readers so it might have taken much less time to go through what I wrote but I'd ask you to take some time to digest it all. If you've powered through to the end on a phone, then I salute you and your thumb. I know that my position won't be well-received by some who read it but it is my honest opinion. There are no good solutions to the problems of blogging for new or small content creators. I'm not at the point where I'm going to roll over and die because I'm stubborn but I don't have to be Nostradamus to see where it's heading. Most bloggers have jumped ship and without a mass influx back to the medium, we're sailing to our doom.