It’s been half a year and 2016 is coming to an end. In three hours I’ll be leaving for Hungary to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Budapest.
These past few months have been a real learning curve for me – in more ways than one. Well, in two ways to be precise: I’ve learned a lot of nifty stuff, and writing has shown me a few things I thought were worth sharing. Here’s what I have to say.
Nifty stuff I learned along the way
Every article I’ve researched has given me some fun facts. Some are more counterintuitive than others, some have been proven and disproven by others – but I believe I managed to highlight my own results more often than just reiterating what was already written on the topics that I’ve tackled. These being said:
- People of Protestant faith seem to be the best Europeans (even better than atheists).
- Soccer referees run more than soccer players.
- There are better odds of Americans not knowing their star sign than being Aries (…or Aquarius, Pisces, Gemini, Scorpio, Sagittarius and Capricorn).
- I’m a very pretentious reader when it comes to books.
- The fear of contracting HIV makes some African men seek child brides.
- Constitutional Monarchies rock (even more than Republics).
- Cats are among the most dangerous animals in the US.
- Education with bilingualism as the main goal might just kill off endangered native languages faster.
- There’s only one cohort of people that will smoke more in the near future: men with low income.
- Business in Hollywood is more about making sequels than good movies.
- People tend to share really positive quotes more than anything else. I managed to prove this with the help of my partner in crime, Evelina (she’s in the above picture, on the left).
- US patent laws really backfire sometimes.
- Taking cash away from an area reduces crime rates.
- Dogs with black coats are just as popular as dogs with lighter colored fur.
- Popular aircraft have killed a LOT of people.
- The video game market is going south with respect to choice.
… and some thoughts on writing
No matter how great your research is, the single biggest key to writing something good is having a good narrative arch around your material. While this isn’t mandatory or even recommended for every type of writing you might do, a good rule is this: structure your articles in such a way that you tap into our innate human longing to receive information in the form of a narrative.
Some people call this storytelling. While that might be a cute way of putting it, to paraphrase Stefan Sagmeister, I call ‘bullshit’. Very rarely do you actually do storytelling when writing, and that’s because you’re just not ‘telling a story’ when writing articles (unless, of course, you’re working on something that’s fiction). Call me arrogant for saying this, but whenever I hear someone summon the neo-mythical beast of ‘storytelling’ I can’t help but think that that person hasn’t picked up a fiction book in years and calls self-help literature from the early 2000s ‘classics’.
Whether you’re doing a piece on something with a quantifiable (i.e. describing) or qualitative (i.e. defining) approach, always keep in mind that the internet is just as much about image as it is about text.
So what I’m saying is that average people want to see something that reinforces what they’re reading, either by way of actually depicting what you’re writing about or by way of something visual that simplifies your material, helping your readers continue on the narrative you’ve set out for them to go on. What this means: pictures of the stuff you’re writing about or graphs that explain your whole argument at a glance, so that someone can readily understand you without actually going through your article meticulously.
This backfires on me all the time. The things I write about are usually heavily reliant on proof or large sets of information – and since I’m illiterate with respect to coding I usually end up doing the vast part of my graphing by way of Excel or Tableau. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both great, but for someone trying to show relationships between things in the real world that count in the hundreds, thousands or even more, Excel and Tableau have their limitations that you just can’t get past without knowing a bit of VBA or Python.
When I first started planning out some sort of approach to blogging the way I’ve been doing it on Deltanomics, I also decided to build some reader personas. I’m a marketer, and I guess it shows. So I researched what kinds of writing were popular for my target audience. I looked at things like vocabulary, phrasing, article length and subject matter. The picture wasn’t that pretty.
See, if you rely on standardized measurements for populations of individuals you end up with averages or medians that don’t really resemble anybody in that population. I saw sites all over the web scoring tens of thousands of hits on brain-dead pieces of writing and click bait – and I thought that such an approach would be insulting not only to my target audience but to me as well.
So I decided that I don’t want to limit myself to easy-peasy snippets of fun facts that people flock to. I took a gamble: I decided that I wanted to write long form, authoritative and data-rich material. I’d lose a lot of clicks on my site (I still am) but maybe it would pay off in the end. That being said, I never set a goal for myself to keep readers glued to whatever I was going to write about. To be frank, I feel that such a goal is a fantasy for the style of writing I’m trying to employ on Deltanomics. I just wanted to make sure I was writing about counterintuitive things people rarely consider or research things that aren’t already out on the internet.
Six months in, I still haven’t amassed a loyal readership. I’m trying to join the playing field with the big league all the while not investing a single euro cent in my site. I don’t have Google Analytics, I use free WordPress hosting and still have a free domain. Given this, I’m severely constrained with respect to how I can make my site look and work, and with respect to how well I can understand my readership.
I tried using a Facebook Page to gain some more traction but I ended up becoming disenchanted with it. That, and frustrated by Facebook’s constant nagging about how many people I could reach with my articles, if only I’d pay them some buck. While I’m not against paid advertising, I’d much prefer an organic approach – especially since I’m not monetizing (or even planning on doing so) on Deltanomics.
For the better part of these six months, I’ve tried to ship at least one post every week or so. But I have a full-time job, and I’m not a hermit – so dedicating my free time to writing has been very tough at times. Add to the aforementioned some instances of me being too tired when coming home in the evening, or being debilitated by being sick (I never thought I’d say this, but having a nasty cold makes you stare into the monitor for minutes on end without being able to utter a single phrase, even though you know precisely what you’re writing about), and you’ll see how I skipped a lot of self-imposed shipping dates.
5. Results and takeaways
At the time of writing this up, after roughly six months of Deltanomics as a one-man-show, I’ve scored somewhere around 25,500 views. Roughly 4300 per month. Eyeballing ad revenue from this, I’d say I could have earned $150 – which makes the buzzfeed business model understandable but hardly admirable.
The vast part of my readership is from the US – which makes me pretty happy since I’m writing in American English. I admit I prefer Britglish sometimes, being European and all (fun fact about me: when I was a little kid I could do all major accents from the British Isles and come off as a native; my sister, who’s a linguist and my senior by an 11 year margin, wrote a research paper on how children acquire languages in the ‘critical period’ leading up to the age of 4 with me as the lab rat).
I’ve also learned that you need good copy on your headlines. These can make or break a material. My most sought after article this year has been Life after the end of history – which hit the sweet spot between good content and good title.
Still, my most popular article has been The Babel paradox – which goes to show just how important it can be to get a community of people (linguists, in this case – since the piece is about language attrition) interested in your writing.
Right now I’ve stopped typing and started pondering which article I enjoyed the most myself – either in terms of shipped result or in terms of the research I’ve put into it. I can’t say for sure. The beginning was pretty tough, and I’ve learned a lot of things on the go. I’ve gone from hideous graphs to sort-of-decent ones. I’ve developed a style of research that gives me sufficient flexibility to turn an article on its head in just one night (something learned the hard way). I’ve learned to double check my sources, for fear of misinterpreting the truth (something learned the very hard way).
I can only hope I did and will continue doing justice to my readers with my promise to write enjoyable, long form and trustworthy content.
So there you have it. These have been my first six months of writing on Deltanomics. And they’ve been great.
Happy new year to you and yours!