Building a blog readership takes time

Blog stats figure

This morning I had a very constructive meeting with some colleagues to discuss setting up a new blog/podcast series for the university.  It reminded me that I wanted to post something about how long it takes to build up a blog readership , specifically in the sciences.  The figure above shows the monthly number of views of my blog from its inception in March 2012 up to January 2015.  The line is a second-order polynomial, just to aid interpretation rather than to make any kind of statistical inference.

For the first year and a half of the blog’s life, monthly views were typically in the range 200-400, occasionally getting as high as 600.  Only after that was there a trend of increasing numbers month-on-month, but even that was not consistent, with some periods of low readership.  In part this relates to how frequently one blogs: more frequent = more monthly views, and I have been posting more often of late.  But that’s only part of the story and the figure also demonstrates that it takes time to build a readership for a blog.  For example, 4 posts in March 2012 attracted 402 views; the same number of posts in April 2014 received 1,469 views, and 2,120 in December 2014.

A lot of scientists (particularly early career) are starting to blog, sometimes because they think it’s the right thing to do: they see others doing it, and it’s encouraged by funding agencies, etc.  Sometimes these blogs are very successful; other times they falter after a few posts, perhaps because the writer loses interest.  I’m not in a position to offer much advice about blogging as I’ve only my own experience on which to draw, but I would say that it requires persistence: don’t assume that you’re going to get a big audience from the start, it takes time to build a readership.

33 thoughts on “Building a blog readership takes time

  1. mboki_m

    Thank you for your advice.
    I am aiming for 1000 views total in my first 2 months, I hope that goal is realistic.
    I feel like the big challenge is to keep your readers otherwise you will have a sine graph

  2. ibartomeus

    I think quantity of readers is not important for me, but the quality of the readers. I know most of my posts are interesting only to a handful of people, so if you are reaching this people, the blog is already worthy. I would recommend not to get obsess with having thousands of readers (if you are not a profesional blogger).

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      That’s an interesting perspective, and I can see how it relates to the topic of your blog – though I’m not sure if “quality” of the reader would be the phrase I’d use 🙂

      For my blog, which is aimed at a very broad, general audience, numbers matter because I want to present some of the science of biodiversity to as many people as possible.

      1. ibartomeus

        Yes, my point was more about knowing your goals. You can have as a goal reaching as many people as posible (this is a great goal!), but if this is not your goal, you shouldn’t feel bad or discouraged by not having thousands of followers.

        And yes, “quality” was an unfortunate wording 🙂

    2. Emily Scott

      I have the same feeling – I don’t have huge numbers of people following my blog, but I get lots of thoughtful, funny and experienced lovely people commenting, which means a lot.

      1. Marco

        In my opinion, both the quantity and the quality matter. First you need to know who your target audience is. Then you try to each the maximum number of people within that guild. A scientist’s blog will never have the same audience as a TV star’s, but it can succeed in a specialized niche.

  3. navasolanature

    Agree that spreading the word and knowledge is a key aim but I find that most of the bloggers who ‘like’ me have those interests at heart. That’s great too as it matters that there are like minded folk out there.

  4. Marco

    Yes, it surely takes time. The first version of my blog, built in my former website, was almost haunted. My blog took off only after being moved to a big platform. Anyway, there is no guarantee of success, as the vast majority of websites, including blogs, tend to remain peripheral on the internet.


    Hi Jeff,

    You could do well to set up the kind of podcast/blog/notes system that Vincent Racaniello has set up with his TWiM, TWiP, TWiV etc. podcasts.

    The podcasts build an excellent database of long conversations with fellow scientists, in a very entertaining and informal basis, with the subject matter sometimes wandering widely as new mental links and asides occur to the participants. The science is effortlessly absorbed and the style is entertaining in itself even if you don’t happen to follow everything that is said. Sometimes, Racaniello and Despommier are as funny as any famous comedy duo as they argue the finer points.

    The podcasts get plenty of feedback mail, which they read out in full, and this is used to correct any mistakes or out of date info etc. The listener is made to feel part of the show, and can, indeed, take part if they really want to.

    As university professors, the participants have an immediate audience for the podcasts in their own students, and the students, in turn, spread the word. Eventually the podcasts rise to near the top of the iTunes science pops, and stay there.

    Podcasts are accompanied by email notices with links to the papers discussed, and any other things that arise in the discussion.

    In addition, Racaniello puts all his student lectures on YouTube, so that everyone can benefit from them, and his students can refer back to them at any time. Some of the podcasts are also videoed and put on YT.

    Racaniello also runs Corsera courses for those who cannot come to university. Many thousands have taken these courses. Everything is free.

    The podcasts and notes are used to refer listeners to the blogs and other presentations and works of all the participants. Many offshoots have been spawned.

    Vincent Racaniello has created an all-embracing package of brilliant science communication, in which he shows the best of his beloved science, and the scientists themselves. Each part of the output promotes and reinforces the rest.

    It is a model that could be followed by any keen group of lecturers, in any university, to promote their science, their university, their fellow scientists, and their blogs and all their other works.

    I think it shows the way forward for education in the 21C, and answers most of your questions about how bloggers can promote themselves.

    Racaniello really deserves a Nobel, for what he is doing for science communication: and it is entirely from enthusiasm for his subject, and a desire to give the truth behind the headlines.


    Steve Hawkins

  6. jeandrawingaday

    I think it’s interesting to look at the map of where readers are, as well. A while ago for just a few days I had hundreds of views from South Korea and I wonder why? Maybe because this blog is predominantly visual. I also have another blog that I ( and my colleagues, when I can persuade them) write for our students which seems to interest people beyond Northampton, MK and Leicester, where our students are based.

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      That’s the result of two posts in particular: the one in December on our pollinator extinction paper in Science; and the one in January on promoting scientific research.

      Both of those were picked up by people who use Twitter and were widely publicised, resulting in record views on the day they were posted, and an increase in the number of subscribers to the blog.

      I don’t use Twitter myself but I suspect that if I did, I’d start to see a further increase in number of views.

      No idea if this trend will continue, however, or if it will plateau or even go down again.

      1. philipstrange

        Yes I see. That’s interesting circumstantial evidence for the effect of social media on hit rate. Having a paper in Science is also special so it’s difficult (as always) to disentangle the effects. Have you noticed whether commenting on other blogs drives traffic?

      2. jeffollerton Post author

        Good question, I’d not looked at that. I suppose it might be possible to do an analysis of whether views increase following comments on other blogs. When I have time 🙂

  7. corvidresearch

    Haha, I get psyched when I’m getting regular traffic in the low 20’s. I know crows attract a narrow audience and frankly my posts are mostly a way for me to keep my thinking of crows broad, because it’s easy in research to get tunnel vision around your specific question. Maybe I need to work harder to publicize my posts, but for now I’ll just keep chugging along with my few followers and enjoying the process.

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  9. Terry McGlynn

    Jeff, looking at your data made me curious to plot out visits to my site over time, and to try to figure out whether growth was logistic, linear, exponential or what not. It was roughly linear but with a lot of scatter (a drop in summer, december/jan are slow because of holidays), but it looked like it’s been flattening out. But then I realized that my posting frequency has dropped off. I have to admit that I look at the numbers not rarely, but I hadn’t plotted them out before.


    Then I took total site views/month and divided it by the number of posts per month. I was surprised to see This was super-duper linear (the only outliers being two Januaries with a big dip, and one month with a particularly viewed post.) So, yeah, blogging is a long-haul game, and the longer you stay at it, the more readers you accumulate.

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Thanks for that Terry. When you say that you “took total site views/month and divided it by the number of posts per month. I was surprised to see this was super-duper linear” – what were you correlating it with? Just time? I’ve just tried that and there’s very little linear correlation (R-sq = 0.16) and more of a complex, polynomial response.

      1. Terry McGlynn

        Yes, just time. My r2 was .5ish, and without three outliers, about .7. But my minimum per month has been nine posts. My take-home lesson is that an individual post might drive traffic temporarily, but it’s just doing this over time that builds readers.

    2. Jeremy Fox

      I’ve run Dynamic Ecology’s monthly pageview time series through R’s time series partitioning function. Our overall rate of traffic growth has slowed gradually over time (we’re currently growing at about 800 views/month, down from 1400/month when we started). Superimposed on this are substantial seasonal fluctuations (lower traffic in July, Aug., and Dec.), and substantial unexplained month-to-month variation. We do 20-25 posts/month pretty consistently so posting frequency variation doesn’t really drive any of this.

  10. manuelinor

    Great food for thought! I also wonder whether exposure (of the blog & the author) influence the number of views, regardless of the time factor. I started blogging 5.5 years ago before I started my PhD, and my monthly views were much less than 200-400 for at least 4 of those years! 🙂 This was partly because I advertised my blog ‘passively’, i.e. in my email signature but never really talked about it to people I met. By the time I finished my PhD, I had made a lot more connections so readership gradually went up as people I knew started sharing posts. Then I joined Twitter 8 months ago & readership has gone up even more! So yes, gaining readers is a gradual process, but how much of that depends on the author and how it’s shared, and how much on how long it’s been running?

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Thanks! Yes, I agree, I think exposure and visibility are both very important too. I promote the blog on Facebook but have drawn the line at Twitter as I know I’ll spend too much time tweeting!

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