Every publisher should take time out at the turn of the year, and look back on how their site performed over the previous 12 months. Looking at your analytics over long periods highlights the performance of evergreen content, and shows you which stories are of long term interest to your readers.
I normally do this in late December or very early January, but a bout of illness stopped me doing so. However, I've grabbed some free time over the last few days between bouts of marking and writing to take a solid look, and see what I found.
And there's one pretty clear message: people are much less sure of the social media landscape than they ever have been, and anything that helps them navigate that is popular.
Wither social media?
The gutting of Twitter/X, Meta's brutal rejection of news and the emergence of new platforms has confused the market. Once upon a time, if you knew how to do the holy trinity of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and were exploring TikTok, you were golden. No more.
The shifting sands of social are likely to be a big issue for the next 12 months, too. Certainly I'll be diving deep into them until the spring, as I'm teaching my audience strategy module twice over this year, for two different cohorts of students. And that means lots of new research.
I'm quite excited. Times of change are times of opportunity — and a chance to reshape your relationship with readers. That's a good thing. It's just hard while you're going through it. My own site has been hit by the massive decline in traffic from Twitter, which was normally second only to Google. Interestingly, my Google traffic has held up, unlike that of many publishers. And I know why. But I'll come back to that later in the year.
Evergreen is wilting
Despite my search traffic holding up nicely, my evergreen content is doing less well. All bar one of the top posts are from 2023. Years ago, I had a good selection of evergreen stories from past years delivering good search traffic — but they've been overwhelmed by more recent stories that delivered very big volumes. That's been a distinct trend over the past five years, and this is the first year where I've not had a years old post in the top 10.
I'm going to experiment with freshening up some old content in the coming weeks, to see if that makes a difference. (And if you've no idea what I mean by freshening up, it's time to sign up for my SEO course… 😉)
Interestingly, two of the most popular pieces were based on media nostalgia; one for an old print mag, and one for a deceased blogger. Yes, digital media is now old enough that we can have nostalgia for its early days. I do actually want to capture more of the history and lessons of early digital media — I'm just not sure how to do so. Research? Interviews? Something to muse on.
OK, enough waffl…analysis. Let's get to the results.
10: Loaded and the gonzo early days of the Lads Mags
This was written as a piece of self-indulgent nostalgia really, but it clearly resonated with enough people that it did good numbers when I published it. But it's also ranking well for “Loaded lads mag” and related search intents, so it continues delivering eyeballs to the site.
I'm not sure how much use that traffic is to me, but it's nice to see the piece getting read.
9: The problem with Automattic's 100 year plan
I was genuinely surprised to see this is the top 10. I thought this was a terribly niche post — so much so, in fact, that I didn't send it out as a newsletter. Blogging platform coming up with a vastly expensive proposition that didn't sell? About as niche as it gets.
However, it seems to have spread out of my normal audience into wider blogger/content creator circles, and that's what made the difference.
Oh, the fact I got a link from The Guardian probably helped, too…
8: Does it matter if Substack is in financial trouble?
I didn't write much about Substack over the last year. (Given the “Substackers against Nazis” drama playing out at the moment, that's about to change…) But this piece caught some attention. Substack has been suffering from the same drought of venture capital money that most startups have been, and so were seeking alternative forms of funding. But, not being an AI company, they have struggled.
However, we'll really know they have a problem if they announce some form of AI integration. Everyone needs AI in their business plan, if they want VCs to pay attention.
7: Twitter's decline has birthed a new social ecosystem
Twitter feels a bit like that apocryphal dinosaur, whose nervous system is so big and long that it takes the brain a while to notice it's suffered a fatal injury. Twitter is more or less dead for many of the purposes we used to use it for, but some neurons (users) haven't yet got the signal.
This was my attempt to round-up the major players in the battle to replace it — one of which has already thrown in the towel.
6: Avoiding the TikTok trap
I'm really happy this piece did so well, especially as it was published comparatively recently. It's always a mistake to “learn a platform” — that's why I teach social media courses, not platform ones — you learn skills, and then apply them to platforms.
Nobody should be building a TikTok team. They should be building a vertical video skill base — and then applying that to TikTok.
Lots of people agreed — or, at least, found the argument interesting.
5: X on the Beach
I'm surprised so many people read this, because Betteridge's Law applies. Melon Husk's zombie X is not worth your time. And yes, you do need an X-it strategy.
4: RIP Dooce
Once upon a time, Dooce became a verb: to be “Dooced” was to be fired for your blogging. That was two decades ago now, and precious few people active in digital even remember that. Dooce was an early pioneer of blogging, and she brought a raw, personal style that was new — and which we're unlikely to see again in today's hyper-polished influencer age. But because of that, we know about her struggles with her mental health, a battle which eventually ended tragically.
People like Dooce had such an impact on the younger, less middle-aged version of me, that I couldn't let her passing go unmarked. While many mainstream media sites reported on her passing, appropriately enough, many bloggers got much of the traffic, too.
Nearly a year later, her death still feels symbolic of the end of an age of the web. Dammit, there's something else I should write.
3: Digital News Report 2023: the social challenge for audience growth
Of the two big reports the Reuters Institute puts out each year, the summer Digital News Report is always the most interesting to me. The predictions report that comes out in January is just that: guesses. And the news business has shown itself to be spectacularly bad at judging its own future. I suppose it's revealing in that it tells us how publishing leaders are thinking — but that's not always an edifying experience. I've been sat on a pre-release copy of this year's predictions report for days now because I know what I should write based on it, but I'm struggling with the enthusiasm.
However, the summer one hones right in on reader behaviours, and this really matters. One of the major themes in all audience work right now is the fact that we're moving into a post-platform centricity age. People are switching social platforms — and many of the platforms they're switching to are actively hostile to news publishers. This is going to remain a major theme for the foreseeable future, and this research gave us the context we need to start putting in the work.
2: Mastodon Servers for Journalists
This is the one post from 2022 that made it into the top 10. Mastodon has dropped out of the mainstream conversation about Twitter replacements in favour of Bluesky and Threads, and some of the instances I've listed here are essentially moribund. But, Mastodon usage and traffic keeps growing, and the apps are getting better.
This piece is a prime candidate for freshening up.
1: Four things publishers should give up in 2023
Well, my attempt last January to avoid the predictions game, given that Nieman Lab completely flood the zone, did really well for me. Should I write the 2024 equivalent? Possibly, but many of the issues I highlighted a year ago still apply today. I often come across publishers complaining about dips in search traffic, who are using a keyword-centric approach to search. I've already talked about people's reluctance to give up on Twitter even as its value diminishes.
Let me know if you think I should revisit this…
Farewell, 2023. You shan't be missed. 2024, please do better.
Sign up for e-mail updates
Join the newsletter to receive the latest posts in your inbox.