On Blogging – Part 4

Are We Inside An Echo Chamber?

A Story About Changing Times (A Little Bit Of History)

It’s hard to believe but we’ve been on the internet for almost twenty years. Our youngest son was still in high school and he created a web site to list our companies products. The amazing thing is that at the time we were manufacturers agents exporting a number of industrial lines into the Caribbean and the web based catalog was intended for that customer base. We provided customers with a web address, an online order form and instructions to help with placing orders. We expected only a limited reaction. In less than a month we were getting orders submitted from American companies. The only advantage we offered was that we allowed items to be ordered in smaller quantities than the large manufacturers we represented. As a result we had to increase our inventory levels and with some product lines sales increased by a third.

At that time Amazon, which started in 1995 as an online bookstore was about the only online retail seller. If we were to try and duplicate that success today I guarantee you absolutely nothing would happen. No orders out of nowhere. No customers increasing the size of their orders. No Google search traffic at all (maybe I’m wrong because that traffic came from somewhere). At that time selling on the internet was a new concept. Business to business selling was just starting and there were almost no direct to consumer outlets online other than Amazon.

The Siren Call Of The Echo Chamber

The promise soon became if you organically increased your sites traffic the search engines would take note and start directing more searches to your web site. More traffic meant even more traffic.

Facebook Groups

Right up front I have to confess that I don’t understand how to “work” facebook. Every time I start to figure it out facebook changes the rules and how it operates. If I go back five years my real interest was to increase traffic to my travel site and I discovered a number of travel groups to join. I joined two and was suddenly given instructions on what and how to post. I was also told that I had to help boost other group members and I would have quotas to meet. There were a lot of rules:

  • How many words for my comments
  • How long I had to be on the page
  • The subjects of my posts…

I spent over six months working inside facebook groups and at the end all the increased website traffic I recorded came only from the facebook groups members – no organic growth at all.

Increasing My Subscribers

The next rule I learned was that if I could get up to a thousand subscribers I would be eligible to start using Adsense and other advertising services to “monetize” my site. Today I’ve reached that goal and I’m very suspicious. Getting these organizations to provide you with ads isn’t the whole story. In order to get revenue those ads have to provide clicks.

Even before joining these groups I was running my own ads. I operate two e-commerce stores in addition to additional online sales outlets (Etsy). For almost a year I’ve been able to track those clicks. With between 70 and 110 visitors per day and about a 100 plus page views the outbound clicks from ads have been almost unmeasurable. Why should I get more clicks from outside ads?

Where does my travel site traffic come from? With the exception of those Google search false increase periods (see below about that issue) the traffic breaks down like this on average over six months (rounded):

  • My subscribers 26%
  • Search engines 22%
  • WordPress Reader 19%
  • My social apps (Twitter, Pinterest, facebook…) 16%
  • Misc. 15%
  • Unknown 2%

The bottom 17% are often visitors looking to sell us something – SEO, pay per click traffic, design services etc.

In The Echo Chamber

With a minimum of 42% of the traffic coming from subscribers and our social media sites and it could be as much 55%, you can easily characterize this as an echo chamber. What do I mean by that? It’s very similar to those facebook groups mentioned above that intended only to artificially boost the traffic numbers but without their detailed instructions. Call what’s going on an echo chamber or a quid pro quo or maybe a mutual admiration society but there’s nothing organic about it.

My biggest argument in support of this is in our online advertising. We’ve discovered that the biggest value for the dollar in advertising for our e-commerce stores is facebook. The facebook store is located at https://www.facebook.com/WinterGardenCrafts. There are two approaches to facebook paid advertising; first is looking to boost website traffic with actual ads directing clicks to our online store (https://thecraftsmart.net). The other is boosting a post on the stores facebook page. While we do get a small amount of traffic as redirects from the facebook store, almost none of it results in a sale. The traffic that comes directly from those facebook ads to our online stores result in an 8 to 10% purchase conversion. The cost per redirected click runs from 6¢ to 45¢ depending on the ad and demographic selected.

Bottom Line Concerns

All of us are probably hoping to get visitors that find our postings interesting and of some value with the prospect of maybe financial success. The truth seems to be something completely different. By eliminating the echo chamber traffic what’s left is not a lot of organic traffic and only a small amount of actual growth. Unfortunately this suggests that many of us are deluding ourselves as to what is happening. Add to that the high probability that Google is playing us with the manipulated search result growth spurts (see below about that issue) and things are even worse.

The next post will put all this in a much broader context.

I’ve Experienced A Recent Change in Traffic

Information from the previous articles. Just in the past six months my travel site experienced some good traffic growth. Following is a chart showing results reported by Google data along with the contributions from other search engines.

Looking at the data it raises some interesting questions:

  1. The Google impressions show major changes in growing, peaking in May and falling off again.
  2. The percentage of clicks per impressions also grow (from about 1% to 1.5%) with a peak in June and falling off again.
  3. The percentage of Google clicks to all other search engines starts at about 27%, grows to almost 57% and drops back over 3 months to 27%.

What do I make of this?

First, Google clicks seem to correlate somewhat with reported total impressions but do show growth in the percentages indicating a deviation of about a half a percent (same bell shaped curve) which suggests an anomaly.

Second, various search engine contributions as a percentage of total search referrals seem to remain constant when averaged over two months of results. The only exception is the Google contribution. Google’s share starts at just under 28% of total search referrals, grows to almost 47% in May and drops gradually back to under 28% (the bell curve again). Statistically it should have stayed at under 27% in alignment with the additional 5 other search engines.

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