Relying on Dead Accounts for a Subscriber Base

We rely on dead accounts. Dead or dud accounts should be clutter but they aren’t really. Instead they add to our numbers, and we like numbers as statistics we can see and measure. But, they aren’t all that reliable, or honest.

Twitter followers, Facebook friends, mailing list and newsletter subscribers… if you had to audit your subscriber list would you have even a quarter of those subscribers? A quarter was actually being nice. It is far more likely your subscribers and followers would reduce down to a very small fraction of those currently on your list. But, web publishers don’t yet have to face subscriber audits. I worked in the circulation department of a magazine, a print magazine. Audits were a reality there. Print magazines have to verify their subscriber lists, the people on them have to be real and currently getting the magazine. Advertisers really like having that kind of data when they consider spending their money.

So far the web is different, generally.

As a web publisher are you satisfied with that?

Do you care how many of your followers, friends and subscribers are actually real people (and maybe reading your newsletter too)? You don’t have to care. You can just ignore the whole thing. It’s nice to say you have thousands of subscribers rather than audit it down to a handful.

About once a year I take an axe to my Twitter account. I’m not ruthless about it. I leave some accounts which don’t look very active and probably don’t really care what I’m posting, or if I’m posting. But, I do set limits. It’s a Twitter audit where I only have to please myself.

  • I stop following accounts which have not had a post in a year.
  • I stop following an assortment of accounts which never followed me back. This is not a petty thing – I just don’t see the point in trying to reach out to someone who doesn’t want to listen to me. (Many of those who don’t follow back are just follow-me-back accounts who love having big numbers of followers but long ago deleted you from their own list of followed accounts).
  • I also delete accounts which have nothing to say. If the last half dozen or so posts are all re-posted links… I don’t want to follow an automated account.

I know I still have a lot of accounts which are dud and dead accounts in some way. But, I leave them because it is nice to have some numbers. I’m not immune to that game.

I don’t run a newsletter because I know just how fast I can build a subscriber base – of bots, spammers and dud accounts. Thanks for nothing. I miss running a newsletter. I had a few over the years online. My best was called InkSplatters, for writers.

If you had to audit your followers and subscribers how would it go? Could you be brave and do it or is it just too nice to go along and pretend all those numbers are real?

Some day you may have to prove them. I don’t think digital media will be left to make claims of thousands of subscribers they don’t really have for much longer. At least not sites which want advertisers to pay them for their space.

Audit Your Blog

I once worked in the circulation department for a business magazine publisher. When the auditors came in we had organized chaos for awhile. But, things were set up well and it wasn’t hard to justify the subscription lists to show the statistics we had promised the advertisers. Later, I worked for a department store. Once a year there was an audit of all the inventory, tracked against what was sold versus what should still be in stock. That was a little more chaotic.

Anyway, I think it would be a good plan to audit your blog. Think of your content as the inventory. Take stock of what you have, plan for what you need and make sure it’s displayed correctly. This is what we did when we had inventory in the retail stores.

ProBlogger has written Content Strategy 101. I wrote about content strategy in 2009. An audit would be along those lines with more focus on tracking what you have done and comparing it to your original goals for the blog’s focus.

First, if you never really set out a focus/ plan for your blog you really should. Keep it as a note you can see somewhere while you are working. Think of yourself as the editor of your blog. The editor works for the publisher and part of the editor’s job is to keep the publication on track with the publisher’s needs and the focus and quality which was established by the publisher. You are the publisher and the editor of your blog. But, for a moment, just become the editor. Are you living up to the publisher’s guidelines?

Second, look at the tags and categories as you have created them so far. Which of them are really in focus and which show signs of being sidetracked and which are only used once. (Being sidetracked is not always a bad thing, in moderation). Make a list of everything not included in your original plan for the blog. Some of these could be new directions you could head into. They could even turn up a great new niche you should develop.

Of the tags and categories which have been used most? Could some of them be over used? Is it possible you could split them up into smaller ideas/ subcategories?  Give them a clearer focus and make it easier for readers to find some of the great posts you have made which ended up being grouped into an over-wide category or tag.

Think of your tags and categories as an index to your blog. What gaps can you see as you look at them? What type of content might be overlooked? Brainstorm a bit and see what else you come up with. Find other blogs and sites in your niche and read their list of tags and categories to compare to your own. They may have some you are not interested in at all or you could become inspired with something fresh for your own site.

Be aware of where you started going off track with tags and categories and the blog posts written for them. Consider another site for these topics (could there be a theme including all of them?) or just leave them in your archives and don’t worry about them. From now on you will have your plan to keep you on track.

Now, check your original keywords which you have in meta tags up in the header of the HTML (find out more and get them up there if you don’t already have them). Rewrite your meta tags for the site description. Keep it short. While it’s good to use keywords you want to keep it simple, clear and quick for readers to understand in one glance. In your list of keywords knock it down to just ten.

Don’t pick keywords that are too dead on and exact, those are over used. Instead look at your tags and categories and pick out the words from interesting niche topics you have written about a dozen times. For instance, instead of ‘writing’ you might use ‘copy writing’ or ‘creative writing’ or even better ‘niche writing’. Your site is more likely to be found by someone looking for something specific than someone looking up ‘writing’ and getting the huge list of related sites. If you focus on a smaller scale you have a better chance. Like a small fish in a big pond.

Look at your site navigation now. Log out of your blog so you can see it as a general reader who comes to your site for the first time. If you can, get someone else to look at your site while you watch (don’t help them find anything!). How does your navigation work? Can readers search your site by typing in a word in a search bar? Can they look into your archives and see how long you’ve been posting or pick something to read by date? Can the reader use your categories (or labels/ tags) like the table of contents or index in a book?

Maybe you have given them even more options. How about a list of most popular posts? How about a list of old posts from other years? How about links to posts other people read after reading the current post they have clicked on? There are some nice options. Although you don’t want to create a cluttered mess, it is a good idea to bring attention to your older posts in some way. Don’t let them gather dust bunnies in the archives.

Last of all, don’t have just one content audit. The stores and publishers have an audit every year. You could do the same, part of your regular site maintenance.