The Stone Age of Blogging is Over – What’s Next?
Some influential bloggers have written about the end of the golden age of tech blogging in 2011. Others followed ever since.
They often say “tech” but in a way they mean blogging in general it seems.
Some people were furious and asked whether “over” is the new dead. I didn’t really care.
Then I considered my own blogging “career” and realized that indeed an era is over.
The Stone Age of Blogging
It’s the stone age of blogging that is over now. I recognized to some extent what replaced the Neanderthals of blogging and what’s next.
I want to summarize what really happened in the first decade of blogging.
Who am I to look back at a decade of blog history? I was quite late to blogging. I think I tried Blogger when it came out in 2001 but
I was only reading blogs for two years when I finally started my first real blog in 2003.
It was a private blog about
I had written it in German. I remember that at some point in 2004 I was even among the top 100 German blogs in two separate popular blogs lists.
Blogging for Clients Since 2004
I tried to convince my very first SEO client in 2004 to establish a blog and even started one for him.
It was a self-coded site and modeled after “Fresh Signals by Coudal Partners – a weblog that still exists unchanged to this day!
In 2005 I finally started to blog professionally aka for money and clients. One of the clients back then was the largest trade union of the world.
I created a whole blogging portal with dozens of blogs for the youth organization of the union.
Ironically I worked up to 80h a week for the union or the “agency” that actually paid me. This union is known for the “35h work week” demand.
In 2006 I created my first full fledged blog for a personal client of mine. In 2007 I started this blog – SEO 2.0 and the rest is history.
I’m still recognizable in the SEO industry, mostly due to my contribution at numerous marketing blogs over the years. My very first UK client got the best of me:
From 2008 to 2011 I have written hundreds of flagship blog articles for SEOptimise (now White.net) and made them the “best SEO blog” in the UK.
I achieved this both by making it the number one ranking blog on Google.co.uk and by winning the UK Search Awards.
Sadly I wasn’t even notified or invited to the ceremony. The local SEOptimise team has received the award instead of me.
I only got an email a few weeks later (shortly before Christmas) that they don’t need me anymore in 2012. Apparently It was bad for their image to have a low paid freelancer from Germany to run their “award winning” blog remotely.
Meanwhile Outside the UK
Meanwhile I have established and written for two flagship blogs for German clients. One of them was profitable for more than 3 years.
The other is the top ranking cycling blog in Germany despite me not really having the time to take care of it a lot. I made it rank on #1 in 2020 again by fixing, updating and expanding the existing content trove.
Additionally I have started a blog about science fiction in 2011. Last but not least I had a successful private Tumblr art blog for more than two years.
Internationally I have written for all kinds of Internet marketing blogs and beyond like the Hubspot blog or Google Blogoscoped when it was in the top 30 of the most successful blogs worldwide.
There are many many more I can’t even remember. Thus indeed I know something about blogging despite being a late adopter.
What has actually changed in the decade between 2001 and 2011, the time I consider the stone age of blogging?
The Definition of a Blog has Changed Itself
When you looked at the Top 100 blogs in 2011 and compared it to those from just a few years earlier you would wonder why there are almost no actual blogs on the list or in other words how the blog definition has changed itself.
A blog seemed to be a popular corporate news site with a team of writers who publish items almost every hour.
Blogging is a Multi-Million Business not Personal Anymore
In the early days blogs were not much more than personal diaries. Over time they become more and more like corporate media.
Then one fine day that same corporate media they copied swallowed them or outmatched them on their own turf.
The CNN Political Ticker has been the #11 most popular blog at some point.
Some blogs were bought and sold for many millions of dollars. Others earned millions of dollars or received venture capital by the millions.
I rarely see personal diary-like blogs of importance now anymore. People still care for opinion but not for the person behind it.
Blogs are about Topics and Teams not Bloggers
I was really astounded when AOL bought the seemingly anti-corporate activist site Huffington Post.
When they fired Michael Arrington, the original founder of TechCrunch I was still somehow shocked. When it happened to myself on SEOptimise I wasn’t even surprised anymore.
Blog readers don’t care anymore who writes the content they read on their favorite “blog”.
It’s just a site or news source like any other. They don’t notice the names or bylines of the authors. The hitherto unthinkable, removing the main blogger from a blog, is not an issue anymore.
Bloggers get hired and fired. People read blogs not bloggers. The teams are interchangeable as long as the topic stays the same.
Everybody Blogs but They Don’t Consider it to be Blogging
What do people on Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter? They blog. When I started blogging a blog posts was the size of the typical status update.
A short sentence with a link was a perfect usual blog posting for years.
The flagship blog post aka huge well written article is a relatively new phenomenon.
In a way most people have embraced blogging but without the attitude attached to it. Today companies like Facebook or Google own your updates and they can remove them any day.
They even decide what you are allowed to write about or what “profile” picture you use.
WordPress is a Full-Fledged Advanced CMS
When I first used WordPress I was late again. I think I switched to WP when it was in version 1.2.
It was clumsy and ugly back then but still it was the most advanced, user friendly and popular blogging tool at the time.
I didn’t like the backend code of it but I was glad that I didn’t have to code everything myself.
Yes, I have coded my websites by myself! By 2011 WordPress was a full fledged CMS you rather used for your whole site where the blog is just part of it.
Many people did not use the blog “module” at all. WordPress as a CMS is really advanced when it comes to features, extensibility and customization.
WordPress Themes Sported High Quality Web Design
In the early years I hated all WordPress themes. I’d take a theme and customized it until it looked a bit better.
As I’m not a designer I just stripped most styles. Over the years the themes got better and better but most of them still looked like diaries for teenage girls and poor poets.
When looking around again for a great clean and minimalist theme in 2011 I was overwhelmed be the sheer number of highest quality themes.
Many WordPress themes sported a design that looked like a custom one for a few thousands of dollars. Many of the best were premium themes but you also could get outstanding free themes.
Blog Writing Reached Almost of Journalistic Length and Depth
As noted above blogging in the early days was often like tweeting or writing Facebook updates.
Short sentences with a link were quite common. Adding images or even videos did not happen a lot at first. I remember that I rarely added images during the first months of my blog in 2003.
Blogging and journalism were like two opposite sides of the same coin, they never touched each other. Bloggers were treated like mere commentators.
Over the years not only journalists have embraced blogging but blogging itself has also reached journalistic length and depth.
Some blog posts over at Search Engine Land are so long I rarely have the time to read them in their entirety.
Also journalism itself has degenerated. By 2011 most journalistic articles were just republished agency news reports from
Blogs posts were often much better than actual newspaper articles.
Blogs Became Interfaces and Hubs in a Social Web Environment
Without a blog a site is like a dead end. There is nothing really you can offer to make people used to social media engage with your site unless you have at least a blog.
Forums or communities are of course even better but a blog is the easiest one of them to set up and maintain.
In a social Web environment people are not keen on reading your sales copy or pseudo-objective press releases and news articles.
People want to know who you are and how you think. Blogs are interfaces between companies and customers, journalists and readers.
A site that doesn’t have such an interface is effectively dead. The blog is also a hub for all your media related endeavors.
You cover or announce it on a blog. You get popular via your blog, the rest of the website is just the structure.
The Blogosphere Ceased to Exist
I rarely heard the term blogosphere by 2011. Do you know what it is? It was something I felt in the early days of blogging in Germany. The blogosphere was like a virtual family.
Whenever you wrote a post you knew everybody else in that huge family will in some way relate to it, even by not reading or noticing it.
When a post didn’t get linked by other bloggers, when it did not become part of the blogosphere everybody knew that it wasn’t really on point.
When I started blogging in English around 2007 I didn’t feel really as a part of it but I felt that it was still there.
Today I feel nothing. There are people who write for blogs they work for. There are many blogosphere if there are at all.
Every Niche and Industry has its own Community and Rules
Every niche, industry or topic seemed to have a blogosphere or rather community of its own by 2011. When I started this blog I wanted to cover many topics at once,
- social media
but also “make money online” topics or web design.
Later I added usability, freelancing, self improvement. By 2011 there was a whole sphere of blogs for each of these topics.
Some of them later imploded, for instance there are just a few good and active freelancing blogs left.
On the other hand I couldn’t “compete” with all the social media blogs all the time anymore. Web design blogs are filled to the brim with resources lists I can’t match either.
Every topic requires a different kind of writing, strategy and even design it seems.
Self improvement blogs are clean and sell ebooks. Architecture blogs show off buildings by architects all the time instead of writing about architecture.
Web design blogs do not describe the practice of web design either. They list tools and resources on how to design for the Web yourself. Every niche has its own rules of blogging.
Consolidation, a Few Blogs Dominate each Niche or Topic
Every blogging topic has one or a few blogs that dominate it.
- Search Engine Land largely dominates search blogging
- Moz dominates still SEO
- Mashable did for social media
TechCrunch still dominates tech blogging even though the founder is gone. Nobody needs him, his new blog is nowhere as popular as his old one.
There are few other blogs who still try to compete but unless you have a team of dedicated bloggers you can’t really compete for attention with them.
I prefer to use an feed reader to follow blogs. I don’t need people to shove the most popular blog down my throat each day.
Most other people seem to like it and use Twitter instead of feeds. Thus even a renowned figure like Arrington can’t compete with the giants anymore.
Commercial Blogs Using Blog Software and Overflowing with Ads Took Over
There were not only the huge corporate blogs you have to compete with for attention by 2011. There also were myriads of blogs that were just technically blogs.
They used WordPress or Blogger but they were just a collection of keyword driven commercial content.
It’s mixed with undisclosed affiliate links to lure search engine users and make them click. Finding a real blog with a real human behind it gets more and more difficult.
Either the authors are not really associated with that particular blog or you don’t even know who the “Admin” is.
Blogging Became the New Normal
What I have noticed about blogging in recent years that you don’t have to talk and write about it that much anymore.
In the early years blogging was new, amazing and still unfolding. Right now blogs are the most common form of regularly updated publication on the Web.
Corporations websites add blogs because people are used to read like that. Almost everything about blogging has been already said and written numerous times.
The increasing redundancy of blogging advice was one of the reasons why I didn’t even care for the “golden age of blogging” meme.
Blogging Turned into Personal Branding not Writing Anonymously
My first blog was anonymous in a way. I just didn’t mention my real name on it. It was like a Tumblr blog in that way. Nobody cared for my name.
Also I didn’t want people to expect certain kind of content and opinion because I was a pole.
By 2011 blogging turned into personal branding. You are somebody when you blog. At least you should try to be somebody when you blog.
Without a strong personality blogging will become frustrating quickly.
People won’t trust you as much as they trust bloggers with real names. Even Google won’t rank you as high as an author who discloses who s/he is.
These seems to contradict same of my former points when I wrote that people do not care about the bloggers anymore.
They indeed don’t unless you make them. You have to highlight the fact that you write and not “Admin”.
Will Corporations Take Over Blogging Completely?
These are the changes that came to my mind. I could write on for hours. What I want to stress is that as you see above some of the changes are rather positive.
Others can be viewed as negative, some are ambiguous. Overall they show that blogging has evolved beyond the stone age.
We do not live in cages anymore. Indeed a new WordPress with a modern theme is like a condo compared to a cage of WP from a few years ago. I welcome this change.
On the other hand I do not consider AOL or CNN to be bloggers thus I don’t have to identify or even compete with them.
It’s a bit sad that the categorization of weblog is a bit meaningless these days. It can mean anything and everything.
- What’s next?
- Will only corporations blog?
- Will we just “blog” for corporations like Facebook or Google?
Remember that some things haven’t changed. What I have learned over the years is that bloggers care for other bloggers.
Most of them won’t actually attack you just to position themselves in a better light. Overall blogging connects.
I may not be a particularly gifted writer but people who like me, other bloggers, tell their friends and followers and thus my blog posts get shared.
It’s as simple as that. I read and share postings by others whenever I can. I spend more time on curation than on blogging myself nowadays.
Blogging Like in the Early Days
A while ago I wrote an article about what I called then “smart mob SEO“. The smart mobs of the early blogging era are still there. They might occupy public places but they also can form and support bloggers.
Often when other bloggers link to me or I link to them we outrank huge corporate sites. So it’s possible.
Real people are always better than mindless corporate drones or just employees who happen to blog.
I don’t want to return to my cage but I still like sitting occasionally around the virtual fireplace
and convene with other bloggers to change the world. Facebook and Google are not replacements for blogs, they just parrot them without the inherent meaning.
For real bloggers Facebook and Google are only tools to promote their own blogs. The same applies to Tumblr, Medium and all the other platform trying to capitalize on your content.
You can still or now more than ever create your audience. You won’t get as much traffic as the AOL blogs but you don’t need that much.
You want a small but dedicated audience. The 1000 true fans who can feed you are not a myth. These are the people who will really support you – even financially.
* (CC BY 2.0) Creative Commons image by Chris Combe