It hasn’t been easy keeping this site going for the past few months. The abrupt and complete collapse of traffic to The Sleaze in June hasn’t been alleviated. It’s just gone on and on. And on. Every time it looks as if things are picking up, it crashes again, plummeting to even lower levels. It isn’t just page views which have declined, we’re talking visitor numbers here – they’ve seen an alarming drop. Quite why this has happened defies explanation – we have more pages than ever indexed with the search engines, many of which rank pretty highly for key search terms, I’ve kept up a steady stream of original and topical material for the site, and both the RSS feed and blog have increased their audiences. By all reasonable expectations, traffic should have been growing, not declining. In the face of such apparent rejection by previously loyal readers, it becomes very difficult o find any motivation for continuing to update the site. Why bother if nobody is visiting? I seriously toyed with the idea of closing The Sleaze down for good. If people can’t be bothered to read my stories, I felt, why should I bother writing them? Of course, this raised a fundamental question – why do I bother writing them at all? This slump in traffic has forced me to re-examine the whole raison d’être behind the site, questioning my whole motivation in maintaining it. I’m certainly not motivated by money – The Sleaze carries no advertising (in fact, I’ve even turned down offers of advertising), so I don’t make any money from it. Quite the opposite – I actually subsidise it out of my own pocket, in terms of hosting costs and the domain registration. Fame isn’t the spur, either, otherwise I’d be using my own name and picture on the site, not hiding behind a pseudonym and an old photo of Alan Delon. Professional advancement hasn’t been a motivation – I’ve had no offers whatsoever of paid writing work as a result of the site, and it could actually harm my current employment prospects if it was discovered that I was writing this kind of stuff. So why do it? After all, it isn’t as if I don’t have plenty of other things which could be occupying my free time. Well, on the one hand, I suppose it’s a kind of therapy; it gets these weird and wild ideas out of my head, where they’d otherwise bang around incessantly, slowly driving me insane. On the hand, it satisfies my otherwise frustrated creative urges. The truth is that I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but have lacked the stamina, inspiration and time. So I write this bollocks instead!
Perhaps most significantly, writing The Sleaze provides me with a relief from an unsatisfying job and unfulfilling life. Here I have the chance to leave the parochial little universe I normally live in behind, and reach out to the world. Basically it’s an ego trip! Which, obviously, is the key to why it hurts so much when nobody seems to be reading. After all, I’m not losing sales or influence if fewer people read, but I an losing esteem (or so it feels). Clearly, such feelings are foolish, and all this soul searching has made me realise that it doesn’t really matter if fewer people are reading The Sleaze than at this time last year. It’s doubly foolish when you take a step back and realise that most visitors aren’t even looking for satire or humour, they’re brought here by fruitless searches for pornography. So really, what does it matter if fewer worthless perverts visit the site? So having come to terms with the current traffic situation, and accepted that it isn’t a personal affront, my thoughts turned to what might be behind the slump. Leaving aside things like the fluctuations of page rankings, seasonal traffic patterns and search engine optimisation, could it be that something had happened to adversely effect the demand for online satire? Now, you’d think that with everything going on in the world – economic recession, US presidential elections, the war on terror – there’d be an increased demand for satire. So maybe I was simply writing the wrong kind of stories, perhaps my stories were proving too whimsical or esoteric. Consequently, I junked most of the stuff I’d planned for the Summer and embarked upon a programme of political satire stories. It had no effect whatsoever on my traffic levels. I went back to the drawing board and began to wonder whether it was online satire itself which had changed, perhaps the market had become oversaturated – maybe demand for satire was finite and there were finally too many sites for the available traffic. Rather contradicting this theory was the fact that many established sites have been relatively inactive this year (with a few closing altogether), whilst many newer sites had foundered.
However, whilst we might not have reached satire saturation point on the web, it certainly is getting more difficult to get noticed. The problem, I’ve concluded, is that I (and just about every other satire site owner), has the wrong ‘type’ of site. The fact is that the web itself is changing – increasingly surfers are looking for podcasts and videos, whilst we’ve got predominantly text-based sites, which require literacy and a degree of effort on the part of the visitor. People want nice, easily digestible, two minute chunks of camcorder-shot ‘humour’ from YouTube, not something they might have to spend at least five minutes reading and thinking about. Even if it isn’t moving pictures, they still want something visual – just look the stuff which dominates those social bookmarking sites – photos of cute kittens or blokes with their knobs caught in letterboxes. This doesn’t mean that our type of satire site is finished, but I think that it does mean that we have to accept that we’re even more of a ‘niche’ product than before, and expect lower traffic levels. Ideally, what I’d like to do is stop worrying about traffic in terms of quantity, but instead try and improve the ‘quality’ of my visitors. As I noted before, most of the people coming here aren’t looking for satire, or even humour, at all. Usually they aren’t even looking for the main subject of the story, be it Dubya, Gordon Brown or flying saucers. Poorly defined searches for smut are what bring them here (I’m guessing it is much the same for most satire site owners). Now, I don’t know if there are significant numbers of people looking for the sort of stuff we publish here, but if there are, I’ve got to find some way of targeting them. And that, I’ve decided, is my new challenge – I haven’t a clue how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to give it a damn good try! Until next time – keep it Sleazy!