Is Dynamic Ecology entering senescence?

Maybe. It’s hard to say. Keep reading for brief inconclusive navel-gazing.

This blog’s annual traffic has been dead flat for years now. But it’s looking like it’s going to be down appreciably this year, even though we’re posting just as often. We just completed our 7th consecutive month of lower traffic year-on-year, which has never happened before. Since the end of Feb., we’ve lost an average of >10% of our monthly pageviews, year-on-year.*

I can imagine several not-mutually-exclusive reasons for this, on which I’d welcome comments:

  • Pageviews originating from searches have been down for the last 7 months. And many of our old advice posts are showing steady long-term declines in their pageviews. Maybe that’s because some of our popular old posts no longer come up as high in search results? Perhaps because Google’s search algorithm downweights old pages? If that’s what’s going on, I’m not sure we should worry much about it. After all, much of our search traffic presumably comes from people who weren’t searching for a topic our posts actually cover. So if those people are no longer being sent to Dynamic Ecology only to immediately click away, well, that doesn’t represent an actual loss of readership for us. But insofar as people who are searching for a topic covered by our old posts aren’t being sent to them any more, that’s a bit of a bummer from our (and their!) perspective.
  • We’ve gotten stale, so long-time readers have started drifting away at a faster rate. Definitely could be something to this. I know I’m repeating myself much more often than I did back when we first started. And over the years our Friday linkfests have increased in popularity relative to our other posts, presumably because on average the linkfests have more “brand new” or “unexpected” material than our other posts do.
  • Brian and Meghan are busier and aren’t able to post as much these days, and so readers who like their posts, or just like variety, are drifting away. This is a variant of the previous bullet.
  • People are getting away from reading blogs. Maybe people increasingly don’t want to read long blog posts on their phones? Maybe people are increasingly listening to podcasts instead of reading blogs?

*Year-on-year comparisons are appropriate because our pageviews have strong seasonality. We get much less traffic in the summer, and over Christmas/New Year’s.

27 thoughts on “Is Dynamic Ecology entering senescence?

  1. If things are indeed getting a little stale, and you’re all becoming busier and busier, can I suggest recruiting a couple of new regular contributors, preferably keen ECRs? You could ask anyone who’s interested to send you an example of the kind of thing they themselves would like to write and a statement of why they want to blog.

    • I think this is a nice idea. It might be similarly helpful to solicit more guest posts, including having some mechanism for interested parties to propose a guest post. But I can see good reasons why you might prefer recruiting one or two new consistent new contributors versus trying to manage many different one-off contributions.

      • Re: inviting more guest posts, we invite many more than we post. Probably the majority of people we invite to write guest posts agree enthusiastically–and then never follow through and actually write something.

        But we certainly could try issuing an open call for guest posts, rather than contacting people individually to invite them to write guest posts. We’ve never tried issuing an open call. Not sure if we’d want to, because that’s what Rapid Ecology is for, and we wouldn’t want to feel like we were stepping on their toes.

    • It’s a good suggestion. We considered that years ago. But the problem is finding someone who’d want to do it. Frankly, I doubt anybody would (and if somebody did, I doubt they’d stick with it for long). Blogs are dying as a form, and the few people who want to have one already have their own. As illustrated for instance by the fact that Rapid Ecology hardly publishes any posts these days. That’s presumably a sign that anybody who wants to write even the occasional blog post already has their own blog.

      • You may well be right about that. Something that might make joining DE more attractive than starting one’s own blog (or maybe posting one-off stuff on Rapid Ecology, too) is that you’ve already developed a reputation and an audience, and I think the chance to interact with that audience as well as you/Brian/Meghan might move the scales for some people.

  2. Dear Jeremy, your blog notes (along with Meghan´s and Brian´s) are very insightful and inspiring, and I try to read them regularly although sometimes I cannot keep pace. I knew about the blog one year ago, so I consider myself new, and from very far away (Chile), which I think it´s good for your records. Yes, one good idea to increase attraction would be to get more people involved in writing experiences or ideas, following the trademark of you. Keep going.

  3. Hi Jeremy! I am a loyal subscriber since 2017 ever since I found your article about how to use redundant biodiversity metrics. Many useful old posts were on my bookmarks but I find no newer relevant posts this recent. I find that this blog start to post a lot about American-specific stuffs like tenure track or local meetings which was not really relevant to me. I may not speaking on behalf of international readers but the type of content might be the case.

    • Thanks for the feedback. The mix of topics depends on what we happen to be inspired to write about, so it’s hard for us to deliberately shift the topic mix. But we’ll think about it.

    • I have been a frequent reader since about 2017 but I agree with sagitaninta on the American-specific stuff. But of cource this stuff may be very attractive for American ecologists, especially the not-so-old ones.
      Other than this, DYNAMIC ECOLOGY has been an eye-opener on several issues, either strictly related to ecology or not (i.e I had no idea about the results of the Gates study on teaching efficiency in American schools and when I read your recent post I immediately spread the news around in Athens, Greece).
      I think that the fact that DYNAMIC ECOLOGY is primarily the task of three senior ecologists (as you mentioned in your 2017 comment) is a major advantage: please continue presenting your opinions on several scientific and not-so-scientific issues and I am sure we, the non-American readers,would not mind some chat on tenures and ESA meetings in the New World !!
      DYNAMIC ECOLOGY has been for years a treasure cove of ideas, papers and even memorable and delightful videos to watch. I am sure several people incl. me feel grateful on this.

      • One datum that speaks a bit to the US-specificity of our content: the bulk of our pageviews this year are still coming from the same three countries they always have, in pretty much the same proportions as always: 54% US (that’s maybe up just a touch?), 9% Canada, 6% UK, the rest elsewhere. The relative rankings of countries below the top 3 have shifted a bit this year compared to past years. This year Germany’s in 4th place as a source of traffic for us, then India, then Australia, then Sweden, then Brazil. In relative terms, that’s an increase for Germany and India compared to past years, and a drop-off for Australia and Brazil. So, [shrug emoji]. If there’s a signal there of non-US readers drifting away, it’s hard to discern.

  4. Hey Jeremy. I sure get a lot out of the posts, as a late joiner (< 1 year I think). Hopefully the decrease is just a fluctuation or new steady state. In regards to mechanism, I'm wondering if it is simply the "people are busier" nowadays trend. It would be interesting, however, to see if the distribution of post-types has changed, and if more of the favorites are now less represented. Good luck with figuring it out!

    • Thanks for the suggestion Scott. I don’t feel like anything’s been massively different for the last 7 months in terms of our post topics, but if I get time at some point I could have a look.

      The more efficient way to get at this might be to survey readers, which we’ve done in the past and could do again. Ask them what they think of our topic mix, posting frequency, etc. We know from old reader surveys that some readers do have favorite topics, but there’s no one overwhelming favorite type of post among our readers.

  5. Do you have data from any other blogs? For the first time, I’ve had a couple of months of lower traffic (comparing against the same month in the previous year). This provides some support for your final point. As well as competition from podcasts, platforms like LinkedIn are now an important place to read posts and articles.

    • It’s hard to find good comparators because you’d want to look at blogs that previously reached some steady state. Scientist Sees Squirrel, for instance, is much younger than us, and Stephen Heard told me their traffic is still growing year-on-year. Thanks for sharing your experience with your blog.

      Most academics and students (the vast majority of our target audience) aren’t on LinkedIn. So I doubt that we’re losing traffic to LinkedIn.

      Similarweb purports to have traffic data for widely-read blogs. But they only show you the most recent 4 months of data, and I’m not sure how good their data is. Their data for us are off by ~ 10K monthly pageviews, but the exact error varies fairly widely from month to month. But if you checked Similarweb every few months and made note of the data, you might be able to detect a really big year-on-year drop in traffic for, say, Andrew Gelman or Marginal Revolution or some other really high-profile academic blog.

    • Could be, sure.

      There’s a part of me that wishes I was the sort of person who could engage on Twitter as well as on the blog., if that is indeed where the field’s collective conversation is moving to. And I have tried Twitter out a few times. But Twitter doesn’t work for me, though I do lurk there sometimes (not really on ecology twitter tho). Engaging on Twitter is bad for my mental health.

      Which is fine, not everybody has to be on Twitter (or read blogs). Different strokes for different folks and all that. And if the fate of this blog is to die a slow death to Twitter, well, that’s its fate. Meghan, Brian, and I would be sad about that, and probably some of our readers would be too. But it’d be like being sad about the inevitable passing of a much-loved friend or relative: there’s nothing you can do about it, so you have to find some way to make peace with it. If this blog’s audience just dwindles to nothing eventually, well, that would mean its time had passed and it had a good run.

  6. Well, I for one, funnel new readers over here every chance I have. Plugging DE is nearly an advice-giving requisite for me anymore. I have my fingers tightly crossed that you keep cruising and musing on into the future.

    • Thanks for the very kind words! It’s gratifying to hear that DE is filling one of the roles I hope it fills: as a “go to” source for advice and information about academic ecology.

  7. As the editor in a scientific institution I find your blog enormously helpful in keeping up with my scientist colleagues (and often surprising them). I frequently refer DE’s blogs to other staff, so please keep going. You could maybe post fewer blogs per week (increase the rarity value) although I do enjoy the Friday blogs a lot.

  8. Regardless the (possible) decrease in readership, I’d say that DE is one of the best things on the internet, and has great importance for at least part of the people who read it, such as myself! I almost always speak of posts from DE on the courses I teach and recommend posts to my students and other people; I think that DE was among the main sources for my academic learning, in addition to the books and papers and teachers and Marco Mello’s blog.

    Regarding the Friday linkfest posts: one reason why the might receive more traffic is that they can be read more quickly… I read them as an overview of what’s going on in the world, often during lunch. For the other posts I usually have to set aside some time to read them with more attention, and so end up not reading many posts which would be quite interesting.

    About reading long posts on their phones, I’m not sure this is a reason… WordPress blogs look quite good on a phone. I also don’t feel that the number of interesting posts is decreasing. So I’d say that people tend to read less nowadays, and Google’s search algorithm also seems a likely reason.

    Another possibility for decreases readership is that perhaps it’s hard for new readers to find old posts on their subjects of interest? For example, on my blog I included a “contents” section which lists all posts by subject. Something like this may aid people looking for specific subjects (although it requires some effort to get it all organized).

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