Without Bullshit: A 7-year retrospective

Traffic to this blog, with stats for 2021.

On Friday, March 27, 2015, I made my first post on this blog. I recommend starting large tasks on a Friday. It allows you to have the weekend to consider where you are going.

I made my next post on Sunday, March 29, and I have posted every weekday since then. Since this blog is about to change in a significant way in 2022, I thought today — Friday, December 31, 2021, would be a good time to look back at where I have been. You’ll hear more about what’s coming on Monday.

Without Bullshit by the numbers

I have been posting here five days a week for the last six years and nine months. That includes 1,838 blog posts, nearly all of which covered content of substance. (I just posted pictures of Christmas trees on a couple of Christmases.) Even when I took days off, the blog didn’t — I cued up content for those days ahead of time. With one exception — a guest post by Charlene Li on the tenth anniversary of the publication of our book Groundswell — I wrote each post myself.

The blog accumulated nearly 4 million views — 3,872,780, to be exact — over that seven-year span, for an average of 2,118 views per post. But some posts gathered far more traffic than others. A typical post of mine gets about 700 views total.

I have to take a moment here to thank you, my readers. Without an audience, I am nothing. I am humbled by the number of views and how they continue to come in every day. Thanks for reading — it means a lot to me.

My posts generated nearly 10,000 comments. This means that the average post received five comments. I read every comment and value your feedback. Most of is intelligent, some of it is quite interesting, and some of it is insulting and stupid (I delete those, of course). My spam blocker, Akismet, has blocked more than 800,000 spam comments.

I wrote 1.7 million words in those seven years. Even considering that some of those words are quoted from other sites, that is a lot. A typical nonfiction book is 65,000 words; this blog is 26 books worth of content.

Popular posts and topics

Although I write about writing, I could not write every day on that same topic. So instead, I have allowed my intellect to roam free over the constellation of things I am interested in. I write about writing, books, politics, marketing, market research, customer experience, and tech industry analysis. I assume that if it interests me, it will interest you, and the traffic to each post shows me what you’re most interested in.

I looked at the tags I used to get an idea of the topics I hit most often. Here are my top topics (click on a link to see all the posts on that topic).

  • Donald Trump (228 posts). During his candidacy and presidency, Trump said and did so many things worthy of analysis that it would have been impossible not to write about him. Even so, I’m chagrined to look back and see that he was the topic of one-eighth of my total posts.
  • Books (138). I help authors. This means I need to write about books — how to conceive them, how to write them, and how to market them.
  • Writing tips (100). I started by writing about writing, and it’s still a top topic for me.
  • Passive voice (83). I admit I have a real problem with passives — they pervade so much of modern writing, making it hard for readers to understand what is going on and hiding what’s really happening. When I see an egregious example, I feel a need to explain how it happened, why it is causing problems, and what the author is really saying.
  • Facebook (83). As a close observer of social media, I’ve got a lot of concerns about the rise of Facebook/Meta and the negative effects is has on so many people.
  • Editing (80). Editors help writers to be as effective as possible. I do a lot of editing, and I have quite a lot of views on how editors can work best — and how writers can understand their work.
  • Weasel words (75). Along with passive voice, a common writing problem.
  • Apologies (57). Public apologies are among the most revealingly flawed pieces of writing you’ll ever encounter. I analyzed apologies from Western Digital, Andrew Cuomo, Jerry Falwell Jr., Ted Yoho, CrossFit, Felicity Huffman, and Hubspot.

Looking back on seven years of posts, the ones that garnered the most traffic were those that people shared widely, and that ended up ranking on web searches. Here’s a short list:

  • 10 top writing tips and the psychology behind them (863,000 views). This is as close as I got to putting all my insights into one post, and it clearly resonated with people seeking writing advice. It accounted for 22% of all views of my blog.
  • Systemic vs. systematic (for example, systemic racism) (112,000). The word “systemic” is unusual — I think it confused people. My sober explanation — which I tried to make as flat and unbiased as possible — became popular because it made sense out of a challenging topic. This post generated 33 comments.
  • Donald Trump, memes, and the dangers of post-factual politics (110,000). I felt it was important to call out a fake meme that claimed that Donald Trump stated in a 1998 interview that he’d run as a Republican because Republicans are stupid. It cites Fox News, which was in its infancy at the time. Snopes has debunked it. But even so, many people imagine that they’ve seen this interview, because the false meme continues to circulate. There were an amazing 66 comments from people, many of whom wanted to believe it whether it was true or not.
  • Scrabble has now become “Scrabble GO” . . . which will lead America to its doom (83,000). The horror that is “Scrabble GO” offended me — as it did many other people who had to give up the previous, far less whizzy version of online Scrabble. Their searches drove this post high in the search rankings, and eventually led to me getting a quote and a photo in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Why the “Amazon Token” advertised on Facebook sure looks like a scam (80,000). Facebook not only permits ads for this scam, but continues to allow new versions to pop up. Every time they do, more people find my post. People liked the way I pointed out the signs that the site was a fake. Some of the comments were from people who actually lost their money.
  • The Scrabble GO experience, and how to avoid it (including a review of Word Master Pro) (80,000). I think a lot of people who read the original Scrabble post clicked on this in the related posts at the end of the first post. I sent 3,400 people to the site for Word Master Pro, an online Scrabble alternative.
  • A second Bitcoin blackmail scam, based on hacked passwords (61,000). Scams drive traffic. People who got an email saying that a scammer would reveal their porn habit searched for the text of the email and found my blog.
  • Apple’s Tim Cook shows how to communicate in a crisis (42,000). When Apple refused to break its own encryption to get into a mass shooter’s iPhone, people wanted to understand why. My analysis of Cook’s explanation showed how effective a calm and clear justification can be, especially when the topic is fraught and technical.
  • “What’s wrong with millennials?” asks Simon Sinek (41,000). When a video of Sinek and his glib explanation for millennials’ problems started circulating, people searched and found my rebuttal. I especially loved the people who insisted that as a millennial myself, I was blind to the problem. (I was born in 1958, not 1998).

Honorable mention goes to posts on millionaire authors, the politics in Uline’s office supply catalog, and the meaning of “woke” — all topics people conducted frequent searches on.

Was it worth it?

You may as well ask me if breathing and eating was worth it. I think; I write. It’s a natural thing for me, and I can’t imagine not doing it.

I find it revealing that so many of my most popular posts were sober, analytical takes on controversial issues. It tells me there is a real appetite for unbiased analysis.

While my blog has generated a lot of traffic and a fair number of leads for my writing workshops and editing business, it’s second to word-of-mouth as a lead generator. It probably sold a few books, but from a pure business perspective, investing this much effort in blogging is probably not worth it.

But daily blogging is how I structure my day and stay connected. Writing helps me think. Blogging connects me with the world. That is irreplaceable.

So it was worth it — perhaps not economically, but psychologically.

Drop me a comment if my blog has meant anything to you. I’d love to hear from you.

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  1. You write “I have to take a moment here to thank you, my readers.”

    We have to take more than a moment to thank you, Josh. Never a dull moment with your posts. May 2022 be a splendid year for you.

  2. I, for one, am enormously glad that you got your blogging footprint out there – demonstrating your writing/editing thought leadership. Because you have profoundly (and very po$itively) impacted MY business. I vote for “well worth it”!!

  3. Thanks very much for your blog. It’s been valuable and well worth my time to read it. I’ll look forward to seeing what your next chapter is. Meanwhile, happy new year, and stay safe.

  4. Happy New Year, Josh. I enjoy your blog very much! I write for work (grant-writing, web content, reports, letters, etc.) and my husband and I write fiction (together, without killing each other!). Its nice to see corroboration of my writing instincts, and better – pointers on how to improve my game. Second to that is how much I enjoy your analyses and opinion. It is refreshing to see well-reasoned, informed assessment, articulately stated. Thank you. All the best to you in 2022.

  5. The post that really resonated with me was your analysis of Air France’s joon product launch and vacuous marketing campaign. Brilliant, spot on commentary.

    I used to work with global marketing companies, including a prestigious Los Angeles agency. I was appalled that its millennial copy writers would present creative concepts to me, a corporate client, with spelling errors (which I corrected in front of them.)

    I am guided by your examples of proper grammar, tense and simplicity of sentence structure in my role as a marketing communications consultant. Please don’t stop citing examples of sloppy writing!

  6. Really enjoy and learn from your posts. I’m always trying to improve my writing and love your book and the insights you share here. Glad your blog has been worth it for you — it certainly is valuable for me. Thank you!

  7. Josh, your blog has made me a better writer, a more critical thinker — and I have laughed a lot along the way. Thank you for sticking with this, through very thick and very thin. It’s a privilege to be your reader and your friend. Happy New Year!

  8. A wise friend once said that no address book needed room for more than 400 entries; nobody has more *actual* friends than that. It was decades ago, so allowing for inflation your 700-person average daily engagement is spot-on. For you, those 700 folks want to be your content-friends that day, because you touched a nerve. Many days, I’m in the cohort… others not so much. But what truly matters is the number of us whose recollections of “right on, Josh!” and shameless forwarding are too numerous to count. We’re friends those days, tribe members every day. Thanks.

  9. Josh, thank you for your diligence with your blog. Your voice stands out, balancing reasoned analysis and sly wit. Very much appeciated!

  10. Josh,

    I’m retired now, but when I was still working I was known for sending out emails so long that nobody wanted to read them. It would have been nice for my co-workers if I had come across your advice sooner. One of them signed me up for your blog and I’m really glad they did. As soon as I saw “without bullshit” I was attracted & interested.

    So much of what I endured listening to and reading at work over the years was full of bullshit, and I found it a confusing and depressing waste of my time. I appreciated your writing tips so I could waste less of other people’s time.

    I also appreciated your analysis of various political issues or current events. But my favorite posts have been more personal. I loved the one where you reviewed your career and the various decisions you made along the way, talking about whether they were good based on money and based on well being in life. I also loved the ones about selling your house and moving to Maine, and why you like the Portland area (I do too – my sister lives near there). And I liked the Scrabble posts, not only because I’m not a fan of ruining a game to increase profits, but also because you talked about your own Scrabble playing which lets me see how a confident person can talk about their abilities honestly, without either bragging or being self-deprecating.

    I hope the news on Monday is that you’ll continue to blog at least sometimes. I think you’re rare and wonderful, and I have really enjoyed your sharing.

    Thank you & Happy New Year – wishing you all the best!

  11. This is one of the few blogs I read immediately when it comes or on Saturday mornings. I find the writing compelling, the analysis, impeccable.
    So it is time for me to thank you and, if you need any help I can give, just let me know.
    Keep well and have an excellent start (and continuation) of the year.