The Difficult Run 2013 Year in Review

Another year, another annual report on Difficult Run from WordPress. I made this year’s report public, so if you’re curious you can check it out yourself. Here are some highlights from the report and other thoughts about the blog at the dawn of a new year.


2013 was the first full year of Difficult Run’s existence, and we had about 57,000 visits over the course of the year. Traffic has been going up month-over-month pretty much since the blog started, with a couple of exceptions.

2014-01-04 Traffic
Web traffic to Difficult Run, captured about 10:00am on Jan 4, 2014.

June 2013 was a big month because of the post I did on health insurance vs. food insurance. It got picked up on Reddit and generated over 5,000 views in one day. We had another uptick in August when I launched a site design and brought the Difficult Run Editors on board. And then December 2013 was a low month because there were very, very few posts for the second half of the month.

The reason I put this info out there is mostly just that I’m always interested to get insight into what traffic other blogs are generated. So I thought it’d be nice to be transparent about traffic here. I don’t have any ads or generate revenue from this site in any way, so in a sense it doesn’t matter that much, but obviously if I and the rest of the DREditors publish our thoughts on a blog, we’d like to think that folks are coming along to read them. I’d always love to see more traffic, of course, but I’m pretty happy with the growth so far. My basis philosophy is to concentrate on making good content and then as a secondary consideration work to make it easy to find and then just wait. I’ll let you know in 2015 how that has worked out for us.

Top Posts

The health insurance vs. food insurance post was so big that it made June 2013 the biggest month, so that dominated in terms of traffic. Here the entire top-5 list for 2013:

  1. Health Insurance vs. Food Insurance
  2. Understanding the Missing Empathy of Ender’s Author
  3. True Math Facts That Will Blow Your Mind
  4. Malice Towards None: Orson Scott Card, Gay Marriage, and the “Ender’s Game” Film Controversy, Part One
  5. Elizabeth Smart, Chastity, Politics, and the Value of Human Life

Some observations on that list. First, 4 of the 5 are original content. A lot of the posts at DR are links to other articles that we find interesting, sometimes with a little bit of commentary, but this list is comprised almost entirely of longer pieces rather than links to other stuff. Except the “True Math Facts” piece. For some weird reason, I’ve noticed that almost every single day there are people who search for terms like “math facts blow mind” and find that link. It’s always interesting, and weird, to see where the traffic goes. It reminds me of trying to explain stock market movements: no one can predict them ahead of time, but everyone likes to come up with a story after the fact.

Second: Orson Scott Card shows up twice and, with Elizabeth Smart, three of the top five stories are about famous Mormons.

Lastly: there’s quite a lot of variety in that list. I know that the conventional wisdom about starting  a new blog is to pick some niche and become its master. I recognize the wisdom of that advice, and if my goal were “make a successful blog” I would probably follow it. But the trouble is I like writing about a diverse array of topics. So do the rest of the DREditors. We might be able to grab more traffic faster by honing in on one topic and dominating it, but I’m content to take a more patient approach and just write as well as we can about the things that seem important and interesting. And, based on the variety of topics that have garnered traffic, I’d like to think it’s going to work out over time.

Site Changes

My friend Chris Walsh did a redesign of the site for August, and he gave me everything I asked for and it was fantastic. Trouble is, over time I decided that what I’d asked for wasn’t what I wanted. In particular, the full-width layout for reading individual posts felt wrong (even though it’s what I’d asked for). Rather than ask for another redesign, I realized that I was probably going to end up wanting to tweak the site no matter what it looked like, so I picked a theme I liked and started making my own modifications.

The current look, which I launched yesterday, is based on the Minimum Pro theme from StudioPress. I’m still tweaking all kinds of details and it’s definitely not as finished as I wanted it to be, but with the holidays, a new house, and now sick kids it was the best I could do. I wanted a new site for the new year, and I’ve got it.

I’ll continue to tinker with the site over the coming weeks but, for now at least, I think the basic look works really well. I particularly like how fast the site loads now that I’ve gotten rid of most of the images.

Coming in 2014

Based on what I’ve learned from 2013, I’m going to try fewer original pieces per week (probably just 1 or 2 at the most) but with more emphasis on the polish and research for those pieces. I’ve seen that it’s not impossible to get a post to go fairly viral on Reddit if I just have the confidence to invest a lot of work in a single post. More and more I think that the Internet does respond, over time, to quality. (That’s not the only thing it responds to, of course!) I’ll encourage the other DREditors to do the same, but I’m going to keep posting short snippets as well (just links to other articles with brief commentary) because A) it’s a compulsion for me and B) it’s the sort of thing I like to see in the blogs I read. I may move some of that off to Twitter, however, instead of posting all of them to Difficult Run. (Trying to squeeze my commentary into 140 characters is also good practice for me.)

I’m also going to expand into some guest posts. I have one very important post in the works right now from a guest blogger that I’m looking forward to posting, and a couple more in the works. Difficult Run is my personal blog, but I can think of nothing better to do with my tiny patch of Internet that invite my smartest friends to come and share their thoughts.

So, those are my musings on the year that was and the year that will be. What about  y’all? I’d love to get some feedback on what folks would like to see more of in 2014. (Or less of. That’s not as exciting, but it’s just as useful.)