Happy Place Traffic is Blowing the Fuck Up, Y'all!
One of the frustrations I’ve had running and writing this website is that at a certain point both its traffic and its Patreon revenue hit a plateau and have more or less remained there for a solid year.
Thankfully, Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 pledges have allowed me to increase my monthly revenue, albeit on a wildly fluctuating, uncertain basis. Some months I get lots of new Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 pledges and it feels terrific. Some months I get none and it feels decidedly less terrific.
I’m lucky in that traffic is nowhere near as important to me as it was when I was a staff writer for The A.V Club and the Dissolve. Thanks to the everyday miracle of crowd-funding I have the wonderful luxury of being able to write for my audience. Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place is my voice unfiltered and, unfortunately for the time being, unedited.
I get to write about what I want when I want the way I want. You can’t put a price on something like that. Creative freedom, it is a beautiful, beautiful thing. So I have been moderately frustrated but not terribly alarmed that traffic growth for the site is modest to the point of non-existence.
That has changed over the past month or so. Generally, a piece does well for me if it has two thousand or more page-views. That’s the baseline for success. So you can imagine how excited I was when two pieces this month soared past five thousand page-views, and then ten thousand page views, and then fifteen thousand plus.
It certainly did not hurt that the articles in question were Avengers-themed and had titles that could easily be mistaken for genuine garbage exercises in lazy, cynical clickbait. Or at least they mostly had titles like that. “Five real life super-villains who could DEFINITELY beat Thanos” certainly has a deceptively straightforward, deadpan title while the even more successful These Behind the Scenes Photographs from The Avengers Are Making Me Feel All The Feels and Jesus Christ, I Am Just Barely Hanging On” reads like Buzzfeed clickbait until the whole “and Jesus Christ, I Am Just Barely Hanging On” part.
This has happened before with similarly popular, similarly titled all-time traffic champions like “14 Reasons Iron Man is the best Avenger”, “Shady Things Everyone Just Ignores About David Hyde Pierce” and “Why Hollywood Won’t Cast Cary Elwes Any More.”
Where most of my traffic is direct, or comes through social media, these pieces have all done extremely well in searches because from the outside they look exactly like the kind of lazy clickbait people love to read and disparage.
These pieces are all parodies of clickbait rooted in the profound misery and alienation of contemporary life, darkly comic pieces overflowing with hopelessness, professional frustration, suicidal depression and the violent deaths of student nurses and the dashing star of The Princess Bride.
But you actually have to read the accompanying articles to know that they’re not the kind of strangely irresistible garbage found throughout the internet. I’ve been able to Trojan horse a lot of fucked up weirdness inside some generic-looking vehicles.
It’s much more difficult for non-clickbait pieces to break out and go viral, no matter how good or entertaining or commercial they might be. For example when I discovered that the man who instantly became a cultural pariah due to the Loqueesha trailer had written, directed and starred in 2012’s The Test, a little-known movie that looked somehow even worse and even more offensive than Loqueesha, I sensed that I was looking at a very exciting opportunity to unearth something singularly disgusting and fascinatingly reprehensible and share it with the world.
When I started actually watching the movie I experienced the natural high that comes with discovering something uniquely, fascinatingly god-awful. I knew that if I did justice to The Test’s mind-reeling awfulness I would have something very special on my hands. Normally I title columns pretty dryly.
Usually the headline for a piece like that would be “This Looks Terrible: The Test.” That’s accurate but it’s also not terribly descriptive, nor is it terribly appealing. Even after the Loqueesha trailer broke wide in the worst possible way people still had no idea what The Test was so I decided to give it the more colorful, if pandering headline “I Watched the Loqueesha Dude's Astonishingly Awful, Incredibly Offensive Film Debut So You Don't Have To.”
I felt a little guilty slipping into the default tone of pop culture media headlines, which is “inarticulate but very enthusiastic guy who REALLY wants to show you something” and while I’d like to think the article was funny and unique (that fucking movie was out there for anyone and everyone to eviscerate, but I seem to be the only who jumped at the opportunity) but it sure did not hurt that I mentioned Loqueesha in the headline and gave it a bit of a carny spin.
The Test consequently blew the fuck up page-views wise, racking up more ten thousand views in just a couple of weeks. I like to think that’s because it was really good, and I was lucky to have friends and supporters like Dave Weigel share it in a very nice, very flattering way but it sure didn’t hurt to be able to link something weird and uniquely god-awful that something people maybe did not know about (The Test) with something uniquely god-awful that people can’t shut up about (Loqueesha).
Needless to say, dry, unappealing headlines are not a hill worth dying on and while it’s not terribly important, it would be nice if the site got bigger and more successful with time instead of plateauing or declining in popularity and revenue. And while I love writing for my audience, you can only have eight to ten outside columns get cancelled for not being popular enough, as I have, before popularity starts seeming important.
So while I’m not going to chase page-views or change the way the site is run, I also won’t shy away from trying to make the work I do here appealing to an outside audience who understandably might have no fucking idea who I am and what my whole deal is as well as you beautiful people.
I know from personal experience that success and popularity are both such mixed blessings that they can feel like curses but having to shut shit down because it’s not successful enough is invariably a stone cold bummer and a fate I very much hope to avoid with this labor of love that also has to pay the bills.
Support online media, get access to patron-only content (I just “dropped” a 3500 word blog post exclusive to the page) and be a mensch over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace