Hard lessons learned writing for PetaPixel

Last week I posted my updated list of film-photography blogs I follow. Stephen Dowling, the force behind Zorki Photoshared a link to it on Reddit. Thanks Stephen! From there, DPReview.com linked to my post, too. Boom! My stats spiked instantly.

Guess which day my post appeared on Reddit

PetaPixel noticed it too, and asked if they could republish it. An honor, right? Lots of people would see my work on that well-visited site, right?

I didn’t say yes right away. On the one hand, I wanted my list of blogs to be seen far and wide, and I knew PetaPixel had giant reach. On the other, I wanted my blog to get all the visits, not somebody else’s site. Also, if PetaPixel ran my post just as I wrote it here, Google’s search algorithms would take a dim view and downrank my post in searches.

But I hoped perhaps for some new readers who clicked through from PetaPixel, so I said yes. But I rewrote the post first.

Get out your magnifying glass to find my name

When it went live, my poor little byline was in such tiny type I doubt anybody noticed it. There were two links back to my blog, but my stats say that only four people clicked them. And while the post got a lot of shares, the ones I saw invariably went something like this: “Hey, check out PetaPixel’s list of film photography blogs!” Or: “My blog made PetaPixel’s list!” Argh! It never occurred to me that people would attribute the list to PetaPixel and not to me.

Here’s something else I didn’t see coming. My original 2014 post of film-photography blogs had long been at or near the top of Google’s results for searches like “film photography blog.” That drives a steady stream of traffic to this blog. But within two days, the PetaPixel post outranked it. Arrrrrrrgh!

Cue the sad-trombone sound effect

I love experimenting. I’m always excited to see what happens when I try something. Well, I certainly got a faceful of “what happens” from trying this.

I’m not sure I’d start this blog today if I had it to do over. Rather, I’d seek to contribute to an established site that already has good traffic, and build my name that way. As an individual blogger who works at something else for a living, I can’t devote the time and effort it takes to build an audience as large as PetaPixel’s.

But here I am, ten years into this blog, having built a respectable audience as an individual blogger. I’m not going back now.

And so, here are my lessons learned.

  • If you want to republish my content, the answer is no.
  • However, let’s talk about something different and original I could write for you.
  • If your site is owned by a profit-making company, I expect to be paid for my work.

There is an upside to this experience: several of the blog owners from my list told me that PetaPixel sent them a ton of traffic. That’s why I wrote the list in the first place: so more people could find those blogs!


38 responses to “Hard lessons learned writing for PetaPixel”

  1. lpasqualis Avatar

    Very helpful information! I will keep this in mind in case I am lucky enough to have this sort of thing happening to me. Thank you!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s mixed fortune, to be sure.

  2. dan james Avatar

    Very interesting notes Jim…

    I was going to write to you about this. You published your updated photography blog list and, as you conveniently made it alphabetical, my blog 35hunter appeared at the top. I saw an impressive spike in traffic, check the stats and yep it virtually all came from you.

    Then a day or two later I saw another spike. When I say spike, I mean SPIKE. Subsequently, my blog had more eyeballs on it in one week than the whole entire previous YEAR combined.

    Wow, I thought, Jim has an even bigger audience that I realised!

    Then I checked the traffic sources. PetaPixel was top, and must account for 95% of the traffic!

    I headed over to PetaPixel to see the source – a blog post that looked very similar to yours, but I couldn’t figure out why they had published it. I don’t know PetaPixel very well, so wondered if they were purely a blog that trawled other blogs for related content and reposted it, rather than having their own team. I’m still not sure on this point!

    Anyway, I did after some searching, found your name, and assumed you’d allowed them to republish the post. Smart move I thought, Jim’s going to get lots of traffic from this. I also though how generous of you, promoting all these other blogs, not just through your own site with its considerable following, but through a site with an obviously vast readership like PetaPixel.

    Some things I’ve noticed from the new followers I’ve got, which surprised me –

    Hardly any seem to have their own blog. You know when you get that notification via WordPress and it says “you should maybe check out their blog too”. I guess I sort of assume these days that many/most photography enthusiasts also blog to share their pictures and experiences, as it’s so easy (in my eyes) to have a blog. I guess it reminds me that starting and maintaining a blog is still an achievement that only a small minority manage to commit to.
    I’ve had a number of spam comments. Strangely they have contained an almost logical and feasible comment, like “this is a great post, I like how you’ve laid it out so logically”. But the email and website has been some randomly generated one, so I’ve just sent them to spam instead of approving.

    I’m sorry you’ve seen some downsides your end, Jim.

    But for the community that follow you and whose blogs you follow, I want to reiterate that is was a generous act, and surely will be very good for your online karma balance!

    Thanks again,


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for your perspective on this. It reduces the level of upset I have been feeling. I like the idea of having deposited into the karma bank.

      And what interesting experience you’re having, with the spam comments and the non-blogging visitors. Here’s hoping some of the legitimate new visitors keep coming back.

      I saw in my own stats how your blog got an outsize number of clicks by virtue of being first. I can only imagine how the link from PetaPixel must have blown up your stats.

      1. dan james Avatar

        I’m still learning to understand the stats in my WP dashboard, because although if you look at the Referrers for this month, PetaPixel is top by far (2342 views, the next down is search engines with 608 views), my overall views for May are over 10k.

        (I can’t see a single referral from Reddit or DPReview, so I’m not sure on my evidence anyway you can count either of this as useful traffic sources.)

        Maybe this is because it only tracks the first arrival from the referring site, and then people are going on to look at other pages, which isn’t counted as coming directly from the referrer?

        Either way, I was already on a record month for May before this, simply following your recent advice of upping the frequency of posts, and trying to make each one useful and interesting to the reader, and planned to write to you about that, before the PetaPixel business. This was just an additional boost!

        Jim please try to focus on the positive, and that is more exposure and readers for yourself and many of us you shared. In the long run it’s good for all of us, not to mention the good karma I spoke of before. People remember online who looks out for them and supports them. : )


        PS/ Tried any of that Fuji Superia 100 yet? : )

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          You wouldn’t get referrals from Reddit or DPReview, as both sites linked only to my site. You should be getting referrals from my site thanks to that, however. And hey, it’s awesome that my advice had a positive effect!

          I haven’t tried the Superia 100 yet! I loaded like six cameras with film in a crazy fit about six weeks ago and am just now finally finishing off the last roll! Maybe the 100 should be next up in whatever camera I try.

        2. SilverFox Avatar

          I agree with Dan apart from the spam part as I’ve not had anything untoward. But I too had a massive peak of views and as Dan says many were people without blogs. I got a couple of new followers I think as a direct result; difficult to be sure. But most were just checking out my home page and didn’t like anything; I guess my blog isn’t as interesting as yours ;).
          Sorry you haven’t had a great experience but remember that post is now out there permanently and may yet reap you more rewards.
          Either way Jim I am extremely appreciative of you including my little blog in your list and your constant support.
          Anyone included in your list should google and follow a link to your blog to give you a boost :D

        3. dan james Avatar

          That’s a great point SilverFox makes about the long term. Anyone googling “film photography blog” will likely found at least a few of us for weeks, months and years to come.

          I know a few new readers are genuine as they’ve left comments on posts.

          I didn’t realise that the WP stats show visits from robots or whatever too. Naively I assumed every visit was a real person clicking a link.

          I suspect when all this dies down again if we have a handful of genuine new followers between us it’ll be a great result.

  3. Gary Tyrrell Avatar

    Your last lesson learned leaves me curious: is PP a commercial concern and did they pay you? Please don’t tell me they offered “exposure”.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      They are a commercial concern and they did not offer payment. I knew that going in. I did truly want this experience. Boy, did I get it.

  4. Bill Jurasz Avatar

    “If your site is owned by a profit-making company, I expect to be paid for my work.” Well worth repeating!!! I can’t tell you how often during my tenure as a semi-pro motorsports photographer I had profitable companies wanting to use my images “for exposure” or why so many people seem to fall for it. They make money off my images but I don’t? Seems odd. :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have mixed feelings about it all. I’ve had photos ripped off. The ACLU stole one of my photos and even modified it and uses it all the time. But I sort of like the ACLU and sort of support their mission, and they’re not a big profitmaking corp. But on the other hand, Time Warner stole one of my photos and you’d better believe I went after them. It ended up not being that lucrative but it was the principle of the thing.

  5. Mike Avatar

    Yep, got about 800 peta hits to my blog. Thanks for your efforts on our behalf. I’ve been a bit irritated by unauthorized use of some of my images in the past. One fellow reproduced a whole hunk of my blog posts and signed his name to them. I jumped through the hoops with Google to get some of his stuff taken down, but it hardly seemed worth all the effort in the end.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Happy to know PetaPixel is able to deliver the visits. I’ll be interested whether anyone converts to a regular reader. My gut check is that this will be good for a short-term visit spike but not very good in terms of generating regulars.

      I figure if your work’s on the Internet, it’s going to be stolen at some point.

  6. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    My blog is hosted on Squarespace and I have a pretty robust analytics dashboard. I noticed a spike after the PetaPixel post as well. Most of the traffic was coming through a San Francisco-based company called Vigilink. I am still reading up on what they do. There was also a TON of traffic that came in on different IP addresses all within seconds of each other–like over 600! Based on my experience with digital marketing, I am assuming this was not human traffic, although not sure.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Interesting. Now that you mention it, the number of hits my post is getting is significantly larger than the number of referrals from Reddit and DPReview, so I must be getting some non-human traffic too. I kind of hate that. I want to know how many people visit my site.

  7. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    Regular real reader checking in. :)
    Not been a blogger can’t relate to the post but can say thanks for posting the links, some of them were on my radar anyways but quite a few of them weren’t so will be visiting them again that is after reading your blog first Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Happy to share those links with you!

  8. Heide Avatar

    Another regular human Roadie checking in here, Jim. :) I’m ashamed to say I saw your post on PetaPixel a few days ago, but forgot to give you an “attaboy.” I’m sorry to read the experience was a bit of a let-down and that it negatively affected your Google rankings, though. I had a similar thing many years ago when a radio station invited me to read one of my blog posts for a nationally syndicated program. I recently asked them to take it off their website (it’s been six years!) but they said they own the recording — even though it’s my content and I wasn’t paid a dime. It’s downright maddening, isn’t it? But now you and I are both a little bit wiser to the ways of the web … and through your example you’re teaching others to be more wary too.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yep, sounds like we’ve both learned a lot.

      I am trying on as an experiment a more experiential approach to life: trying things and seeing what happens, and learning from it and doing better next time. That’s what I did here, and it was interesting to say the least.

  9. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

    So, thank you for writing about this. I’m not sure which I found more interesting the actual post or the conversations that have been happening here in your comment section. Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I love it when the comments are lively and interesting! Makes me feel like I brought up something that people care about.

      1. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

        I agree, writing a post like that makes me feel like I’m not just talking to myself, which is nice sometimes :)

  10. Sam Avatar

    Always a downside to this! But I give you credit no doubt, honored that you put me on your list and introduced the blog to others. And come what may, you loyal fan base (include me in) will always be there for you Jim! :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I hope you get some new regular readers out of it!

      1. Sam Avatar

        It did, thanks Jim!!

  11. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    Sorry this wasn’t a more positive experience for you! Harlan Ellison has made some pretty strong statements regarding getting paid, worth checking out. Of course people willing to do things “for the exposure” are a big part why real artists can’t make a living…this is a can of worms I’d rather not open here!

    For the record I had a small spike in stats for a couple days after the Petapixel repost, and seem to have double the amount of visitors that I did previously, but very few real people interested in any individual posts, maybe a few new followers. Nothing life-changing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, I remember Ellison’s strong beliefs around this!

      I’m not sure I did this for the exposure — exposure is crap. I did this to see how PetaPixel worked and also to get my list to a wider audience.

      I learned a lot from this. It’s a little disappointing that the wider exposure didn’t result in more results for you and others.

  12. ehpem Avatar

    This is a very interesting post Jim. I doubt anyone will come knocking to republish any of my posts, but it is very good to know about some of these issues.

    I too got a noticeable spike in traffic, referred from petapixel but nothing like other people mention. 230 views from petapixel in May and none from your blog. This is compared to 700 views from search engines. No new followers from the posts that I can tell – the numbers are exactly as they usually are.

    I also looked at the 52rolls stats for May – 35 views from petapixel, 1 from your blog. However, 52rolls has had a huge spike of views in May (22k views as opposed to 7 or 8k normally) and they are mostly on the Home Page/About page. I think those are probably views from people scrolling through the posts on the home page and not getting counted as views from any particular source. The home page views on my blog are also up about 4x normal (an additional 1k views in May).

    My own experience with the search engine priorities comes from when I was posting on 52rolls the past couple of years, and also reblogging or reposting those to my blog. There are posts, mostly P&S camera reviews, on 52rolls which more than 2 years later are still getting 10 views a day while the same posts on my blog have had no views after a week or so of publishing. It is OK in that instance since my authorship is front and center, not diminished to near invisibility like yours was on petapixel. But it is a very stark difference.

    So, I thank your for the >1k or so extra views, and more importantly for putting my blog into an easily found space for people searching for film blogs in the future. And I am sorry that your own search profile suffered as a result.

    1. dan james Avatar

      Interesting about the same blog post getting very different views on different sites. Why do you think this is? Does Google prioritise the bigger site, and/or where the post is published first?

      Or do the two blogs just have a different volume of regular readers anyway so the one with the larger readership is getting more views for any post anyway?

      It’s not the same thing, but this reminded me of my Flickr stats where, as much as I’d like to have thousands of views of what I consider are my best photographs, 19 out of my top 20 most popular photos are photos of cameras!

      1. ehpem Avatar

        Hi Dan,

        I am not sure how these things work. 52Rolls gets a lot more views than my blog does, at least views that WP counts (WP Reader views don’t count unless someone clicks all the way through to the blog). Also, WP does have more regular readers, more followers, and is pushed out through FB, Twitter and other social media sites whereas my blog only goes out via Twitter. The Facebook part may be the most important.

        For example, if you search on “olympus infinity jr” you will see on the first page at top 52rolls post and at bottom burntembers version.

        It is weird about the cameras/gear being more popular than the photos they take. I guess it is largely people like me standing in a thrift store with a camera in one hand, smart phone in the other, trying to find out about the camera before putting the money down.

        My experience is the same as yours – my top 8 posts at 52rolls are all camera reviews (and 4 of them are top 6 at 52rolls this year even though I have not posted there in 2017) and 3 of my top 5 at my blog this year are also camera reviews (all those reviews also published before 2017).

        1. dan james Avatar

          Or maybe there are more camera collectors than there are photographers? I guess it narrows the search too if people are searching for specific cameras, rather than generally browsing photos.

          I know I originally found Jim’s blog by Googling a particular camera and finding his review.

          I expect a large proportion of people finding our blogs like this are just looking for that one review for one specific camera and then they’re gone again, and only a few stay/subscribe for other posts too.

          1. ehpem Avatar

            Hi Dan – sorry about delayed response. I think you may be right – lots of searching going on for now obscure cameras that are not well documented. I tend to spend a lot more time on a blog about a particular camera if it is one that I could not find very much about, so there is a certain selection going on there with my posts.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re welcome! This is why I published this post — to share the goodness.

      Building a blog audience takes time and effort. And almighty Google will absolutely uprank a post on a more popular site over the same post on a less popular site.

      1. ehpem Avatar

        Thanks Jim. I have been posting every day for more than 5 years, which is a lot of time and effort.
        I noticed when WordPress Reader changed its format a few years ago that I lost half of my view stats since people no longer had to click to read the post. I expect I am getting a lot more views from WordPress users than I have anyway of knowing about.
        Unfortunately, Google changed its search functions too, so one no longer has much idea of what the search terms are that are bringing in views.

  13. SilverFox Avatar

    Just had another peak yesterday which looks like from your Petapixel post; someone must have just found it or it got featured in some way.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m still seriously bummed that the PetaPixel version of this ranks higher on Google than this post. It has materially reduced the number of views this post gets.

      1. SilverFox Avatar

        Yes that sucks. maybe we need a campaign for all your followers to google it and pick your post

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