A few months ago, I started a blog. Primarily, I wanted a place to write away from the distractions of work place politics, mere reactions to discussion board debates, and generally other people’s expectations about what I should write, all colored by what I’ve written, where I’ve written and so forth. I chose to blog anonymously, without benefit of reputation, resume (or infamy). Only a few of my closest and most trusted friends and colleagues know my blog address (I wanted to feel free to write about anything), so I couldn’t start with the boost of predictable readers. I had to start from scratch.
I didn’t get around to a counter for a week or two, but I received a comment right away—people had found my blog. I certainly wasn’t above promoting my new endeavor, and I added the URL to the tagline of a discussion board I frequent. Success—I received several warm emails from those folks, now regular readers. Still, traffic was irregular, so when I had a few minutes a week or so ago, I explored blog visibility, and came across BlogCatalog. What fun! Suddenly I had gmail from people I’d never met (I’m still working my way through those folks), daily comments from other bloggers, and interesting discussions from nice, intelligent, like-minded people. I was quickly seduced and addicted.
Nothing is perfect, though. MUCH of these discussions focus on “add me and I’ll add you” trades to boost blog ratings on friends lists, neighborhoods, Technorati, StumpleUpon, Digg and so forth. “Link me and I’ll link you.” Well, no real harm—just people cooperating, right?
Such a prevalent practice can only create a backlash. Start with ratings. When I see a highly rated site, I don’t assume it’s a great site—I assume someone’s good at cooking the books. When I find a blogger I like, I don’t check the friends and neighborhoods, as they aren’t necessarily recommendations at all—the blogger may not have even viewed the site. And what about the people who’ve linked to my site or my pieces in good faith—people might well ignore those links as logrolling.
I’ve been assuming, of course, that bloggers want readers, when presumably, many bloggers seek high ratings to maximize ad revenue. Many sites carry so many ads that I’ve stopped reading those blogs, simply because I don’t want to wait for all those ads to load. Indeed, some blogs take so long to load that I gave up before they finished (unread). Yes, I visit some web sites with many ads—but that’s when I’m deliberately shopping, not regularly. Even then, for example, I use Amazon over Barnes and Noble because it loads so much faster. I do read the New York Times online, and yes, it features a number of ads and takes a while to load. However, it’s also rich in content, justifying the wait. A blog updated daily, even an excellent blog, just doesn’t have that same pull.
I’m not looking for clicks—I want steady readers. I want them to enjoy my posts. I want them to bookmark my blog. I want them to recommend this blog to other readers. I want them to visit every day or few. I want them to dig through the archives. I want them to read because it’s a good read, because they’re interested, not just click to trade a favor.
I’m reminded of my music business experience. I recorded three albums, found a distributor, and enjoyed sales from Alaska to Georgia. As the independent market grew, the distributors started selling ad space to artists in their catalogs—and as the market grew more, the ad prices skyrocketed. I did the math, and realized that while I needed ads to maintain sales, at those rates, I’d essentially be buying my own project. I’d be working for nothing (I was also the manufacturer). Since the money was more important than my ego’s desire to distribute my work, I folded the enterprise. The business was no longer about selling independent music to the public—it was about selling ad space to hungry musicians.
Similarly, blog ads are fine, per se, but counterproductive. Blogging for ad revenue is an open market. Readership is spread thin, and only likely to become more so as more people blog. I read very few blogs regularly (only so many hours in the day), preferring quirky, imaginative, well-written blogs with reasonable load times. I never click on the ads.
Plans for easy riches come and go, come and go. From Amway to churning real estate, people are always ready to exploit others’ dreams of waiting wealth, the dreamers rarely stopping to think that if all were that easy, why wouldn’t the dream mongers just engage in more of the same practice themselves? Placing ads on blogs IS a good idea—for Google and other providers of that service. After all—do YOU click on blog ads? Advertisers can still be happy—they get seen, and repetition is rule one in advertising. The service providers collect fees. All those bloggers see all those ads. Success, but make no mistake—bloggers are the customers, not the suppliers.
Certainly I can see ways to successfully commercialize a blog. This would mean writing about products and pastimes that people with money who use the Internet for shopping would regularly purchase (technology comes to mind). You’re a free lance salesperson working for commission—not a great job. I suppose it could work out with genuine interests—a hiker composing reviews of new equipment, for example (although somebody’s got to foot the bill for that equipment)—but if you’re going into sales, this is just not the best approach.
If my purpose were income, I’d fold the blog and start a webzine. Why look for a few clicks? Get readers there and keep them there! You could then pack the site with ads (as long as you paid attention to design with an eye toward load time). Readers could visit multiple times, and with live content, the ‘zine could always stay fresh. Instead of posting ad links, SELL advertising space! Make deals to sell their product for a share of the margin! Use the revenue to hire more writers, web designers and salespeople as required. If you’re going into sales, GO there! Don’t ignore your creative side—create a great publication, and you can sell subscriptions too.
Or, you could start yet another blog telling other bloggers how to make major money by adding ad links and cooking the books. You’ll have lots of customers.