Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bloggin’ for Nothin’ (and the clicks are free)

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.

Writer

11 comments:

Jerry said...

Funny you should mention that, Writer.

While I do advertise on my blogs, (and the revenue hasn't been all that bad for what I'm doing) I still feel the focus is on the content, and I haven't lost readership over the inclusion of a paid post here and there.

but as far as making money goes... I just bought out a failing webzine, and that's where I'm focusing my money-making endeavors.

do you have any more pearls of wisdom for me?

Writer said...

Thanks, Jerry.

I shouldn't have been glib about the webzine--mounting a successful magazine in any medium is difficult and fiercely competitive.

But plug your webzine here--let's all take a look!

Writer

RockStories said...

Nearly every discussion I've seen about "clicks versus readers" seems to overlook the reason that most people started going after clicks and inbound links in the first place. Yes, there are those who just want "traffic" because it raises their ad value, but bloggers who want readers have some good reasons to boost traffic as well (although not so good as they were a year or two ago).

It seems that those who want to see the "I'm only interested in readers" school of thought as some moral high ground have forgotten the fact that it doesn't matter how good your blog (or other site) is if no one can find it.

Until recently, Google search was to a great extent the only game in town, and the techniques that you're addressing...cultivating inbound links simply to have the inbound links, inflating click throughs, etc. were ways to get Google to notice a blog and rank the posts higher. THEN, once you were on the first page of search rankings for relevant terms, you'd start to see natural traffic from the people who would become readers instead of just clicks.

Granted, that's far less important than it once was, since so much blog searching and blog traffic originates in places other than Google and we find our readers in so many different places (and also because Google blog search does not seem to apply the same algorithm as Google web search), but conditioning is hard to break, and for people who don't know a lot about Internet marketing and have only heard the "conventional wisdom", the very things you (and many others) mention as an ALTERNATIVE to focusing on readers are actually a step in the process toward cultivating readers.

Writer said...

rockstories,

Thanks for this. Good points.

Just to clarify, though--I didn't argue that "only interested in readers" was high moral ground (and the piece notes I'm certainly not above cultivating those readers), but rather that these practices may well prove counterproductive--and the bulk of discussion board traffic IS about ad revenue.

Writer

Two Write Hands said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Two Write Hands said...

I only made $13 in about 12 months from my ads, but it's $13 I didn't have before.

The way I figure it, if Google wasn't generating money through blog advertising, they'd just be charging the bloggers directly for monthly or yearly subcriptions to their services. This ad stuff is genius really. Bloggers still feel like the service is free (you don't have to install ads after all), and Google is still raking in the moolah.

paisley said...

well... i opted for one column of google ads... as i pay $15 a year for my domain name... and if i can make that... ill be happy... i never check it tho... i figure it is there.. doing whatever it can do... and if after a year that turns out to be nothing so be it...

i do write for readers tho... and i do think about how to connect with the readers that will like my content.... i think that is the hardest thing... finding the people who want to read what i want to write.... i like the community thing... but i know there has to be a better way to get targeted readership,, i just don't know how..

The Dude said...

If you don't like ads, don't use them. You don't have to publicly flame other bloggers for wanting to make a little extra cash for their time and effort.

Not a single intelligent blogger expects to sign up for adsense and become an overnight millionaire. But it is a good way to earn a buck here and there with empty space on your blog.

And as for the people who post the ads on forums about trading clicks. It is an easy way to promote your blog. Also, most people that trade clicks, will only stay a few seconds.. but a few of them stick around, and if they like your content... Guess what? You have a new reader. And that is a reader you didn't have before you posted.

I think it is time to get off of the "I blog for the enjoyment of blogging high horse". You are no better, no worse, than any of the other bloggers out there. We all do it because we like doing it. But what's wrong with a little cash here and there?

I'm sorry if that would be "below you" to take money from people clicking on your ads. And if you don't want to... GREAT... DON'T..

But just continue blogging with your mind open and your mouth closed!

kevin said...

I agree with what you said on some levels. Content needs to come first, it always has and it always will. If you have posted a total of 30 blogs, monetization should be very low on your priority list. But I think there is a happy balance for a few ads on a page...

My blogging life has been a lot different than others, I blogged on MySpace.com for years before I finally moved off of it recently for my own site.

I couldn't advertise there and never really worried about it or thought about it until recently. When seeing that I had a few million hits over a couple of years I thought about how my content is actually worth something. I was keeping traffic, to a VERY small extent, on MySpace by providing them free content on an almost daily basis.

My content is worth something, even if it is a few dollars a day from adsense.

I have two other blogs that I get paid to write, they have about four tastefully done adzones. It is for a large media company and they tell us all the same thing, quality content is what draws people. If they come to your blog and like the content and come back, occasionally there might be an ad that they want to click. Your content creates, drives, and retains traffic and should be your focus. I feel though people miss that point a little too much.

Writer said...

The dude,

The issue here seems to be reading comprehension--and definition.

I haven't flamed anyone. I also haven't taken the position that my approach is superior--right from the start of the piece I clarify that I'm not above promotion, that I have no problem with making money. I sell my writing all the time.

What I DID say is that i see the current practices as counterproductive in the long run, and that if you want to make money writing on the Internet, a change in focus might prove more effective.

It's not advice you have to take. It's an opinion, a point of view. But you're overly sensitive to see it as flaming or condescending.

Writer

Snoskred said...

Interesting discussion, Writer. :) First how did I get here - I followed a link from a discussion at blogcatalog, just so you know. So that was worth you putting the link there, because based on this one article I'm already wanting to become a reader of your blog.

The reason I was *at* blogcatalog was someone I didn't know had sent me a mail asking me to link to them. I took a look at their site and it's not for me, so I sent them a private message to say thanks but no - politely, as we bloggers should but it's better to reply with a no than ignore completely - and somehow ended up in the discussions area.

I'm always surprised at how few bloggers forget the little, important things. I'm going to blog about that tomorrow, I think.

Sometimes getting clicks gets you those readers you're looking for - I am exactly what you describe as far as a reader.

But you also seem to name me as someone you *don't* want - remember when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. I'm honestly a little bit offended by the concept that my recommendations aren't necessarily recommendations. In fact all the blogs I link to, favourite, stumble etc are all blogs I read daily with google reader. I would not recommend a blog I didn't read myself - hence the knockback for the link exchange person who sent me a note on blogcatalog.

I actually - scary as this will sound - read close to 700 blogs. I have google reader, it's actually really easy to read so many with that tool, and also a fair whack of those are bumpzee RSS communities that I belong to.

If I like your blog, I become your fan. If during the week you write a post I REALLY like, I link to it in my weekly wrap up. But it's got to be something that stands out, jumps out at me, touches me, makes me want to share it with others.

At the same time, I just wrote my first pay per post article today, I have a few link ads in the sidebar - nothing flashing, nothing annoying, just text. I have my own standards - as I set out in this post Blogrolling and Commercial Promotion - the most important being, I have to be allowed to say what I want. Nobody wants to be told how to review something.

People get defensive on this topic probably because they feel a bit like they're doing something wrong by putting sponsors or ads on their blogs - and they feel a bit attacked when people make the kind of assumptions you have made. I can't blame them for that - like I said, I feel a bit offended by your assumptions myself - because you couldn't be more wrong about me and why I link to people and promote them.

I do that because I like their blog, I enjoy reading them, and I feel like it is the LEAST I can do, to give them something back. I'm interested in every single blogger on my blogroll. I'm a follower of their life, their times, their trials and tribulations, yes this is sounding very soap opera ish but really that is what real life is. ;) So for them to take the time and effort to write, I appreciate it - and I show them I appreciate it by commenting when I can (with 700 blogs to read that's less often than I would like, I'll admit) stumbling their good posts with stumbleupon, linking to them, faving them etc.. It's just all part of the service I offer to a blogger when I become a fan - for free. But you can't buy it - you have to *earn* it. ;)

And you have.. so.. I have added you to my google reader (basically a feed reader, if you're not using google reader it's worth checking out), I've stumbled your site with stumbleupon and added you to my Technorati favorites, just so you know. ;)

I'll also mention you in my weekly wrap up post on Sunday and I'll be putting a link to you into my sidebar list of blogs I read via google reader.

Looking forward to reading more from you! ;)

Snoskred
http://www.snoskred.org/