You Have a Complicated Blog, And You Want It To Be Popular. Should You Change Anything?

This blogpost is for readers of problogger.net who are interested in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog series. Those of you who are regular readers can feel free to skip this, I’ve told you all this stuff before.

1. Practical advice

If you haven’t yet, take some time to register with some services to make sure you can be found. Technorati is probably the most prominent one to be listed in, but if you look at the sidebar of this blog, you’ll notice I’m listed Blogflux and Blogdigger. You might want to try to get listed in Gigablast and Blogpulse too.

A Squidoo lens where you introduce people to your blog and related blogs is helpful, and having a Myspace and a Facebook account are very useful. I use my Myspace as a profile page for any online endeavor, why not? ClaimID is far from useless, too.

Do make sure you’re at least listed in Yahoo and MSN as well as Google. Here’s where to submit to MSN.

At this point you might be asking, “Why do I want to be found through any of these services?”

2. Theoretical advice

By most standards, I’m a failure as a blogger. I have a ludicrously small audience, I live in fear of comment threads because I snap at people, and I write inaccessible posts.

So take everything that’s going to be said below with a grain of salt, if you’re still reading.

Getting an audience versus Creating an Audience:

The most important thing for you to determine is how high you want your entry costs for your readership to be. If you go to Boing Boing or Buzzmachine, you’ll notice it takes less than a second to figure out what’s going on. Blogs with titles like “Blogs for Bush” make no secret of what sort of audience they cater to – one doesn’t even have to visit the site to know if one wants to participate there or not.

It would seem you need low entry costs to be popular and to have a successful blog. This logic makes sense if you like being the same as everyone else: blogs with low entry costs for readers cater to ready-made audiences.*

This is why as the number of people blogging online increases, the number of instant success stories will increase exponentially even as many of us struggle to build an audience. Some people will be able to tap into a pre-existing market very easily: they’ll have the expertise others want, recognize/not-recognize the want, fill the want, and in half the time it took someone else to build a successful blog, have three times the audience that other guy had.

If you want to create an audience – educate or train the tastes of your readers like no one has ever done before – you will have high entry costs.

But this also means your blog will be nearly impossible to market the way other blogs are sometimes – you’ll be “buzzless.” You’ll have to rely on word-of-mouth and striking friendships. And you’ll have to hope that you’re discovered. And this is all slow, if you haven’t noticed.

In fact, a lot resides on being discovered. People like spreading the word for things they’ve found. Being hit over the head by you, on the other hand, they don’t much like.

Your biggest ally if you have a blog with high-entry costs is everything that helps you not get totally buried. Search engine traffic, blog directories, social bookmarking, etc. You’re not aiming to spam. You’re just aiming to stay on the radar and buy time until enough people discover you. So don’t set popularity as a goal. Set getting a good post a decent reader or two.

To this end, you’re looking to use blog directories as places to find like-minded blogs and network.

Monetizing:

This may not be appropriate for all blogs in all ways. The more political your opinion is, the more learned it is, the less advertising is appropriate.

The reason why is that a certain amount of disinterest is crucial to being able to talk about matters of policy or history. If it could be the case that you want to stir up controversy purposely to see what your Adsense ctr might be, you’re in a position to destroy not just your blog but your own credibility very easily.

I’m not arguing that it’s wrong to make money online. One of the reasons I love Problogger is Darren’s concern with the future of online advertising. He sees that it is a very good thing to get bloggers build audiences and then negotiate with advertisers directly: there’s a sense of independence involved that’s missing from a lot of other types of work nowadays. And I would submit that Darren’s concern is the solution to a much larger problem – it isn’t clear that when aggregators get all the money that quality content can thrive. In other words, it isn’t clear that the present state of inequality on the Internet, where “new media” thrives by ripping off old media incessantly, makes for a sustainable online experience. We need the people who provide content to be paid appropriately for this medium to work.

3. Conclusion

So what does all this mean? It means if you have a blog with high quality entries and you’re frustrated, wait. It’s not a wholly passive waiting – you’ll be reading, looking for other blogs. You’ll also be submitting to places to get listed and talking to the few readers of your blog.

But it is waiting. And it isn’t the worst thing. Take note of what happened to the popular kids after high school and smile. This medium is brand new. Why be popular when you can do so much more?

*The proof of low-entry costs for readers being the same as catering to ready-made audiences lies in the near-interchangeability of most blogs. I’m not saying there aren’t good bloggers who make the top blogs work, but let’s be clear about how “good” good is: none of these guys have persuaded or dissuaded me from doing anything I wouldn’t already do.

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