Hamlet Batista commented on my last post that a problem with blogging is that many people look to the same sources for inspiration and information to blog about. Even in the most saturated markets there are a wide array of unique data sources. Here are some of my favorites:
your own experiences - how you save time, your favorite work tips, things that slow you down, interactions with others, how your perspective has changed over time, etc.
show how your topical language has shifted - compare news from the 1950s to today, there are many stories from the 1980s and earlier which are easily accessible via Google News, but have not been pushed heavily on the web graph
compare information from different formats - blogs, magazines, books, dvds, conferences, stuff in Google Scholar, etc.
content behind firewalls - bring these ideas into the active parts of the web
Brian Clark recently highlighted that while valuable blogs continue to gain traction, the bloggers who were only popular because they were early are seeing diminished traffic and are fading in relevancy.
It makes sense that many of the original bloggers would fade because blogging about oneself is narcissistic and highly irrelevant to most readers, while blogging about technology and the web is quite easy, and there are thousands of people doing it.
What Makes Content Valuable?
The difference between value and non-value content is how unique the content and thoughts are, and how actionable the content is. If everyone else reads the same channels you and I do then us posting about their information has little value. In an ironic twist, that is one likely reason this is a low value post.
The Importance of Formatting & Framing
Almost all content ideas are recycled. The key is to target your message to an audience and format your message in a way that gives you credit as being the thought leader who came up with it. Jakob Nielson continued his (well structured) rants against blogging with Write Articles, Not Blog Postings. He didn't have to call thin low value information blog posts, but he did to help target his message at bloggers and have them spread his message.
From Jakob's article
Even if you're the world's top expert, your worst posting will be below average, which will negatively impact on your brand equity. If you do start a blog despite my advice, at least screen your postings: wait an hour or two, then reread your comments and avoid uploading any that are average or poor. (Even average content undermines your brand. Don't contribute to information pollution by posting material that isn't above the average of other people's writings.)
The best channels, the ones worth paying attention to, filter. They are valuable as much for what they DON'T publish as they are for what they do publish. If you have an ad supported business model then information pollution is an effective means to increase profit margins, but if you sell consulting and/or content a different approach is required:
Elite, expertise-driven sites are the exception to the rule. For these sites, you don't care about 90% of users, because they want a lower level of quality than you provide and they'll never pay for your services. People looking for the quick hit and free advice are not your customers. Let them eat cake; let them read Wikipedia.
The reason TropicalSEO is so good is that Andy only publishes every once in a while. If you publish everyday eventually you run out of stuff to say. Blogging is just like writing songs or books. Each writer only has so much in them before they have to take a break to gather their thoughts and find more material to write about.
Jakob also mentioned that by writing longer articles that you create content which is not only of greater value, but hard to duplicate. It is why my book is read more frequently than my best blog posts, and part of what makes writing 20 page articles fun and worthwhile .
Are New Bloggers Experts?
I think we are all experts at things we have experienced, but any field worth being in takes a while to become an expert. To become a publicly recognized expert you have to
garner attention and keep it
develop many social and business relationships
build a personal brand
have thick skin
The hard part about writing in depth stuff when you are new to a market is that if you are still learning there is little upside to trying to write beyond your knowledge level. When I did that people took time out of their day to email me reminding me of what a horrible human being I am. I still get some of that.
A better approach to getting traction for a new blog is to add an element of social interaction to it, leveraging the brand and reach of others. Awards, interviews, and contests work great. After you get a bit of attention make sure to follow that up with some higher value content to turn one time readers into subscribers. It is hard to imagine a blog market more saturated than SEO, and yet in 3 weeks Patrick Altoft built 10,000 links.
How to Lose Relevancy
One can talk about the current hot memes, like Squidoo spam is right now, but ultimately nobody cares to read 31,843 people blogging about Terry Semel stepping down. The only way to build a brand talking up memes is to be the person who started the meme, or have such influence that you can re-frame the meme and gain ownership of it.
As content quality improves short me too posts end up costing more than what they are worth. I have known of people who deleted a year and a half of archives because it wasn't worth the link equity the content was wasting, when it could be spread across higher value content.
The threshold for usefulness will continue to increase as more content is available online in richer and more interactive formats.
When Garbage Content is an Effective Monetization Strategy
Internet marketing advice is rarely universally useful. Here are 3 cases where low value information pollution is an effective strategy:
If you are in a market full of garbage it is not hard to beat it by being slightly different and then bolting a bit of linkbait onto it. In many consumer finance markets just rewriting the affiliate feed is all you need to start getting traction.
If you have an older authoritative site and are not effectively monetizing it you can add a related offer sections.
If you are a blog or a media website that regularly publishes news you can backdate commercially oriented posts or publish special advertisement sections without adding noise to your main channel (blog, newsletter, RSS feed, homepage, etc).
John Wiley & Sons, the publisher based in Hoboken, N.J., is offering an array of free travel tidbits and articles on the site of its Frommer's travel-book series. Not only can visitors to the site read blogs or listen to podcasts, they can plan and book trips -- generating commission revenue for frommers.com.
When you think of the authority of the Frommer's domain name (over 10 years old, PR7, 364,000 links), they must be able to get millions of pages of content indexed.
The first publishers to put their whole books online will see amazing returns because few people are doing it. The WSJ article stated that Wiley was already enjoying 10 to 15 million a year from 3 flagship sittes (Frommer's, For Dummies, and Cliff Notes). After hearing the early results, others will follow, putting all or nearly all of their content online. The lagging publishers will make crumbs, but their books will flood the search results with content that undermines the value of lower quality content.
Books Publishing is Fast Becoming a Vanity Industry
I was offered to get SEO Book published by one of the leading book publishing houses. I have made more in a day than what they were offering me as down payment for writing the book. And they wanted me to do all the book marketing as well, for no further compensation unless I sold enough books to make the hot books lists. It didn't help that my profit margins from a book sale would have been less than what I pay for a click.
I was unwilling to get published because I thought there was upside in the current model, in a growing market, and realized that the model of being published did not work unless I was interested in feeding my ego, in need of credibility, or was writing a book just to up sell more expensive services.
I recently went on a book buying binge to get content ideas for one of my sites. I spent over $500 buying 30+ books, searching through them for their ideas, their structure, and their format. It was easy to do that because they are so under-priced relative to their value. I have an AdSense site that was far easier to create than many of those books were, but it makes about $1,000 a day.
If those publishers just put the content online they would make far more than I am from my AdSense site. My AdSense model only works so long as they don't put their content online, or I create a better known brand than they do.
Defending an AdSense Site's Viability
If your strategy is entirely long tail keyword oriented and you don't have a real brand your income will fall sharply in the next couple years. Site targeted AdWords will cause premium publishers to get paid more for similar content, and position placement reports will trim back the ad buys on sites with limited exposure and few conversions.
Not only will many of these books go online, but many of them with serious distribution and authority will act as gateways or clearinghouses for related books. What is to stop a publisher from pushing 10 other economics books on the Freakonomics site? Why not turn Frommer's into an endless sea of travel information?
Whoever introduces an idea gets credit for it, but, as hinted by my book buying binge tip, most of the content on the web is just copied and repackaged. Packaging and formatting can make an idea or kill it before it has a chance to spread. Everywhere I look there are free tips on formatting and monetizing, numerous competitors testing and tweaking, and market feedback is near real-time if I change my format or offer.
The only way to avoid losing to big publishers is to create real brands, position them as self reinforcing authorities, aggressively monetized and reinvest in marketing, and get hundreds or thousands of subscribers to spread your message and do your marketing for you.
Rupert Murdock is trying to trade Yahoo MySpace for a 25% stake in the combined company. If Yahoo goes through with that, Rupert's $580 million MySpace investment will be worth about $10 billion. But should Yahoo do it?
Everyone Wants Dow Jones
Rupert is also trying to buy Dow Jones for $5 billion.
The reporting at the WSJ may be better than other places, but even more importantly are the relationships that are in place and the perception that it is better. As many of the newspapers see their margins erode the top few will have more leverage over the market, because the smaller players will be forced to rely more on community created news (mostly noise or something Google could easily replicate) or syndicating news from companies like Dow Jones.
As content quality and relevancy algorithms improve and Google (or similar outfits) control more of the traffic supply the noise content will become less and less accessible (because traffic sources will rank the higher quality stuff to sell ads against and clone the low level stuff to keep hold of that traffic stream). The MySpace experience is not hard to clone.
Yahoo Does Not Need MySpace
Yahoo could grab MySpace and get a bunch of low value inventory in a spam filled network on the decline, or they could get the #1 financial newspaperfor less. Yahoo already has a lot of traffic. They don't need another layer of noise. If they could innovate in the social space they ought to be able to do it with their current assets and traffic stream. As the web gets better at filtering signal vs noise, quality will beat out quantity nearly every time.
The Solidification of Markets
As offline players wake up to the online world the following is happening
search will get more relevant and become harder to manipulate (unless you already have significant offline influence or other assets you can leverage)
As markets evolve the threshold between signal and noise changes. Is your site the type of site that would be easy for Google to clone? Is your content the type of contet Google created the supplemental index for?
Look how bad some of the top ranked content is that still ranks because it is old and was considered high quality content years ago. Imagine how much harder it will be to crack into markets a couple years from now, when people are working so much harder to make higher quality citation worthy content today in so many formats.
The later you start the harder it gets. An hour of focused energy building citation worthy and brand building content today is worth 2 hours next year and 4 hours a year after that.
The effort spent building two parallel sites targeting the same keywords would be better spent creating one stronger brand. Markets are self reinforcing and exposure leads to more exposure.
To stay competitive independent webmasters will increasingly need to chose fewer high quality projects over a large quantity of cheaper lower quality information. Top trusted editorial channels have far more value than bottom feeding networks.
Most linkbait tends to focus on controversy, flavor of the moment hot items, or various forms of regurgitated content. Short term sites can get a spike from such activities, but real longterm brands are not built exclusively off them. Many people ask me how to create something remarkable and linkworthy. You can research just about any market and come up with a few ideas in 10 minutes. See what ideas spread in the past, and see what news stories were popular in parallel markets. Look at
what people are talking about in the market right now
the top search results
popular related searches
terms in the same field that are often covered by the mainstream media (or others who point authoritative links at competing sites)
bookmarked results on social media sites
You can take it one step further and create something you would be proud to show your mom. Certainly cliche to say that, but if you are creating that kind of content then you are on the right path. And if your mom hates your market or is no longer around, see who the leaders are in your market and impress them. From their perspective, is what you are doing unique and original enough to be comment worthy. Be honest.
There is also one other way to tell if what you are doing is going to be highly linkable or a passing fad. Imagine you were the person in the market who is seen as the leading authority for the keyword or idea you are going after. Is your idea good enough that the person you want to replace would be willing to link at it or try to copy it (depending on the type of person they are)?
If they are likely to recreate your idea what tangible assets can you leverage to make it hard to duplicate? Is there a way you can brand the idea as your own to where others market your brand by even mentioning the topic? Is there a domain name that adds credibility to your offering? Is there a way you can ask for community involvement to get other topical gurus to help spread your idea?
It is something you throw co-branded lead generation offers on to get past search engine quality scores and search relevancy scores based on domain trust and authority.
With classifieds becoming a free service, it won't be long until these types of lead generation pages are on every major news site. Soon after that, they will heavily link to them from their content articles, further blurring the line between content and advertisements. But then again, that is the standard Google is setting by mixing videos in their organic search results, and suggesting people watch related video ads.
I don't really get the "moral dilemma". Would you say the same about press releases, product announcements, ads, commented statistical tables and other forms of corporate droidspeak? And if not - why not?
I mean, it's not as if the Web as a whole were particularly dominated by high end literary prose, deeply suggestive well crafted poetry or similar feats of human creativity.
If you want to sell brand ads sell them yourself, or create your own product to sell. If you are selling anything else you have to integrate them into your site. I have seen a CTR in excess of 10% off a single Google AdLinks unit. Those ads were targeted, aggressively integrated, and commercially oriented. That ad unit suffered from none of the faults of Will's ad model.
You need to do more than get free subscribers to create a business model. There are always new things to talk about in the tech, gadgets, and my life categories, but most of them probably have little commercial value.
Bill Slawski recently made a post about using mind mapping to think of types of people who would be interested in a site and types of content one would want to create to appeal to them.
Effective navigation acts as a visual cue and guides people through your site. If your site was rendered without graphics or CSS would people still be able to understand what your site was about? Today I spoke with the owner of Saffron Marigold. While the site has been featured on HGTV and in the NYT it is still only converting to a portion of its potential because the top level navigation consists of about, products, policies, shopping bag, my account. That navigation could not possibly be any more generic.
Effective navigation is descriptive and places the most important / common / profitable needs first.
I just looked at my navigation, and it wrongfully assumes the reader already knows what search engine optimization is. This site would be more effective and profitable if there was a page linked to about What is SEO?, or some other general introductory post.
It is no secret that Forbes.com and many other major news sites publish advert / lead generation sections (get your meso help at Forbes), but a newer trend is that trusted publishers are creating these types of pages without even placing links or lead generation forms in them.
Not only can you comparison shop for credit card offers online, but you can also apply for a credit card online. This is rather convenient. In one fell swoop, you can tour through all kinds of credit cards, then apply for the one that best suits you.
How does that type of content end up published on that site?