Deeper vs Broader: Exposure vs Engagement

One of the most salient points of Seth Godin's Tribes book is that in the long run it is much more profitable for most businesses to create a deeper community with stronger and more passionate connections than it is to create a broader one that has strong reach but no message.

Without Relevancy, Nobody Cares

Do you remember the hype around the launch of John Reese's BlogRush about a year or so back? It was a blog focused ad network promoted through a MLM / pyramid scheme. The viral nature of blogs and the pyramid scheme helped it spread far and wide, but in spite of great growth it failed:

While the service is still going strong (serving a few million impressions a day) I just don’t see things improving for our users. The click-rates across the network are dreadfully low (and getting worse) as so many Internet users now ‘tune out’ links and other ads on sites.

Because of this, and many other issues, I’ve made the tough decision to shutdown the service.

John couldn't even get people to click the links because

  • everyone in the program was a webmaster
  • most of them were writing blogs targeted to webmasters
  • webmasters rarely click on ads
  • the links looked like ads
  • there was no relevancy in the ads (other than many being part of the webmaster blog demographic)

There are a wide array of ad network based start ups - with virtually all of them destined to fail, largely because they can't compete with Google on relevancy. If a person learned only one thing from search it should be that relevancy is a key to engagement.

Content Becomes Advertising

But even beyond advertising...what happens if we think this process through to content strategy? If the web keeps getting more saturated, more relevant, more biased, with more niche competitors, and people are willing to give away content to help do their marketing, then eventually the user engagement with your content becomes far more important than what you advertise. Content is advertising.

The plain truth is, great content is the most effective way to advertise online, because to be considered great content, it can’t look anything like what we consider advertising. But great content does need to naturally demonstrate that you’re knowledgeable about your field of expertise, and that’s why it works so well.

Think about it… the advertising we actually enjoy is often witty and entertaining, but it doesn’t persuade us to do anything. Even a dry article about tax savings tips has more promotional value than most hip television commercials.

Selling Ads to Yourself

One of the biggest flaws that new bloggers make is putting too many ads on a blog before they gain enough market momentum to build a strong revenue stream, thus segmenting themselves into the perceived group of "spammy" blogs by other webmasters who could offer powerful links.

If BlogRush makes so little per pageview that John Reese can't justify running it (even with the benefit of being able to give himself a large percentage of the ad impressions for free) then how could there be any ROI for an end user/publisher? Wouldn't that publisher make more money by featuring some of their own best content in the sidebar to build a deeper relationship with their readers?

Increasing User Engagement

Traffic is nowhere near as important as engagement and conversion are:

One other thing you can do is get hooked on the traffic, focus on building your top line number. Keep working on sensational controversies or clever images, robust controversies or other link bait that keeps the silly traffic coming back

I think it’s more productive to worry about two other things instead.
1. Engage your existing users far more deeply. Increase their participation, their devotion, their interconnection and their value.
2. Turn those existing users into ambassadors, charged with the idea of bring you traffic that is focused, traffic with intent.

A big part of why I changed my business model (from serving 13,000 + customers at $79 each to serving hundreds of customers at $100/month each) is because it became obvious that as the web expands and search becomes more relevant, what you can offer packaged loses perceived value (unless it is quite unique and/or you are good at doing hype driven launches), while the value of depth of interaction keeps increasing.

Published: October 30, 2008 by Aaron Wall in marketing business


October 30, 2008 - 9:16pm

I am a big believer in is all about content. That's why SEOMoz, SEOBook, Matt Cutts' blog, Sugarrae and so many other sites keep doing well - they continue to have relevant content. On that note Aaron, I really like the definite swing toward deeper, more intelligent content here on SEOBook. While I liked the info (and some of the snark) in the older posts, I find I am now here every day, and I always have 2 meaty posts to look at - most of the time, stuff I really like to read about. It was not this way a half-year ago. Your strategy worked with me anyway - and I spread the love about what I find here much more often than I ever did in the past. Mission accomplished - I am happier, and as a result will bring more to the party. But if you were just flapping the gums, I would be gone as quick as I arrived, never to share...guaranteed.

October 30, 2008 - 9:58pm

I agree with the above. I find your content compelling and intelligent. Well thought out and researched posts. Both Aaron and Peter are doing a great job.


October 30, 2008 - 11:42pm

Aaron can I get your advise on engagement based on time spent on a page or time sent on page views?

The reason, a client of mine has a domain that gets an incredible amount of user engagement (for its industry) and most of the viewers go from one page to the next viewing member profiles but the site was designed aweful, coding, usability and presentation. I have the luxury of having the actually domain which has been registered since '92 so I know there's a little room for modifying the site without being knocked for the changes. My concern is I'm modifying the site to integrate Ajax where the veiwers will now be able to stay on the same page and and slide members profiles without going to new pages unless they want to see the complete profile of that member. My thoughts on the whole thing is the time spent on the site will relatively stay the same "but" it will lose the page engagement and I'm wondering how the serps will fill about this change...

"Advice GREATLY Appreciated"

October 31, 2008 - 12:25am

Well there are other factors to think about as well..

  • user profiles usually weigh down a site and suck up a lot of PageRank
  • but at the same time if you make the user profiles customize-able enough and your site is community oriented people may want to link at them
October 31, 2008 - 2:05am

Hi Aaron,

Yesterday I went to do a google search and I found a bunch of new digg-style social voting feature on the results page. I know this has been covered before and screenshots have circulated, but I don't think anybody has put out a video documenting the experimental new features so I put one together:

Let me know if you, Paul or anybody in the community wants some more info on how the features work and I would be happy to post another video, answer questions or get some screenshots. I also gave special attention in the video so if you want to promote this video in the SEO community you would also be giving your brand some great exposure.

Justin Baker

October 31, 2008 - 2:21am

Hi Justin
SearchEngineLand has a video on the Google SearchWiki

October 31, 2008 - 5:30pm

- Thanks for the comment Aaron -

By the way, I like what you've been writing lately. I just got finished reading a new book out "Pragmatic Thinking & Learning" which has a section dedicated to talking about the stages of an individuals expertise in any given field. Here's a quote from the book:

Experts are the primary sources of knowledge and infor mation in any field.They are the ones who con- tinually look for better methods and better ways of doing things. They have a vast body of experience that they can tap into and apply in just the right context. These are the folks who write the books, write the articles, and do the lecture circuit. These are the moder n wizards.

It also goes on to say the experts often work by way of intuition. - Thanks For Your Contributions To The Community Aaron -

Donovan Roddy

October 31, 2008 - 6:24pm

Thanks for the kind comment Donovan. That sounds like a book title I might like to read. :)

Terry Van Horne
November 2, 2008 - 6:04pm

Aaron, this is a thought provoking article. For webmasters our content has always been our best advertisement. Those who use the excuse of too busy working for others etc. are full of it. They likely have nothing new to say or contribute.

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