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.
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