April 30, 2006

Realistic Expectations: Some Topics are Hard to Talk About

My mom has got a few loyal readers on her blog now. She writes about weight loss and fitness, which is a topic that is easy to find content about and also an easy topic to discuss and comment on.

A friend of mine recently whined about not having many comments left on his blog. If you are truly passionate about your topic you can evangelize its value and extend the borders of your topic to relate it to more people, but quite often most topics are not going to have a huge base of people discussing them. If your topic is niched down or boring in nature you have to think of creative ways to make it relevant to other news issues and things you know people will be searching for.

Some people are writing for link popularity or distribution while others write with a different goal in mind. Web readers, on average, want to read and understand quick bytes of knowledge over long scrolling posts. Shorter faster stronger. Are good for posting. Many people write at a level above the comprehension of most readers. What is the point of the post? To make it really matter for the few who understand you? Or to try to get it seen by as many people as possible?

You also can’t reach everyone and still be relevant to a niche. I find many people end up being sad or frustrated because they make apples to oranges comparisons. My step dad’s blog on home security is going to be much harder to evangelize than my mother’s weight loss blog. You could have 50% of the home security market and not have as much traffic as a person pulling 5% of the weight loss market. To parallel it with the offline world, it is unrealistic for the average girl to compare here perceived beauty with doctored up photos on the cover of some magazine. Hopefully my step father does not read this and think I am calling him a plain girl. 😉

Patronizing News

I don’t watch cable television much, but when getting a sandwich at the local shop they had a television on. The news program talked about blogging and how bloggers find something new to rant and rave about each week, outlining a bunch of out of context ultra biased ignorant sounding low quality one liners. This week covered bloggers whining about gas prices and saying that it wasn’t fair to place any blame on the gas companies that just had combined quarterly profits of over 10 billion dollars.

The program seemed like its only purpose was to undermine the perceived quality of content on blogs to try to make the newscast seem more viable and interesting than it is. Creating a weekly series that aims to play down other publishing models hardly seems a way to stay relevant.

December 22, 2005

Leveraging Your Blog Archives

So I have in the past done this a few times, but have not done it recently, but I have talked to many others who have done it. Have you ever leveraged your archives?

By this I mean:

  • Have you ever backdated a post you wanted to make but for some reason did not make it when you should have?
  • Have you ever fixed old post errors? Did you cite the error corrections you made or just make them? Is it required to record / mention what you changed?
  • Have you ever create a test page in the archives to see how search engines would react to a new page on that topic? For example I have known some well known bloggers who put mesothelioma pages in their archives to test link bombing.
  • Some people show time sensitive ads. Is it ok to post affiliate links in blog posts? Need they be disclosed? Is it wrong to change old links in high ranking posts that could make you decent money if they were affiliate links instead of direct links?
  • Have you ever went back into an old post and edited out links to sites that became spammy or added links to sites you were working with?

Some people push blogger ethics, etc…but sometimes the content and ideas that sell are not the same ideas that regular readers would be interested in citing or reading. For example, if I had a few thousand SEO 101 pages on my SEO blog they would probably convert exceptionally well, but nobody would want to read about the same stuff over and over again. What would be the best way to introduce that content without offending regular readers who already knew a lot?

Should all new blog content come in through the home page? If so, why?

December 21, 2005

Errors in Starting a Blog Network

Since few people see the first posts on a new blog it is no big deal if they are a bit crappy, right?

I sorta thought that a bit, but I think that much less after working with a friend to start up a network. I wanted to start up a network of around 30 channels covering various topics. I thought so long as we eventually got to quality the start would not matter much, but some of the posts made me feel a bit like some of the writers were stealing money from my bank account.

Not to say that any of the writers are bad people though. If I were paid a flat rate for my work and was not being paid enough to be fully committed to the project I would slack off and write quick posts recapping any press release I could find on the topic.

When you break it down to that far of a level there is no value add, the equivalent can be automated via software, and you have nothing but a channel of noise and ads.

Starting around 30 channels at once means that you are not learning from the first few channels and applying it to the others right from the go. It is easy to take on too much to where you can get a bit overwhelmed with it all.

It may also be worth doing a large number of example posts on each channel. I told my friend that between he and I we could write the stuff ourselves, make about 15 posts a day across the network, and by the end of two weeks we would have enough of a archive history to be able to start marketing the sites. If you let others write the content and they do a less than stellar job it becomes much harder to market.

Bringing on others to do work is probably going to be important if you want to scale out some sort of a mini web based publishing house, but when quantity gets too far ahead of quality it may be hard to untread some of those steps.

Performancing for Firefox

Zoom…automation 🙂

NickW and co created a Firefox extension that allows you to sync up all your blog accounts and edit or post to them from the browser.

At first I did not really understand it’s purpose, thinking it was sorta a solution looking for a problem, but then I became a bit of an unidiot and saw how it interfaced with all the blogging platforms. It pulls in the category data from each platform as well.

This is my first post testing it out, but so far looks cool. A few features I would love to see added are:

  • spell check
  • a tool to sort the blogs quickly for the uber blog overlords, perhaps even making blog
  • categories
  • publish status
  • optional multiple fields…description, title, entry, extended

am sure there are a few other ideas but it is late and I am tired

I am a bit torn on the idea of all the various ways to make publishing quicker and easier. Short term it is great for bloggers because it allows them to work multiple revenue streams quickly. But long term as more people move on the web I wonder if the attention economy will kick in to where the top few voices in any market get the disproportionate share of return for their efforts.

I am trying to start up a blog network or two and also run a couple channels that literally take hours a day to do. Short term I think the network will do better than my high effort channels, but as the fields get more competitive I will have to change the underlying biz models to compensate for increasing competition.

I guess while I am ranting on I am trying to say that it is cool to have one well read high profile site which allows you to leverage that market position into many other channels. The people making serious profits though are probably those who own many uber niche channels. At least for now. This tool helps make the niche channels a quick process.

December 16, 2005

Moving Away from Default Site Designs

I tend to use some of the default settings a bit more frequently than one should. The problem with defaults is that when some people see them they may not take them seriously…thus new readers are less likely to trust or link to content since they initially saw it through a speculative eye.

When you are new to the web it can be a bit hard to edit the page code, but just a couple small changes to the site can turn something from a default piece of crap to something that makes it look like you care about it.

Here are my general rules:

  • Do not use the most default template.
  • If there is a template that sorta fits your theme then start from there.
  • When in doubt start off with one of the cleaner looking templates. You can always add noisy elements later if the site looks too plain, but if the design looks too cluttered from the word go that’s no good.
  • A plain looking site also makes it easy to blend ads with the content or make something stick out if you want to push a special promotion.
  • If you plan on monetizing the site by selling ads make sure the ad space is part of the design instead of trying to fit it in later.

My specific steps:

  1. Buy a logo
  2. Find a template. There are some decent ones out there if you search around.
  3. Color match your template to your logo using a photo editor or a free program like TrayColor to grab the colors. Typically I match the headings and subheadings to colors in the logo and like to try to keep links blue if possible. This free color scheme tool will also help you find colors that are complimentary in design.
  4. Add feed subscription buttons
  5. Add a stats package like MyBlogLog, Sitemeter, or Google Analytics.
  6. Create a favicon. A favicon is the little image that shows up in the browser address bar when someone visits your site, or on your bookmarks when someone bookmarks your site. Performancing has a good thread on Favicons, and here are a couple free favicon generators: Chami and Favicon.co.uk . Please note that Favicons are super small so they can’t have much texture to them, and you may need to use a image manipulation tool like Adobe Photoshop or Snagit.
  7. If you can afford the time and effort required to make a great design off the start that is great. If not most people can still get by with a decent design until their sites are profitable enough to buy a better design.

Blogspot = Bad…

If you use Blogger to power your blog and plan to make it a serious longterm project make sure you do not use Blogspot as your host. Here’s why:

  • Some people will not take some Blogspot hosted blogs seriously.
  • It is harder to remember (and thus recommend, subscribe, or link at) site.blogspot.com than site.com
  • Blogger has limited features. If you want to add some advanced tools or features to your site tough luck.
  • Search engines tend to trust sites more as they age (this is especially true with Google).
  • If you move your blog away there is no easy way to get the link popularity to flow from Blogspot to your new website.

I would almost always opt for using a self hosted blog solution like WordPress or MovableType.

TypePad: Inept

Log in attempts have failed and failed and failed again. TypePad has been down for hours today. Sick of seeing this POS screen.

Many blogs are driven by timeliness and some people own networks where downtime takes many many many man hours.

They should have a premium version where reliability does not blow. It’s not a real / honest business model to be unreliable and claim your solutions are geared toward professionals.

December 1, 2005

Typepad Down Again, Suggests Faketypepad.com?

I typically like to keep my stuff out of networks. A friend of mine who goes by the nickname Lots0 pointed out many times how he was once burned by being part of a network.

Sure sometimes your host will have problems, but if you pick hosts based on reliability then odds are pretty good your host will be up more often then most distributed system.

Blogger has the following issues

  • huge splog problem
  • lack of portability of link popularity
  • makes your blogs seem less professional by being hosted there
  • occassionally down for extended periods of time

TypePad has the following problems

  • if you dynamically remap your hosting some of the registrar partners (such as GoDaddy) place an ad page at the root non www. version of your URL
  • some people use their default URLs, but I do not like the lack of portability of link popularity
  • last month their hosting was down so much that they let users decide how much free hosting they wanted to receive to make up for it
  • this morning I am not sure if they had something wrong with their servers, but the sorry faketypepad.com unavailable messages this morning did not make me feel the service is all that trustworthy

Having said all of that I recently set up a number of blogs on Typepad and am wondering if I screwed the pooch. Should I have just put WordPress on a wide variety of domains?

A few minutes here and there don’t mean much, but they do start to add up if you are building out a large network.

November 14, 2005

Profitable Channels and Blog Networks

Another day passes, and Knight Ridder, a major newspaper company explores being sold.

I think there are five large problems newspapers are facing:

  • inefficient ad sales (and online is only getting more efficient, with eBay offering up past transaction information and Google’s free web analytics product)
  • increasing number of channels (TV, magazines, web, blogs, etc) and shifting of attention online, and new ways to consume information (TiVo, deals to rent shows on demand, and Google may even go into renting books). Online you can even get a rough estimate of channel demand before you create a channel.
  • having to cover boring channels – online one can chose to only cover channels that are highly profitable directly via ad sales or indirectly via linkage data and attention
  • lower publishing costs, easier profitability, and larger distribution for individuals – now anyone can compete with you, without there being a significant barrier to entry (other than possibly the time needed to grab the market’s attention and have leading information systems trust it). With online ad sales getting more efficient quality micro niche sites become more profitable. The lack of borders makes some poor niche topics profitable when combined with the ease of search. It is also easy to publish a number of channels in parallel.
  • lack of topical interest or bias – sure media formats and publishing methods have some biases built in, but by being an individual you can get away with putting a lot more bias into what you do and focus your efforts on only what interests you. People are attracted to a bias they can trust.

I am not sure that I am smart enough to know the answer to the problems the newspapers are facing, other than strong online integration and reader becomes the editor or writer, but there can only be a few major players in any marketplace.

What other values can papers add that make them worth paying more for (either as a consumer or advertiser)?

The biggest reason I ask these questions is that a friend of mine has been giving me shit about not creating a network of sorts. My four fundamental problems with creating a network of sorts are:

  • The value I can add to the topic.
  • What I am doing now works well enough to get me by, and there is at least a small fear of change.
  • I have some issues with authority, and it might be weird for me to be a boss.
  • Ultimately demand and popularity follows attention.
  • Long term profitability and permanence.

Breaking them down one by one…
Value I can add to a topic:

  • I can get a channel decent exposure rather quickly and how to help stories spread.
  • I have a good idea on how to chose channels that will be profitable.
  • I know people in many markets. For example, so far I have partnered on one content site, and had a friend who buys ads on the site.
  • I can provide a good bit of capital off the start, and could pay people above average rates to write.
  • Although I have not done much in the lines of ad optimization, from chatting with friends and viewing sites I know a great deal about the topic.

One of my biggest problems with this concept is that I typically view the work of others as a big amazing combination of things, while minimizing my own work into the bits and pieces that it is.

Fear of Change:
To be honest I think I sorta was hella lucky with my market timing, and still have only created one hyper successful website. I also like that I am not stuck worrying about margins and money and business this or that everyday.

In spite of my work being profitable and decently linked, I still do not get much feedback on most of my posts. I am uncertain if that is due to my writing style, site format, or just me being me.

Authority Issues:
Not sure how to deal with that… 😉

Ultimately demand and popularity follows attention:
As information systems evolve this will only become more and more true. I struggle daily with debating what is useful information to put in my ebook and when teaching more is giving too much and overwhelming people.

The point being with that last statement is that as information systems evolve that ranking number 1 may end up meaning you need to be number 1 from end to end.

Sure there is room for a variety of voices on any topic, but as topics get more competitive will hired writers who are writing about a topic because they are getting paid to write be able to outperform those who love their topics. If not, will I be able to add enough value to the equation to where my network is still profitable. If you knowingly put inferior content at the top of the search results is it wrong? I have done it in the past when I needed to to get by, but I find it a bit harder now. And then at that point where does one draw the line with what they are willing to do for a dollar.

And even with that there are some issues because some less than honest business models are far more profitable than their honest counterparts. Just look at the AdSense ads for SEO. Most of the site submission ones are open fraud. Although Google knows they support all sorts of fraud they don’t want to be forced to define where the limits are.

I have yet to get much feedback on this site, but if you run a network of sites what made you decide to start it, how did you know it was the right time, is this post out to lunch, etc etc etc.

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