Blogging is perhaps the least efficient marketing platform known to man. So why are blogs so popular with authors and publishers? A lot of it has to do with the high profile attained by marketing superstars, who deliver high energy inspirational talks on the new publishing paradigms and suggest that everybody is just a blog post away from becoming an online Oprah. What these gurus don’t explain is that the odds of your blog ever moving into their neighborhood are worse than a million-to-one. You have a better chance of writing a NYT bestseller than you do of becoming famous through blogging.
A reader of this blog sent me a link to a Seth Godin video the other day and asked my opinion. I’d seen Godin’s name before on Matt Cutt’s blog (the only blog I check on a somewhat regular basis), but I didn’t know anything about him or his web marketing. So the first thing I did after listening to the video was to check his blog on Quantcast:
It turns out that Godin has “Quantified” his blog, meaning the traffic report shown above isn’t an estimate, it’s based on actual visitors. So are 147,000 U.S. visitors a month a strong showing for a blog? If you have any favorite blogging gurus check them out on Quantcast, and chances are they won’t even have enough visitors to show up at all, because most popular blogs depend on subscribers taking (and not reading) feeds. I checked a few sources that report on the popularity of blogs, and if we go with Technorati, Godin is the most popular individual blogger in the world. The stress is on “individual blogger”, there were 15 blogs ranked higher than him, but they were all collaborative efforts. So, if you think you have the potential to become the most popular blogger in the world and share the conference circuit with internet publishing prophets like Chris Anderson and Tim O’Reilly, blogging and tweeting may be the way to go. But what if you’re just another author like me who writes and publishes books for a living?
Seth Godin and I have something in common in that we both talk about marketing books by giving away free content, and it turns out that we both get around the same number of U.S. web visitors. Godin’s traffic is growing at a much faster rate than mine, but as a blog, two thirds of his visitors are repeaters, either regulars or “addicts.” Less than 20% of his blog visitors arrive from search, if we go by the Alexa estimate and double it to calibrate with my benchmarks. My fonerbooks website gets around 80% of its visitors from search, and barely over 10% from returning visitors, both by design. In the course of a year, over 1.5 million U.S. visitors will arrive on my site from search, and not because they are searching for “Morris Rosenthal”. If we estimate from the adjusted Alexa percentage, perhaps 300,000 U.S. visitors a year will find Seth’s blog through search, and I’m willing to bet Godin lunch if we’re ever at the same conference that most of his popular search phrases include “Seth Godin” in them.
All of this isn’t to say that Godin is doing anything wrong. In fact, I would say that’s he’s done pretty much everything right. He’s a bestselling author of 10 books, writes the most popular blog in the world according to Technorati, he's a recognizable name in marketing and a sought after speaker. I assume Godin hears from corporate executives seeking help with launching and marketing new products at the same rate I hear from college kids hoping to trick me into doing their homework. The problem is that I don’t see his success as a model that will help the average working author. A top blogger may end up with over 100,000 subscribers, but we can’t all be top bloggers unless every one of us subscribes to over 100,000 blogs. People may follow thousands of Twitter feeds, but they have to use filters and make endless heart-wrenching decisions over whether or not to actually read 140 characters. After all, who has the time? It’s true that niche success is somewhat easier to achieve, but blogging is probably the hardest way to get there.
Godin’s blog has eight times as many pages as my website and almost a hundred times as many incoming links. So why doesn’t it dwarf my search traffic? It’s not a technical problem, though the blogging structure does have “issues”, it’s that blog content tends to be heavy on repeated opinions and commentary which do poorly in search. If you are an author, you already have the prime ingredient for a website in your niche. It’s the book you’ve written and any intelligent research notes, updates, or additional material that didn’t make the final edit. You don’t have to put your whole book online, you can use excerpts, chapters, or any approach that makes you comfortable. A blog with occasional updates will help with repuatation, but it's only required if your goal involves becoming a public figure. The important thing is that you provide enough resource content so that visitors will find your website useful without having to buy the book, and that you don’t break it up into a hundred blog posts. If all you provide is a teaser, it may be more effective in terms of sell through, but you’ll never get the links and increased traffic to put your website on the map because you’ve created an advertisement rather than a resource. Drawing visitors from search is about informing the general public, not preaching to the converted. Dave Taylor has had tremendous success simply answering topical questions, and his traffic (primarily from search)makes Godin and I look like losers:
Famous authors can sell books through their websites simply by announcing that a new book is coming out and “allowing” fans to sign-up for the first copies. I’m not a famous author and you probably aren’t a famous author either so it won’t work for us. Nobody will buy my books because I’m a cool guy, a compelling speaker, or offering a path to success through some clever insight that fits into a book title or a tweet. I would argue with some of Godin’s conclusions, especially the souvenir thesis as a model for the publishing industry, but he sells a lot more books than me and he sits at a higher table. Just remember that he sells those books by being Seth Godin and choosing to write on marketing subjects with large potential audiences. And I’d like to see Seth do the following with one of his hard covers:-)