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Blogging Sucks For Search And For Links

I thought a post about the failure of blogging as search strategy for authors would be appropriate for my final Blogger based post. I do intend to continue the Self Publishing 2.0 blog in some other form, but it will look very different starting next week. The reason I started blogging back in 2005 was simple. I had been promoting my POD publishing book through a collection of chapters excerpted on my website and I thought there was plenty of potential to draw new search visitors by writing about the realities of self publishing. The potential was certainly there, but the tool I chose, blogging, turned out to be wrong for the long run. Here’s why:

Blogging is not, and has never been, an efficient tool for drawing search traffic. It is essentially a social networking tool, a means of supplying news or entertainment to an audience who likes the idea of being able to subscribe and occasionally talk back. Effective bloggers tend to write inspirational posts on topical issues that feed back into the Blogosphere, Twitterverse and Facebookcheeks, where people pass on the latest news or particularly sexy tidbits they feel their own readers may find interesting. The fundamental problem with blogging has very little to do with the underlying code or structure of the blog. The poor search performance over time is a result of the authors producing too much competing material, in effect spreading themselves too thin.

The original chapter excerpts on this website, a dozen pages amounting to less than 20,000 words, draw more search traffic than the nearly 500 blog posts, comprising some half million words. While some of the material in the blog posts is overly specific or time limited, I can state without hesitation that at least 20% of it, around 100,000 words, is much better than anything that appears in the book excerpts, or the book for that matter. So why don’t those blog posts draw five times as much traffic as the dozen static pages? The answer lies is in how blog posts versus static resource pages are linked.

The primary factor in search rankings is link context and anchor text. In plain English, this means that search engines try to match your query to a destination that other related pages refer to, with extra weight given to the wording of the link itself. While there are plenty of other relevant factors, including the content of the page the search engine ultimately decides to recommend, the linking from other reputable pages is the closest thing to a controlling factor.

Blogging is a disaster for contextual linking because of the way human beings assign links. Most people link to the main page of a blog, rather than to the individual posts. The consequence is that the main page of my Self Publishing 2.0 blog has far more incoming links than the 500 or so individual posts put together. Once those individual posts age off the “Most Recent” list on the main page, the links people have contributed become practically worthless. A simple example. You may decide to link the main page of my blog today referring to this post about how blogging sucks for search. After a few weeks pass, search engines trying to answer a query about problems with blogging and search traffic will be aware of your link and the proper context, but it will be pointing at the main page of a blog that no longer refers to the subject. The value of your link is essentially time limited.

Now take a standalone chapter excerpt or resource content, a page that has no natural “parent” on the website. Most people providing a link will link directly to the page with the information they are referencing, and the value of that link will persist for as long as the linking page remains online. Another factor boosting the value of a standalone page for search is its very appearance of worth and permanence. People are reluctant to link to blog posts as references. Part of the reason is that some people never realize you can link individual posts rather than the main page, and the other part is because blog posts have a reputation for being tossed-off opinions, even when they are full of facts, tables and graphs. Most bloggers eventually give up, frequently shutting down their blogs in the process. And most blog posts show the creation date, which screams obsolescence to readers, even if the material is still accurate and relevant. Static resource pages, on the other hand, can be updated from time to time, and you can move the copyright date forward.

Of my nearly 500 blog posts, only one has more organic links (and search traffic) than my worst performing static pages about publishing, and it doesn’t beat them by much. This has nothing to do with the popularity of my publishing blog posts. Some have gone viral and drawn far more traffic for a few days than any of my static pages. But after the buzz dies down, they disappear almost completely from search results, maybe showing up for some long tail six word search query that closely matches the title or anchor text from a link somewhere.

So why won’t this post do well for search traffic? The main reasons I’ve covered above, but another reason is that I’ve written about these issues before, including on a static page about blogging draft manuscripts as you write. If the search engines are inclined to send me visitors on the subject of blog results in search, they’ll send those visitors to some of my static page or more established blog posts. Ironically, blogging can actually damage your chances of successfully publishing static resource content at a later date because the search engines see repetition and dilution on your website. None of this is by design. It’s just the way search engines work.

A handful of logically related pages on a subject (ie, book chapters) will draw more visitors from search engines in the long run than a thousand blog posts that beat the subject to death. The only upside to blogging is subscription, an out-and-out popularity contest for short attention spans. A mere handful of entertaining writers will ever break the ten thousand subscriber mark, and the higher you go in subscription numbers, the more you see the self selection of ideas and closed social circles. It’s hardly surprising that social bloggers are losing ground to Twitterers who cover more ground faster, and are consumed by people who may follow thousands of Tweet streams.

Next week this blog will look very different since Blogger is discontinuing FTP support. I still haven’t decided whether I want to shift to WordPress on this site, to start blogging manually (which will limit comments to e-mail), or to simply start adding self publishing posts to my personal WordPress blog and to manually stuff those posts into my existing subscription feed. If you want to comment on this post, you have three days before Blogger disables my ability to update it. Whatever I do, I’ll update my feed to keep my subscribers in the loop.

5 comments:

steeleweed said...

Please post info here letting us know how to reach your future site.
Also hope your either copy this blog's info forward or at least leave this functioning, even if you no longer update it - you have a lot off good information here which I (and others) find useful.

Thanks
Ray Saunder

Mike Piper said...

I'm always reluctant to question you given that you have more experience than I do and that my business model is based almost entirely on your advice. :)

That said, I've found blogging to draw an order of magnitude more links than my static (book excerpt) pages. Part of the reason is that I do regular roundup posts, so others tend to include my posts in their roundups as well.

In fact, the primary business purpose of my blog is to draw links. I then use sidebar widgets to direct "linkjuice" to static pages (as well as some of my best-converting posts).

I'd argue that something similar likely occurs on your site with your "Book Excerpts" widget. The fact that those 4 pages have links from every single post on your blog (including the main page) probably provides meaningful help with ranking them, no?

Morris Rosenthal said...

Mike,

I'd need to look at your site and its history to know whether it's a special case. I can tell you that I keep up with a number of professional bloggers, and the ones who actually check their search statistics see the same thing. It's not a question of how much traffic a given page gets. It's where the traffic comes from.

About the static pages linked from my blog. They aren't the most popular, and their traffic levels have been steady to down over the past five years. My most popular publishing pages aren't linked from the blog. I linked the ones I thought would help sell the book (five years ago).

And that's one of the reasons I didn't mention internal linking in how search engines rank pages. It is a factor, but grouping is more important than quantity. The search engines aren't stupid, they know a webmasters can flow internal links however they please and give very little credence to most of those links.

Morris

Max said...

I'd add to the problem the diminishing quality of search engines like Google in the first place. They're focused on other business, like Android. Next, SPAMMERs have won the new content war against search engines. Finally, bigger sites are locking into rankings with, you guessed it, their static content. The conclusion I take away from your insightful essay is that the best strategy is to focus and defend whatever best static content you have. A hot stock tip just won't do it anymore ;) Whatever time you have left can be used to make sure your content can reach anyone, from web browser to cell phone. That's where the new battlefield is forming.

Morris Rosenthal said...

Max,

I wrote about the impact of the content factories a couple months ago, and their traffic levels are continuing to rise rapidly.

http://www.fonerbooks.com/2010/02/wikipedia-ehow-and-long-tail-content.html

I agree that phone and mobile access is growing, but I'm not sure what I can really do to increase the viability of my own content there, not being a mobile device user.

Morris