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LeftLane News – Blog Case Study

Header 02On September 26th, 2005, I started a new weblog called Leftlane News. It’s a blog all about cars and the automotive industry. It targets car enthusiasts, thus the name ‘left lane’ news. (Sorry Darren, I know in Australia the fast lane is on the right side.)

Anyhow, the site just turned six months and the traffic growth has been nearly exponential. There have been a few days where I’ve even had more traffic than my competitors from Weblogs Inc or Gawker. And I’m a relatively independent blogger (not part of a blog network), so this should be inspiration to anyone looking to take on the giants.

Traffic

I remember being inspired by Steve Pavlina’s growth chart. Now it’s my turn to hopefully inspire some other bloggers out there.

I’ve found the best way to bring traffic to your blog is by having some kind of unique content. This doesn’t necessarily mean “original content” in the traditional sense, but you need to have something that others don’t. Video has been great attraction for me. The reason video is good is it can’t be easily reproduced, copy/pasted, or whatever. Rather, it requires people to link to you. Photos are also great, especially if you have a large gallery that requires linking. It’s impossible to paraphrase video, audio, or photos, and that’s why those types of media are wonderful.

Another thing to consider when trying to get links to your site is this: It’s not necessarily your best stories that will attract attention. Some of my most popular stories have been things that I would not necessarily post if I didn’t think they’d garner attention from outsiders. Your best articles, your most interesting reports are NOT the stories that will bring traffic. Often, it’s a story that reaches slightly outside of your niche.

For example, Darren didn’t get Slashdotted for giving great advice to bloggers. He got Slashdotted for showing his income for a certain month. So when writing articles there should be two possible goals 1) Writing for your readers (95% of what you should do) and 2) Writing to get outside attention (5% or less of what you do). Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a really good article can fall into both categories.

Here are some examples of three possible types of stories I’ve done:

1) “BMW M7 a possibility, after all” — You’ll never see this story on the front page of Digg, Slashdot, Fark, or Memeorandum. I write for car people, and that’s who the vast majority of my stories are from. If I post 20 stories in a day, you can bet most (if not all) of them will be like this.

2) “VW strikes again: Un-Pimp My Ride” — I had a hard time deciding if I should even post this. It wasn’t really “car news,” but it was damn funny. I decided to post it, and got thousands of referrals as a result. Many would consider this a silly or trivial post, yet it brought in tons of new readers who can now enjoy the above type of story.

3) “Dodge Challenger Concept unveiled” — This is one of those stories that is both very important to my core readers, and has mass appeal to

outsiders. It was on the front page of Fark and some other major sites, if I recall correctly. This is, of course, the ideal type of story. But they’re hard to come by.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. gary says:

    i’ve been reading LLN for a couple of months now, as i’m growing my automotive blog. the interesting thing i see with their growth is that i’ve seen a number of comment discussions where people are accusing him of splogging. personally, i think he’s done a great job with the site, but i do have a question. he states that he’s not part of a network, but has the 9rules logo & blogroll listed on the LLN. what’s the deal?

  2. james says:

    9rules is not a “network” in the sense that all the blogs are NOT owned by a megacorporation – they’re completely independent, with no financial ties or complex legaleze. It’s merely a group of sites that have been selected based on the site quality and/or the talent of the blog author. Disclaimer: my site is also part of 9rules. :)

  3. mark says:

    It’s so true about the random posts generating more traffic and more interest than the best stories. I run a blog in South Africa, where I explore a lot of different things that interest me, but largely revolving around technology and design. I occasionally post a funny picture, a personal story or a brain teaser, and often these posts generate the most amount of interest.

    In Google the last few months, the keyword/phrase that generated the most amount of traffic to my site was: “Borat Quotes”. A random post I wrote a few months ago about some comedian/entertainer’s funniest quotes.

    Writing articles with unique content is becoming more and more hard with the number of blogs growing daily. Studying your web stats is vital, seeing what interests most people and satisfying their requirements, is the recipe for a successful blog.

  4. Victor says:

    1.4+ million visits per month after 6 months.

    (I’m shaking my head right now)

    All I can say is congrats on that achievement, and damnit – it’s very very annoying! I’m at 6 months and I only see like 1% of that…

  5. Paul Mernon says:

    With this interesting advice to use photo and video as not easily reproducible content, there arises the question: how to deal with copyright issues when the photo/video is not your own? Is it a common practice to ask the original publisher if it is ok to republish their content? Or is it considered ‘fair use’?

  6. Nice blog, and congratulations on the growth, though it appears that one of your “tricks” to maintaining readership on your pages is that you quite frequently do not link to the sources of your articles. While this tactic may be effective in increasing the click-through rates of your advertising or lengthening the average stay of visitors — and while it may be (only partially) excusable if you are regularly provided exclusive content from industry insiders — it is atrocious journalistic practice, and it will only serve to diminish your credibility in the long run.

    Why? Take your article here, for instance, which initially piqued my interest: http://www.leftlanenews.com/2006/04/03/study-a-hybrid-consumes-more-energy-in-lifetime-than-a-hummer/ . It’s a rather provocative article, but nowhere does it provide any links so that an intelligent reader might either follow up on the story, verify that the original story or research says what you say it does (and that you didn’t distort its conclusions), or even allow us to see whether you plagiarized the article or took some time to craft an intelligent post. Mostly, this is enormously frustrating to educated readers, but I suspect it’ll ultimately prove just as frustrating to your blog’s ability to build a reputation as a trustworthy source for news. Why would an intelligent professional media source link to you, when it is impossible to determine where much of your “information” comes from? So many posts in one day is great, but if I can’t follow up easily from your article to determine the credibility of what you write, I’ll either search for more information from other sources (including your competitors) or possibly even discount what I’ve read on your pages and be even more suspect the next time I’m presented with a link to one of your stories.

    So here’s what I did with your hybrids article, as an experiment: I searched under Google News to find other sources for your article, and found a much better one from Autoblog. Not only did they credit the source of the story, but they provided a shorter, superior summary and a healthy dose of skepticism and perspective on what turns out to be . . . yes, a press release! So there’s my answer. There’s no source credited in your post because you merely reprinted a press release, stripped off the last line of the release (thus obscuring the credit), and passed off the work as your own. The publicists at the PR firm that wrote the release may be satisfied with this, but the rest of the world has a simple name for your technique: plagiarism.

    The result: at least one reader with much greater respect for Autoblog, and less for your completely unskeptical, deceptive, and unreliable press-release reprinting service.

    Straighten out this rather gaping failure in your journalistic practice, and you’ll have a great blog.

    One “holdover” technique you could draw from this experience is to hold out your source links until the end of the article, after your “More info here — continued” link, to draw curious readers through to the end of the post. There’s nothing wrong with doing that.

    At The Satchel Pages, we’ve adopted the sources-and-links-repeated-at-the-end strategy popularized by some of the Gawker blogs. We’re certainly lower volume, our design isn’t as slick, and we don’t post as often. (Oh, yeah, and we’re writing about man purses.) But you can always check out for yourself what we’re talking about.

  7. JT says:

    Your site is truly a great site. Looks great and has great content.
    Keep up the good work.
    http://ou.blogtopper.com

  8. Gary: splogging? Not even sure what that is? Isn’t that where you set up a blog with dummy content for the purpose of adsense?

    As for 9rules, that brings very little traffic. It’s more of a community than a network.

    Paul Mernon: Most of the videos we use are from a company that wants their product shown off anyway. So if anything, it’s doing them a service and entertaining our readers.

    Satchel: It’s funny you’d say that, because if you read any established auto site — Edmunds, Just-Auto, Ward’s, AutoWeek, AutoNews — none of them link out ever. We link where needed. We ALWAYS cite the source, even if we don’t link That is the respectable thing to do. A site like Edmunds often takes stories from other magazines, rewrites them, with no credit given. That is a rude thing to do, even if it is legal.

    As for that Hummer article, that was a press release, and they gave it to us to publish. This is very, very common in the auto and tech industries. Like it or not, that’s your choice. But it’s not plagerism, because it is authorized, either explicity or implicity.

    As for this question: “Why would an intelligent professional media source link to you, when it is impossible to determine where much of your “information” comes from? ”

    No “professional media source” (there is really only one or two in the whole auto world) would ever link to a source anyway, let alone a blog. You will absolutely never see a magazine new industry paper like Automotive News link to another site, even if it’s Reuters or the New York Times. That’s just how it is.

  9. e says:

    I would NEVER read a blog that does not site sources.

  10. we cite all our sources :)

  11. e says:

    um… In about 50% of the posts you do. What about the other half? Where did all the photos come from?

  12. Leftlane News: How about starting simply, with the three posts you highlight in your article above? Could you please point out to us where it is in those articles that you have cited the sources of the information you are passing on?

    That would be extremely helpful, as I am having trouble locating these citations you claim to provide.

  13. Citations are not needed for all press release material. I Agree with Satchel that for the Hummer article it would have made sense to offer some analysis, because the facts could be misleading. However, for a new car release, photo sources need not be cited.

    For the Challenger, the images are given to us to use how we please for editorial purposes by DaimlerChrysler. They do not ask that we print their name below them. As you will see below, it is uncommon to cite a manufacturer for photos:

    http://www.automobilemag.com/auto_shows/naias_2006/0601_dodge_challenger_concept/

    For the BMW M7 article, it says, “In an interview with Auto Motor und Sport.” Not only is that citation sufficient, but linking would do our readers no good, because they are mostly English speaking, and that interview was in German.

    For the “unpimp my ride,” the ads are by Volkswagen, obviously, as the article says. They were obtained from the advertising agency’s site, which is not for general public use, nor would they want their bandwidth wasted downloaded videos by thousands of people.

  14. Leftlane: Thanks for the tips about those two posts. I still can’t find the source for your third “article” about the Dodge Challenger.

    I’d also like to clarify some things in my original criticism of your attribution habits. Linking is never a requirement, but it’s a service for the reader. Not linking might mean more internal or ad clicks, but in the long run, readers are going to migrate toward sources that provide them with information they can trust and verify. If you’re just reprinting press releases (and disguising that fact), sooner or later people will figure out your game and go to sites where they can find more trustworthy and cogent analysis.

    Providing credit, however, is an entirely separate issue from linking. The industry publications you mention may not link to sources, but I’d be surprised if they failed to mention them. Providing credit by identifying sources is directly related to credibility. If you don’t provide credit, you are plagiarizing.

    The writers of press releases, of course, are happy if you reprint them verbatim. In this instance, though, you are not cheating your sources, you are cheating your readers, because you are withholding critical information that might lead them to judge what you print differently. Most readers will be far more skeptical of information from a press release than they will be from a (credible) industry blog. If you don’t mention that what you’ve printed is straight from the PR firm’s mouth, you’re playing with your own blog’s trustworthiness.

    There are, of course, plenty of marginal blogs and (and before them, industry rags) that are all too happy to just reprint the release. But just because they do it doesn’t mean it isn’t plagiarism, and just because they often get away with it doesn’t mean it isn’t a self-defeating strategy.

    Photos are generally a different matter. The kinds of photos you describe are often provided by — and purchased by — PR firms or departments for that express purpose of having them run in articles about the topic. Unless they feed you credit info that they say must be provided, there is no need to provide a credit. But here again, you can establish a better relationship with your readers if you go beyond what’s necessary. If a photo comes with a credit, but no request to include it, what harm would it do to provide the info?

    In short, if you’re going to be a big blog, and you’re working in an industry where credibility matters, it might be a good idea to pay some attention to the credit issue.

  15. Regarding Linking, most of the sources are no more reputable than LLN. You would be amazed at the amount of bogus information most magazines put out. If anything, they have less respect than blogs, in the community. When I cite a magazine report, I name the source and provide analysis. Usually that’s followed by a bunch of commenters harping on Magazine XYZ for being frequently inaccurate.

    As for Providing credit, the “industry sources” DO NOT do this. You would be *shocked* if you knew the extent to which these sites re-write articles, with NO attribution. I see lots of large magazines and sites copy each other all the time. They do it because intellectual property laws do not cover “ideas.” I would never do this.

    I regret not proving more analysis on that Hummer thing, and I will take your advice on that going forward, Satchel Carrier.

    Now if you want to talk about plagiarism, check this out. We obtained some pictures of a new Lambo ahead of the scheduled release. They were not subject to an embargo, per se, so we were free to publish them. A large site called Edmunds (check their alexa rank), coped the photos straight off Leftlane News, and provided no citation for their story. As you can see, they missed the LLN watermark, which was very faint.

    http://www.leftlanenews.com/wp-images/media/jan6ed_1.jpg

    That, my friend, is what you call plagiarism. And that is what I have to deal with every day.

    So please, keep that in mind. I cite all my sources by name, always, if another publication’s content or ideas are used. The exception is for press releases from automakers, and that is a complete non-issue, because there is an understanding between us that this content is being given to us in exchange for getting the word out. :) Anyone who looks at it would know that we did no set up a studio and take pictures of the cars the day they were released. We use the same photos the magazines do, and last time I checked, the cover of MotorTrend did not say “Hey GM, thanks for the pic!” under the watermark. :) I really don’t mean anything I say in a mean-spirited way. Just explaining to you my perspective.

  16. e2 says:

    So, you just spent 430 words, Satchel, to say you’re sorry for accusing LeftLane of plagarism? Paraphrase man, Paraphrase…

  17. e2:

    No apology. No retraction. Leftlane News did not cite sources on at least two articles, and this appears to be a common and continuing practice on the website. His responses make it clear to me that he is relying on a “they did it too” excuse and does not fully grasp the issue. I hoped my detailed explanations would help. ‘Zat clear?

  18. They do it too? No.

    I cite all publications by name. I link if it adds value.

    Magazines cite no publications. No name. No nothing. They use no links on their websites.

    Therefore I have the moral high-ground here. :)

    (btw, I appreciate your thoughtful responses, even tho i respectfully disagree with some of what you have said.)

  19. yoyo says:

    wow! Satchel lighten up dude,(DUDET?) maybe your manpurse is a little to tight! I read your “About that bag you carry” writeup and I have to say, I read an article from another source and well I liked them better so I will start using them from now on for information on my bag. I see no reason to call a laptop bag a man purse, sounds like you have some sexual issues that need not be discussed and you have lost me as a reader! Are you trying to be funny? not really sure where your trying to go with your site but I bet you just decided that you would make a nasty coment on this site and see how many people read your stupid stuff on man purses. get over yourself, I have read quite abit of leftlane news and see source quotes all over the place. If there are some that don’t site sources get over it, I often don’t site sources that are in a different language. Sure he should have said the hummer article was a press release. I don’t think however that leftlane news is doing anything that is against the law, he is not claiming to be a journalist is he? This stupid notion that a “link” is required online is just dumb! GET THIS STRAIGHT HE SAID WERE THE SOURCE CAME FROM, HE DOES NOT HAVE TO DO ANYTHING ELSE!

  20. Khurrum says:

    Awesome :)

    Does the non-blended dark colored ad block work better for you?

  21. Khurrum: the blended ads work best in the text area, the colored ads work best in standard ad blocks. I’m not sure we’ll keep google in that ad box 300×250 for long, tho, because we will be doing more direct ad sales.

  22. Khurrum says:

    Thanks for the reply :)

  23. Yoyo:

    Thank you! You are now the tenth reader ever to read the Satchel Pages! We’ve broken into the double digits thanks to you. Now our families can get some rest after graciously providing us volunteer readership for these past few lonely months.

    We do hope your laptop bag was not irreparably wounded by being called a “man purse.” If it was, we feature on the site many other substitutes that you might find more . . . “manly.”

    We’re also glad you were able to find a better source for information about the handbag you carry. What was it? Please come back and let us know — we’re always interested in new . . . um, sources!

    Until your comment, nobody in this conversation mentioned laws being broken, or “this stupid notion that a ‘link’ is required online.” And sorry, but most readers presume that a site with the word “news” in the title is the work of a journalist —- or at least someone masquerading as one. Leftlane News posted its article here to provide information and yes, to elicit comments. If that disturbs you, we’d be happy to suggest other blogs you can read.

    Leftlane News does indeed have “source quotes all over the place” as you mention, and — very cleverly for a blog building traffic — does not always provide actual links to those sources. My comments were not on those successes, but on the failures I happened to stumble upon. The site appears to have the habit of stripping out sourcing information from press releases. In the auto industry, that might be acceptable most of the time, because readers will generally assume an article on a new BMW model is coming from BMW. But it’s easy to become sloppy with this habit, as the hybrids article we mentioned above proved.

    Thanks for adding to the conversation, yoyo, and for doing your part to build our traffic! We’ll let you know when our readership hits twenty!

  24. Satchel Carrier,

    You’re right about the hybrid/hummer thing. We’ll be more careful about that, because “cheating our readers,” as you put it, is not something we want to do. Anyways guys, thanks for not turning this into a flame war. I’m glad I could get some constructive criticism without too much fighting. There’s always a lot to be learned.

  25. João Pinto says:

    Very good site. Lots of information and pictures. Good work.

  26. e says:

    Leftlane,
    You need to get your definition of plagiarism straight. If someone “steals” and image from you that you do not own that is not plagiarism. You cannot claim a picture as yours if you yourself did not create it! You have no recourse of Edmunds “stealing” this photo. Unethical on Edmunds part yes, but nothing other than that.

    Even if you did create this picture it is still not plagiarism. Plagiarism can only happen when writing or ideas are stolen. It cannot pertain to photos.

  27. e, absolutely you’re right. I was talking about plagerism in the sense that Satchel had outlined, not in the technical sense of the term. I think it’s funny that edmunds took the images and didn’t see the watermark. I also think it’s funny that they often use lln to set their agenda. But yes, I realize there is nothing illegal about it. At least not that I am aware of.

  28. I also didn’t care too much about what they had done. I realize this is how this industry works. I was basically using the above example as proof that blogging the car industry is not the same as blogging other industries.

  29. LLN,

    I’ve been cited by the New York Times. And by the UK’s Channel 4 car site. And a few other biggies. It does happen. Not often, but it does.

    And I was SO frustrated to get trumped by you on the Saab Hybrid release. I’d love to know where you got that one from. I was working away from home at the time and couldn’t get regular access. Grrrrrr for me and kudos to you.

  30. khurrum says:

    I also love the way you batch resize all your images. It looks very consistent and professional.

  31. khurrum: thanks, the design is meant to be a factor in the blog’s feel to the reader. we made that a big focus. a few people dont like it, but most love it.

    Trollhattan Saab: You were in NYT? That’s great! As I recall, one large site neglected to cite you, then they updated to reflect the proper source. I assume NYT saw that article, and then cited you as well. Is that what happened?

    As for the hybrid release, are you talking about the convertible? If so, I really forget where that came from at this moment. Next time you are in a situation like that, email me, I could probably help. I don’t share with the competition for obvious reasons, but for brand-specific sites I will gladly help out. :)

  32. Paul -V- says:

    Is it okay to say I’m jealous?

    ‘Cause I am.

    *sigh*

    I will double my efforts.

  33. Marc James says:

    Leftlane News,

    Could you please provide an RSS feed with the full post? Autoblog does this, which is why I am subscribe. I don’t want just headlines. If you did this, I and many others would switch immediately.

    Also, it took me a while to find your RSS feed. It wasn’t automatically identified with my browser, which is a no-no for the site, and there were no RSS icons which people are accustomed to looking for.

    I love the site, though. Autoblog is too US-centric in car coverage. I am a Euro freak with cars and the last thing I want to read about is GM labor issues and other domestic crap. Thanks!

  34. Andy Merrett says:

    I know it’s been said already but that is tremendous growth. Very well done! I wish I could achieve that – I am seeing month-on-month growth on several sites but it doesn’t come close to your figures.

  35. DaEMoN says:

    What is funny about the Un-pimp my ride post, is that I had sent 2-3 informative comments stating who the actor was..
    and I got around 100-120 visits from those comments alone to my site http://www.ferrariblog.net.
    I guess that pretty much says it all in terms of traffic HE may have had for that post :)
    Great work, anyway. LeftLane News is an astonishingly good blog (by many means, the best in the automotive field)!

  36. DaEMoN says:

    Oh and let me add one thing:
    The name of that blog is great: I had it in my feed reader immediately after I saw it.
    LeftLane News: it’s simple, yet clever and effective. (although in some countries, as stated by the owner, the fast lane is the right one :) )

  37. Salman says:

    That’s an impressive growth chart, looks like Google released the hounds on your site around December!

  38. PhiMix says:

    Congratulations with your growth, it’s very impressive.

    What program do you use to create watermarks like this one:
    http://www.leftlanenews.com/wp-images/media/jan6ed_1.jpg

    I have downloaded a few trials, but they all seem quite complicated.

    Thanks, PhiMix

  39. A.H says:

    PhiMix: you can edit the text transparency with Photoshop (paid) or GIMP (free) and rotate it with the desired angle, and you’ll have a nice watermark.

    Example of a one i just made:
    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v484/mrheat/transample.jpg

    =p

    You have total freedom with the rotation and transparency, so you can make a lot of watermark models.

    A.H

  40. PhiMix says:

    Thanks for the idea, but I was more thinking about some “automatic” batch tool.

    What I want is to supply a directory of images and then ask this unknown program to add a watermark in the same location on all the images.

  41. Paul Mernon says:

    PhiMix:

    Check ImageMagick (http://www.imagemagick.org/index.php), a free image manipulation suite. It comes with a handful of command-line tools that can be used to automate the process (look for ‘composite’ tool). I’ve used ImageMagick for different purposes but was happy with its capabilities. It is cross-platform so you can install and use it on Unix/Windows/MacOS.

    I’ve just checked and found that googling for ‘imagemagick watermark’ and ‘imagemagick watermark tutorial’ brings up a lot examples of how to automate watermarking.

  42. DaEMoN: there was a lot of traffic to that post, but daily traffic to the site is still around enough to maintain close to the level of traffic seen last month, and that’s not counting the effect the NY Auto Show may have. :)

  43. Guitar Daily says:

    You make a good point of having audio/video content. I am thinking about doing some experiments with this as soon as i have some time. My blog is only one and a half months old, and for some of the topics i’m planning for the future, audio would be very nice. This may be exactly the material that would attract visitors to the website – i’m thinking of video sequences with the website address in a corner, or something similar.

  44. DaEMoN says:

    Leftlane: Yes, I still, in fact, get new visitors from that comment! I’ll write a post on my other site with some considerations about traffic from commenting on popular blogs, once (if ever) traffic from it diminishes!

    PhiMix: I have my watermarking totally automated in Photoshop. You can do it by using the Action panel (on the right, the tab close to “History”). There you can record all the actions you perform in creating/applying your watermark and have several hundred pics done in a matter of minutes. Send me an e-mail through my site, if you need a more in-depth explaination: I don’t want to hog the comments. :)

  45. PhiMix says:

    Thanks for your help with finding a watermarking program.

    I think the best program yet is this C# example (compiled demo available):
    http://www.codeproject.com/csharp/Watermark_Creator.asp

    It’s exactely what I was looking for – and if I don’t like the standard functionality, I might even be able to customize it since my CV says I’m pretending to be a C# programmer :)

  46. Evelyn says:

    Cool tips and guides. Really admire the graph chart. Way up the mountain. Been reading alot and learning alot from problogger.net.

    Thanks for sharing the information.

  47. Vincent says:

    C’mon guys, this dude is ripping content from other more quality blogs and hides behind the way traditional media is working. Sorry but I can’t understand why LLN is stated in a blog case study, in my opinion this is not the way a good blog should be.

    Oh, and I really like this one: “I cite all publications by name. I link if it adds value.” Thats good!

  48. I bookmarked your blog, thanks for sharing this very interesting article

Trackbacks

  1. Left Lane News Case Study

    Problogger takes a look at Leftlane News and how they can improve:On September 26th, 2005, I started a new weblog called Leftlane News. It’s a blog all about cars and the automotive industry. It targets car enthusiasts, thus the name…

  2. [...] LeftLane News: I first heard about leftlane two years ago, when it was featured as a case study at Problogger, today it’s founder built a successful blog network. Here’s an excerpt from the article at Problogger:   “the site just turned six months and the traffic growth has been nearly exponential. There have been a few days where I’ve even had more traffic than my competitors from Weblogs Inc or Gawker. And I’m a relatively independent blogger (not part of a blog network), so this should be inspiration to anyone looking to take on the giants.” [...]