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Linkbait, Passion, Fluff and Mixing it Up: Reflections on Content Development

Today I want to tell you the story of a blogger whose problem that he was too good at getting on the front page of Digg. But first – I want to share a quote from Michael Gray who said something last week that hit the mark for me:

“One way to make sure your linkbait is successful is to pick a subject that you believe in, are passionate about, and that will bring out an emotional response from members of your target audience.

Or you could play it safe and write the 5 ways Twitter is helping web 2.0 businesses.

The first is memorable the second is utterly forgettable. ”

I wish I’d said that.

A Blogger With a Problem

I spoke with a blogger (we’ll call him Buddy) last week who presented me with a problem. Buddy’s problem was this:

He had been blogging for a year or so and had worked out how to write the kind of content that did well on Digg. In fact he’d perfected the art of writing Diggable content to such a degree that he hit the front page most weeks. As a result he had a blog with a lot of monthly traffic.

This doesn’t sound like that much of a problem… well not yet….

Buddy’s frustration was that he had no (or very few) loyal readers.

His reflection to me was this:

‘I’m writing fluff. It’s good fluff because it can draw a crowd, but I think they quickly leave because it doesn’t really mean anything to anyone, including me.’

Buddy asked me if he should stop writing the ‘Diggable Posts’ (the fluff)? My response to him was to try a couple of things:

1. Bring the Digg formula to topics that matter - what if he applied the principles to topics he was actually passionate about?

2. Mix in posts that go deeper - not every post needs to be ‘fluffy’ – in fact I find that a good mix of styles of posts can work well on a blog. A ‘Top 10 ways to…’ ‘how to’ list post one day, a ‘review’ post the next day, a question for your readers the next, a ‘rant’ the following day, followed up by a case study the next day….. etc (you can see 20 types of posts here).

What I find is that the ‘fluffy’ posts draw the crowd but the other types of posts actually engage them and keep them coming back. In effect this is what I’ve been doing on DPS and it’s worked well for me.

There’s nothing wrong with writing the type of post that could go viral on social media sites – however like Michael says – it’s posts that mean something to you, that are written with passion and that bring out some kind of emotional response in your readers that will make an impact upon people.

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. Digg is a little different. The times I’ve been on the homepage, I couldn’t be more excited. But then a few days pass, your visitors drop and your RSS readers drop, and you’re back to where you were before the digg. Sure it’s a rush to see all that traffic, but if nobody comes back, what was the point.

    I do think if you write really good content, you’re giving readers the only reason they need to come back to your blog.

  2. Shanel Yang says:

    This definitely falls onto the list of problems I’d like to have. : )

  3. Home Biss says:

    Digg is no longer cool to me. Why? It is because there are too many bloggers paying people to digg their stories!

    Sites such as SubvertAndProfit Dot Com (this site helps bloggers secure cheap publicity & helps others make money) really screwed up Digg and I no longer have any faith in it. :-(

  4. Kelly says:

    I found my “success” once I started writing about something I am passionate about which is music. My “success” is mostly measured by my satisfaction of my work and by my reader’s enthusiastic participation. You are right, fluff does not get you very far but it will make your site meter jump around a lot! It is fun to see that but it does not really pan out in the long run.

  5. Boltz Mann says:

    I’ve thought about what is better, writing content that gets a lot of hits from search engines and services such as Digg (and has that easy-to-scan nature to it), or writing stuff I want to write about despite its market potential. I’ve since decided to write posts/articles with as much quality and original content as I can produce. Sometimes I do posts on DSLRs which I know will get a lot of hits (like the Sony A900), but mainly I focus on providing a quality blog with original info that I’m proud of. This has provided me with a core group of readers, which is extremely small compared to other sites, but I’d rather have that than a ton of hits from people who will forget about my site the next minute.

  6. Standtall says:

    I have noticed that bloggers that like reading deep issues do not necessarily leave comment. I have being visit this blog for a while and this is my first comment!

    I think writing should go beyond sticking to loyal readers. You can get new readers that will keep coming back if they identify with your work. Just like I have read on this blog before, it’s good to always visit other blogs too and leave comment. There are so many wonderful bloggers emerging on daily basis

  7. Mike Nichols says:

    My blog is too young to have had much Digg action, but I have had several StumbleUpon spikes. I’ve found that these mean little more than my ego getting a boost.

    I’ve done all I could to make my blog “sticky,” but I’ve come to believe, and the stats back me up, that SU readers are in and out in a matter of seconds and read virtually nothing.

    The “quality” readers I have gotten have all come from comments on other blogs and forums and the more “traditional” ways of pulling in readers.

    Anyway, my subject matter alone will keep me from getting on the front page of Digg: an essay on Panic Attacks is hardly going to become viral!

  8. writer dad says:

    I think of everything I write as part of a permanent record. I want my children to be proud of my words ten years from now, when it’s time for them to read them. I honestly think I would be happier with less monthly traffic and more loyal readers. But there’s nothing wrong with going only for the traffic; we all have a different endgame.

  9. Ventibate says:

    I like fluff on peanut butter sandwiches but not in blogs. Using it as linkbait doesn’t accomplish much if the Digg user doesn’t stay on the site long enough to notice that not all of your content is fluff. Frankly, I think that Digg traffic sucks and I get plenty of it but IMO, Diggers are not interested in finding good blogs, they just use Digg as a directory. The click a link, read the post if it’s interesting and then scurry right back to Digg. Basically you end up eating up a lot of bandwidth with no real benefit. I don’t even use Digg anymore and don’t encourage my readers to Digg my posts.

    The same is true for Stumbleupon traffic. It’s easy to get lots of but when you check your stats I find that very few stick around more than a few seconds and none of them click on ads.

  10. I agree with Mike’s comments above about stumble spikes being of limited value. It started me thinking, what makes a good referral? return visits? time on site? adsense revenue? I don’t necessarily have an answer to this, and it may depend on the type of blog or site you have. Interesting discussion though.

  11. I have had the same kind of problem with digg. I have tried very many experiments with that web site but it is yet to bring me very many new subscribers. I have gone on the front page 2 times in the past two weeks and I only seem to have got 20 new subscribers. To me that doesn’t really seem worth it.

  12. I think reading Digg is like reading People magazine. I put absolutetly zero effort in getting dugg mainly because I don’t want my content mixed in with all their other “news.” It’s pop culture fanfare at best, and I’m trying to build a sustainable blog, not one that ebbs and flows with pop culture stories on the Internet.

  13. Max Forlani says:

    I’ve never been on the digg front page, so I can’t share what that must feel like, nor what it does to your site (and subscriber count). I do know that the day it happens, I’ll probably open up a bottle champagne.

    Darren and others have said it sooo often: content is what matters. At least if you want the readers to return. I may not be an avid comment writer on posts (mostly because I’m always comment number 100+ by the time I’m awake), but when I like a post, I bookmark it. And when I need a piece, I just revisited that particular page of the site. Darren, if only you knew how many bookmarks I have of Problogger pages :-)

    That’s far more rewarding for a blogger I guess, than a big rush. And now that I know being the Digg top spot isn’t that rewarding and only a brief high, I’ll probably open a few cans of beer instead of the champagne.

    Cheers,
    Max

  14. Jayme says:

    I used to think that Digg and SU would be the ticket to my blog’s success. It’s like getting Dugg or Stumbled is some form of reward or validation that what I wrote made sense or actually mattered to someone other than me. But then I realized that it’s more important to just infuse my blog with passion and really express how I feel in my writings so that I can inspire people who read them. It’s nice to be popular but for me, it’s nicer to make a difference. Whether it’s just one blog reader or one hundred, as long as I know I’ve helped someone feel a little bit better in one way or another, then it will all be worthwhile.

  15. Ian Parker says:

    I would not like to have that problem at all. Digg used to be a daily stop for me. Then I realized that the quality of links had gone down and had become quite formulaic. I suppose that might be desirable for some (who doesn’t like a top ten list, right?), but I don’t want a plethora of lists and funny photos every day.

    That aside, diversity of posts is key, in my opinion. It’s alright to write something that may attract traffic and attention to your site every now and then, but as you state, it is important to go deeper and to write different style posts. If you gain a few permanent readers each time you get a traffic bump, then it is worthwhile.

    I like to mix it up a bit because I can tend to write some tedious and boring essays which are very specific, so my readers should also have some light reading and interesting content. It’s all about balance on a blog.

    Writer Dad makes a great point. Write as though the record is permanent and make your writing something to be proud of when you look back on it.

  16. “Buddy” is in the wrong business. He should be charging jaw-dropping fees and writing this stuff for major corporations.

  17. ep says:

    I think Jayme hit the nail on the head. Getting Dugg and gaining huge reader numbers is exciting, but not rewarding unless everyone stays. However, writing with passionate intent to entertain, help or inform is rewarding regardless of how many readers you have.

  18. Malika says:

    You know, when you read the inspirational “people who are making it” stories, there’s always something quantifiable — how much they’re making, number of visitors, units sold, etc. Those are the stories that encourage us to persist, and I think it’s having actual quantifiable metrics that do it. “And now he’s so happy talking about this thing he loves” is less compelling than, “he’s so happy because he gets traffic upwards of XXX every week”.

    By which I mean that it’s natural to look for things like digg numbers, just because it’s hard to quantify passion. Thanks for reminding me that it’s well worthwhile to learn to assess your success by something nebulous like “am I so happy and do I love what I’m talking about?”

  19. Andre Kibbe says:

    I’ve had a few spikes with SU, Reddit and Delicious, but I generally prefer to stick to evergreen content, so Digg is a challenge. I am trying to mix things up a bit though, just to challenge my own assumptions and habits, so if I could hit Digg once, just to get on the community’s radar, that would be enough.

    Unfortunately a consensus builds on how to make the front page of Digg — lists, photos, Firefox tips, commentary about Digg itself — which erodes Digg’s diversity over time, so I wouldn’t want to make a habit of contouring my thinking to such a narrow field of interests.

  20. Is the CTR higher for the fluffy cloud than the loyal readers – I would guess so as they are surfing? Then again if the ads target the themes the loyal reader is interested in?

  21. Thank you. Another great post very well written.

  22. Bob Nolin says:

    Following the advice in the Problogger book (excellent, btw), I created my first blog over a period of two months, and then began to look for traffic. I created a post with a list, and then Stumbled it. Within days I was seeing 5000 visits a day, and within three weeks, over 100,000. Wow! But very little is spilling over into my other posts. The blog is now bookmarked quite well on Delicious, so that may be a long-term benefit after all. My site is more a resource than a daily info source, so I’m hoping those bookmarks get used down the road.

    One thing for sure. I went from zero to 100,000 in no time flat. My hair is still plastered straight back. Wow! Thanks for the great advice.

  23. Luis Gross says:

    In my opinion if what you’re writing about isn’t in the interest of Digg users–they are a picky bunch–it doesn’t really matter how passionate and wonderful you write.

    The only way around this is if you have an incredible amount of friends that are willing to digg what you ask them to. Then you would make it to the front page; not because of exceptional content, but because of favors from friends.

    That would explain why some people get tons of traffic from Digg, yet receive little or no subscribers from that traffic flow.

    The pages that are dugg as favors and not because of quality and interest usually display the behavior described in this post.

    Of course this is only my opinion.

  24. Huh? This is not a real problem. This is like Shoemoney saying he wishes he could attend Octoberfest but has to go to the Playboy mansion instead.

  25. I’m all for having that problem. At least for a little while. :)

  26. I’m sure that every single blogger could land one of his posts if he did the same thing. All they would need to do is write something like “The Top 10 XYZ You’ve Never Heard” or something similar, same goes for all the other Social Media websites, except Sphinn… maybe.

  27. jhay says:

    Well, it never hurts to diversify and really follow your interests and passions, that’s what started blogging to begin with, me thinks.

    Though I wish I could also write more ‘fluffy’ posts myself. :P

  28. Sophie says:

    I think along the same lines is the “1000 true fans” approach. This idea is catching on quite well and the more I’ve thought about it the more it makes sense. Sure, DIGG and others Social tools will help drive traffic and you may get a small percentage of that to be long term RSS subscribers or newsletter readers & such. Overall though a core group of readers/fans will be what keeps your posts and product recommendations going & give you substainability. Would anyone agree with this. The true fans idea was really intended I think for artists ,celebrities, athletes but you really could apply this to your unique blog/site and how people identify with what your writing.

  29. impNERD says:

    Getting on Digg is rewarding because of links and subscribers. If you get on the frontpage and your subscriptions go up by 1000 and only 90% stay, that is still 100 more subscribers.

    Ultimately it depends on what your site is for. Is it for money or pleasure?

    If it is for money, then being on Digg’s homepage a few times is definitely a good thing. Not that Digg visitors give money, but the resulting traffic after the Digg has finished does.

  30. I’ve gotten a small surge of visitors from reddit.com, but my experience has been that the traffic is of little benefit because people just don’t stay on my website very long (not reading what I have to say), don’t click through to other parts of my website, and don’t click through on affiliate advertisements.

    So in short, I’m not going to be pursuing social media fame (although if it happens organically, I won’t complain).

  31. Lid says:

    I have to agree with Michael (Remarkablogger).

    But to bring it into the context of Darren’s point…

    Why does Buddy not write about *how* to get on FP Digg? Seems to me he’s quite passionate about that. I’d bet that would bring quite a few subscribers his way…

  32. John Grams says:

    I’ve seen a repeated theme through out all of Darren’s blogs. To be a successful blogger, at least one thing is necessary- a passion for what you are blogging about.

    So, what do we think are the other necessary blogging traits?

  33. Lenin Nair says:

    Can you tell me who this buddy is?

  34. Angel Cuala says:

    I think I have an opposite problem. I have been making posts on How To for parenting and blogging but I am not making it well in social media. Some forum members advised me that my posts are deep and Diggable but are not interesting for social sites.

    However, I am glad that somehow I have my loyal readers and subscribers but I am finding it hard to increase them.

    I think that Digg and SV readers are mostly like enjoying news rather than deep posts.

    I think that to maintain your targeted audience is to find them at proper forums. If your topic is about parenting, you should join parenting forums and this is what I am doing. It really helps.