Have you noticed how so many blogs are just … terrible?
There’s no polite way to say it. The writing is garbage, the design inelegant, the content inane. A bird pecking at a worm-scented keyboard could craft more interesting thoughts.
We always thought the people responsible for these blogs are idiots. But lately we’ve wondered if we have it backwards, and they’re the shrewd ones.
Pick a business model. Optimize it.
We—Paula and Greg—run different blogs, but with a similar business model. We each work toward building a following of true fans who respect us as authorities within our niche, personal finance. We want our readers to buy our books, listen to our lectures, attend our workshops and tune into our radio shows. We want editors of respected publications to tap us for freelance assignments.
So we put our full names and our faces on our work. We obsess over wording, paragraph spacing, and dangling participles. We’re each building a platform that, if you’ll excuse the cliché, is the foundation of our “brand.”
Writing quality content is a pain. From our experience, it can take up to four hours to write a worthwhile post. The return on time expended, at least in the beginning, is almost negligible.
It’s a long-term strategy, but a risky one. It might lead to recognition and fortune, or it might never amount to anything.
Strategically mindless content
Some bloggers have a different business model. They want to sell text links. Period. They know companies are willing to shell out a few hundred dollars per link to get some SEO juice, and these bloggers are hungry to sell.
Quality content is unimportant under such a model. Having a base of loyal readers is meaningless. The only important measure is PageRank, so these bloggers concentrate on building backlinks. Higher PageRank leads to more money.
If you’re blogging for people, rather than for backlinks … well, having an ardent fan base can help your PageRank, if indirectly. Devoted readers might consciously link to a site they love. But if PageRank is all you care about, waiting for your readers to promote your blog (while you spend hundreds of hours writing quality posts) is an inefficient use of your time. The more direct way to improve PageRank is to spend a few minutes pumping out garbage, then devote the rest of your time to activities that directly build rank—such as commenting on do-follow blogs.
Yet another class of bloggers uses a business model that centers on advertising impressions. These entrepreneurs optimize their blogs around any activity that maximizes pageviews. The people behind these blogs don’t care about bounce rate; they just need a five-second click.
Neither compare nor despair
If you have a passion for conveying your findings to your readers in a compelling way, you can get frustrated if you measure yourself against bloggers who only care about eyeballs (irrespective of any brains they might be connected to.)
It’s almost misleading to refer to both the mercenaries and those who go to the trouble of crafting quality posts as “bloggers”. They’re selling different commodities to different clients. Ian Bostridge, Lil Wayne, and a guy who makes his living recording commercial jingles are all technically “singers”, but they have nothing else in common. Forget apples to oranges; we’re comparing apples to cats to unicorns.
If you take time to create worthwhile content and delight your readers, reasoning that the financial rewards will come later, do yourself a favor and stop comparing yourself to bloggers who would sell their mothers for an inbound link. It’ll drive you crazy. Sooner or later, preferably sooner, you have to ask yourself: Am I blogging to share my unique perspective and contributions with the world, or am I only after revenue? It’s not a rhetorical question.
It’s easy to forget that blogging is a nascent industry. Its rules are still being written, and most of them haven’t been finalized yet. PageRank will remain meaningful only as long as it continues to be considered the gold standard of link analysis algorithms. That doesn’t necessarily mean forever. The same goes for cost-per-impression vs. other pricing models: advertisers will eventually discover a surefire method of targeting 30,000 qualified prospects, as opposed to 100,000 drones who’ll never buy.
But until the day the robots achieve sentience, there will always be an audience for innovative content spawned from inquisitive human minds. And unlike link analysis or pageview counts, worthwhile content is impossible to engineer artificially.
That doesn’t mean readers will flock to a well-written but underpublicized site. The successful paint-by-numbers bloggers know this all too well, which is why they choose to value backlinks over content.
We’re betting against that strategy. In the long term, the bloggers who downplay content do so at their own peril, as they forgo the opportunity to build long-term connections with readers. These bloggers will never sell ancillary products nor other brand extensions. Their blogs resonate no more loudly than supermarket flyers do.
Any moron can go through the mechanical steps of commenting on do-follow blogs and submitting to link exchange directories. But if you’re willing to develop a voice that readers will instantly recognize as yours, you’ll set yourself apart from the bloggers with neither the aptitude nor the desire to do so.
Paula Pant has traveled to 27 countries, purchased a 99-year-old Victorian home near central Atlanta’s most beautiful park, and has never — ever — had a penny in debt. Her blog, Afford Anything, is based on one radical idea: money can fuel your wildest dreams.
Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].