Thirsty at the Virtual Watercooler


We had a good discussion a few months ago on getting heard- the reasons, challenges and benefits of attracting readers to your blog. I have thought about that some over the past few months and wanted to post my current thinking.

There are three primary kinds of readers of a web site, including a blog:

1) People who find the site because they know you or because you tell them about it. These folks don’t rely on external links and often are pretty sticky (meaning they generally spend a little time on the site and usually bookmark it and return to read new content). This is the “living Christmas card” concept that I’ve talked about before. This is a perfectly appropriate use of and purpose for a blog. In fact, I believe it is one of the most effective community building tools- tools that help a site gain critical mass by keeping readers connected and interested. It’s easy to get this sort of traffic, but the pool of potential readers is limited to people you (a) know and (b) tell about your blog.

2) People who find your site through web searches such as Google or Technorati. Newsome.Org has been on the web for 10 years, has a lot of links from (and to) other sites, and is highly ranked on most of the search engines under the logical key words (newsome, songwriting, music, ACC sports, etc.). As the site has transformed into more of a “tech for grownups” thing, the search engine placement has had to catch up, but over time it will. Search engine placement is good for traffic, but the readers who come via this path are generally not very sticky (they wander through and keep going, only to return the same way they came- via a web search for a key word, etc.).

3) People who find you via a link on another topic-compatible blog. People who read blogs have learned to appreciate the new distribution of information model that blogs allow. I was very late to the game, originally thinking that blogs were merely online diaries (most of my over 30 friends still think that). I am a convert now, and get most of my tech and entertainment news from blogs. A link from another blog is the highest and best way to attract readers who want regular content in blog form. The problem is that these links are, by far, the hardest to come by. The so called A-List bloggers (meaning those with lots of traffic) tend to link mostly to each other, enjoying a virtual watercooler where they discuss a series of topics. There’s nothing wrong with regularly linking to a group of blogs, as that produces the sort of distributed conversations that make blogs so interesting. But after a while it seems like only some people are talking. Those who aren’t involved in the conversation eventually get frustrated or bored and stop listening. Not only is that bad the person who wants to talk, it’s also bad for the person doing the talking. If no new perspectives are introduced, the conversation around the water cooler can become stale and repetitive- leading to a loss of readers. I’m not criticizing the A-List bloggers (I read many of them daily). I am simply expressing the frustration felt by those of us who would like to join the conversation but have not yet been able to effectively do so.

Robert Scoble, one of my favorite bloggers and the A-List guy that seems to me to be the most open to new participants, has a post today about Memorandum. He mentions another post by Nick Davis in which Nick says he’s over Memorandum, seemingly in part because it always features posts from the same group of blogs (mainly the aforementioned A-List). Scoble’s advice is to “write a more interesting post.” That’s great advice, but it only gets you so far. You can write like Carl Hiaasen, but if no one links to you, few people will ever find your interesting post and you will most assuredly never show up on Memorandum.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I can tell you that getting a place at the virtual watercooler is a lot harder than I thought it would be.

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