10/90 and the Rule of the Reallies

I’ve been thinking more today about the conversation we had recently about the whole traffic verses content thing where blog building is concerned. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the way choice of words affects the debate.

Last night, I talked a little to Seth Finkelstein and Brian Clark via our respective posts on the topic and the Comments thereto, and Brian and I concluded that most of us are largely preaching from the same book when it comes to content, traffic, links and the other aspects of blog building.

But today I started thinking that maybe I did short change the whole links business by focusing almost entirely on content. Yes, good content is the best way to cultivate links. Yes, I still believe the primary focus should be on content. I particularly enjoyed the conversation today on the Voice From the Cubicle podcast about writing a lot of content before you launch your blog or other website. As I said last night, far too many of these Web 2.0 science projects are tossing up web pages prematurely.

But as I also said last night, word of mouth is the best way to attract readers and links are, for better or worse, the blogosphere’s word of mouth.

All of which leads me to two points. One that I’ve mentioned in passing before and one that is new.

Let’s talk some about links. Not as the front-end goal but as a back end test to see what sort of content creates the word of mouth buzz that leads to more cross-blog conversation and, of course, to more inbound links.

The 10/90 Rule

I’ve mentioned this before, but I want to focus on it today. I believe, based on my experience and observations, that for most bloggers 10% of your posts will generate 90% of your links. Most posts will generate a link or two and maybe a couple of Comments, but the large majority of most bloggers’ inbound links will result from a small percentage of their posts.

The reason is pretty obvious. Once something gets raised in the distributed conversations that are the purpose and goal of the blogosphere, more and more people write about it and before long you have a ton of cross links, Comments and other conversational by-product.

The trick, of course, is to figure out a pattern that might make it easier to write more of those 10/90 posts.

One thing I have absolutely concluded is that it’s very hard to predict what will be a 10/90 post based on how hard it was to write or how much effort was put into it. Just because I think I’ve written a 10/90 post doesn’t mean anyone else will think so.

For example, when I published My Mobile Approach the other day, it was the culmination of around 6 hours of research and implementation of my mobile applications. I thought that post would jump start all kinds of conversations about mobile technology, and that I would learn about all kinds of mobile applications to add to my mobile application list. It got one Comment and died.

On the other hand, I have written many posts in just a few minutes that got picked up and resulted in a bunch of conversation. I wrote my Gatekeepers Strike Back post in about 10 minutes and it got all kinds of run.

The pattern, if there is one, is well hidden. But I have a working theory about it. There’s nothing revolutionary here, just my take on some things I’ve read, experienced and observed.

The Rule of the Reallies

The posts, both here and in other blogs I read, that seem to get legs on any consistent basis are the ones that do one of four things really well (thus the name the Rule of the Reallies):

1) Say something really right

Not in an arrogant, rock-star kind of way. And not in an I’m smarter than you kind of way. But in a “yes, that’s exactly right!” sort of way. For example, I was thinking about writing more on Web 2.0 this morning, until I saw Scott Karp’s post. He said what I was thinking, only better than I would have.

Being really right is what got Steve Rubel and Om Malik to the top of bloggers hill. Listen to 5 minutes of any of the many podcasts Steve was on yesterday and you’ll realize very quickly that he’s one smart, thoughtful guy.

My other smart blog of the moment is Techdirt– it seems like every time I read a post there, like this one for example, I feel like pumping my fist in the air and saying “yeah, that’s it!” I find a lot of the same sort of thing at Phil Sim‘s blog, Mathew Ingram‘s blog, Amy Gahran‘s blog(s), Zoli Erdos‘ blog and Seth Finkelstein‘s blog, among many others. It’s easy to toss up a link and restate the conversation, but these folks, even when they are disagreeing, always make good, sound points. You’ll never hear them telling you how smart they are- they just prove it day after day.

2) Say something really wrong

The other way for a post to get legs is to say something really wrong, so people have to correct you. Bloggers are like my mother the English teacher- they have the irresistable impulse to correct you when you say something wrong (Scott and Mathew have a grand time correcting each other).

Of course, by wrong I don’t really mean wrong. I mean something that other people will strongly disagree with. For example, when I saw Adam Green’s memetracker blog post, I just about fell over my chair trying to get a response written and published- and this is at least the third time I have linked to that one post. (As an aside, I actually agree with most of Adam’s ideas.)

Another example is Dennis Howlett’s post dumping on Memeorandum. I beat my keyboard to death responding to, and linking to, that post.

The point is not that I’m right and they’re wrong, because these are just opinions and there are very few wrong opinions. The point is that, without link baiting or employing any other pseudo-mind tricks, those posts created the overwhelming need to talk about it.

The results of course are Comments, links and other interaction.

3) Say something really funny

This one of the reallies is sadly ignored, at least in the tech corner of the blogosphere. Funny is one of the most effective ways to get noticed and to generate a word of mouth buzz. If you can combine funny with one of the other reallies, you have doubled or tripled the potential for buzz generation.

I know and like Kevin Hales, but this post made me notice and link to his blog. This one and more like it got him on my daily reading list.

I think a funny techish blog, maybe even using bunnies, would be very popular, very quickly.

4) Say Something really helpful

People love it when you do something that makes their life easier. There are a lot of blogs I read every day because they make it easier for me to find out about stuff, including Thomas Hawk (media and photography), Download Squad (software) and Techcrunch (new play dough creations).

The helpful post is probably the hardest to write, but it will have a longer shelf life as far as the conversation goes.

So What Does it Mean for Blog Building

It means that slow and steady is the way to the top of bloggers hill. And it means that while you can’t predict which posts will be your 10/90 ones, if you stay reasonably close to the reallies, the climb might be a little easier.