That Traffic Thing Again

So Brian Clark is mad at Steve Rubel for saying that blogging is not about traffic in the face of Brian’s Trading Words for Traffic report. Scoble chimes in to say that, while Brian’s report is useful, Steve is right. Which is sort of what I said last night.

Let’s think about this for a minute. I believe the four of us are agreeing a lot more than we’re disagreeing.

Lessons Learned on Bloggers Hill

As I’ve worked on building Newsome.Org, I’ve learned some things I didn’t know when I started. As a matter of fact, a lot of the things I now believe about blog building would have been highly counterintuitive to me back then.

For example, when I started blogging, I thought the object was to attract as many eyeballs to Newsome.Org as quickly as possible. When I developed web sites back in Bubble 1.0, that was certainly the goal. My initial plan was to use the same tools that worked so well for me back then to draw traffic to my blog. What I didn’t yet realize is that a blog is not a static experience, where one guy talks and everyone else sits in rapt attention. Rather, a blog is just one part of a greater community which feeds and is fed by other blogs and the bloggers who write them. In other words, you aren’t asking people to come to your blog just to read what you have to say- you want them to read first and then write, comment and link. It’s a many-sided conversation, which takes longer to get going than a speech or a sermon.

Through that trial and error (and thanks to some helpful advice from the Roberts and Steves and Oms of the world) I have learned that focusing primarily on traffic is not the way to build a blog. If you obsess on traffic, you won’t get the flow you hope for right away, and even if you did, it wouldn’t stay. People notice a car wreck immediately, but they don’t make it a point to come back to the place where they saw it. It’s immediate interest, but it’s also fleeting interest. On the other hand, people gravitate to a new park or other destination site more slowly, but they come back a lot.

One of the things a lot of these Web 2.0 companies/science projects are doing very wrong is throwing their web page up with little more than a logo. People stop by, but they don’t come back. And it’s hard to open twice.

After you get your content ready for a grand opening, then you want traffic. The best way to get traffic is by word of mouth, and, for better or worse, links are the blogosphere’s word of mouth. So I am not about to say that links aren’t important- they absolutely are. But it’s hard to grow links in a laboratory. You need to let them grow naturally.

And of course it would help if Technorati got a little more reliable at aggregating the ones you get. I am in the process of concluding that Technorati’s constant indexing breakdowns are a much bigger impediment to building a really successful blog than the lack of a link from a proverbial A-Lister. But that’s a topic for another post. And it will be.

Now About that Report

I read Brian’s report the night it was published, and some, but not all, of what it says is both logical and consistent with my current thinking. The biggest problem, for me and perhaps for Steve as well, is the link baiting part. Most bloggers you’d want to link bait know exactly when they’re being baited and most of them won’t bite. I’ve been link-baited a couple of times. Sometimes I responded (honestly because I was honored that anyone would go to the trouble of link baiting me), but sometimes I didn’t. Say what you will, but writing with the primary goal of mind-tricking someone into linking to you doesn’t work very well. I know, because I tried it a few times (not doing that is one of the lessons I learned along the way). Writing good content, commenting and becoming a part of the conversation works a lot better.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to be gleaned from Brian’s report, because there is. But disagreeing with one of its express or implied themes should not incite a blogospat.

It’s About Relationships

Rather than focus on links, the better approach is to focus on relationships. The blogosphere is a small place in a lot of ways, and if you add to the conversation, people will notice you. Not might. Will. Relationships allow for traveling companions as you trek up bloggers hill as well as Adam Green‘s link clusters.

Do I want links? You bet I do. I just know that there’s a better way to get them than begging, link-baiting and hoping.

Preachers Sharing a Corner

So in a way, we’re all preaching variants of the same sermon. Good content and good relationships builds connections which lead to links which leads to traffic, which leads to more good content.

You just have to put in the time and effort to create organic growth.

And where growth is concerned, slow and steady wins the race.