Friday, April 29, 2016

What Makes a Great Blog?

(Blogjob tags: advertising on blog sitesadvertising on social sitesAssociated ContentBlogjobBlogspotcomparison among Internet writing sitesGoogle +Live Journalmust blogs be personalniche audience for blogsshould blogs be more like televisionTwittertypes of blog readerswhy different people read blogs.)

This post was suggested by @rextrulove , in an in-house forum discussion of "what makes a quality blog post." @rextrulove suggested (in a reply to another Blogjob friend who often posts "my day" type content) that "quality" blog posts should be more impersonal, more like magazine articles or newspaper reports rather than "me-me-me."
Well...to me, if it's not personal, it's a (short, probably underresearched) article rather than a blog post. (Commercial sites' "blogs" that feature handfuls of short articles about their product or service are probably just what those sites' customers want, but they're not Real Blogs.) Then again, if it's too personal, it might be a boring blog post.
Or--"All the Facts Ever Gathered About the Frog Species..." is an article, and should be paid and published as such. (Some sponsors always want to pay less for more. Writers must not let them. Writers are sufficiently underpaid already.)
"What I Learned by Looking Up This Frog I Saw Today" is a blog post, specifically a phenology post, which is one niche market I've been able to tap into (and enjoy reading).
"I Look Like a Frog Because All I Did All Day Was Sit Around Watching TV" is probably a boring blog post, though it shows more insight than really boring bloggers achieve.
But it seems to me that what too many advertisers want is for blogs to be more like television--bland, with "opinions" only if they parrot Mr. Bigshot's own, lots of blather about current products that aren't actually good enough to sell themselves, more pictures than words, more emotion (but only fake, hyped-up cheerfulness) than thought, and no suggestion of interest in life without the overmarketed products...and that's where bloggers need to take a stand.
Because what advertisers like is not what actual readers like. If readers wanted content that's more like television, they would be watching television.
Without doing any formal research, just considering what user-tracking software has told me about different blog sites for years, it seems to me that blog readers fit into a few distinct categories:
  1. Occasional readers who are surfing the'Net or looking up some specific topic. They are not interested in a blog or blogger as such.
  2. Unwanted readers--spammers, hackers, spybots. Some days this is the largest category of readers.
  3. Site managers and moderators checking for problems.
  4. Bloggers, ourselves, checking how the blog looks and how much we've already said on the topic that's on our minds today.
  5. Bloggers' personal friends, fans, and e-friends. This group of readers are interested in "my day" posts.
  6. Those "niche markets" of people who share bloggers' interests--the game, sports, phenology, book, vampire, or other "communities." This group are more interested in the topic than the blogger. They may or may not bother reading "my day" posts. They'll follow a blog as long as it contains enough about their topic.
  7. Researchers, who do want magazine-quality if not book-quality content, if they can find it online. They're the ones who don't want links to blogs to turn up on web searches. They're totally uninterested in blogs and will read a blog post only if they can't find enough material at a reference site.
  8. Advertisers, who, according to recent scientific studies, probably entered that field and thrive in it because they have fundamentally different brains that limit their ability even to talk to readers in any of the other categories.
Advertisers literally own television...which is why many readers seldom watch television, and won't read blogs that are more like television.
This is what I've observed since joining Blogjob last summer. Writing Internet content has been my job for more than ten years.
Although I was new to the job when I started writing for Associated Content, I had thousands of readers there. AC (1) paid writers enough that we could do a limited amount of actual (fun, cheap) research in order to write articles rather than blogs; and (2) suggested topics for worthwhile articles that would fit in with impersonal, content-related rather than reader-stalking, advertisements; and (3) had, before they sold out to Yahoo, real live human editors who spotted flaws and suggested improvements. Any of those three things would be a huge improvement in any of the writing sites that exist today, but advertisers would have to pay for them.
Then I moved to Blogspot as an Amazon Associate, which doesn't pay. For the first three years the Amazon interface software never worked at all. Guidance about what people wanted to read came entirely from readers and was almost exclusively about politics, which left me feeling that the politics section was eating my blog. Blogspot is hosted by Google, where at least one major shareholder has published his desire to censor our kind of politics completely out of cyberspace:
Nevertheless, and despite being a blog and therefore hidden by search engines, the Blogspot has consistently enjoyed 10-20% of the daily readership I had at Associated Content. Hundreds, but never thousands. (Yes, I blog about topics obscure enough that people do stumble across the Blogspot via search engines.)
So I was finally invited to post the same kind of content at Blogjob...and it's so much the same kind of content that I decide what to post where by putting two posts on Blogjob and the third post of the day, if there is one, on Blogspot. I've seldom bothered to post links to Blogspot posts even on Google +. I've consistently posted links to Blogjob posts on Google +, Twitter, and Live Journal. I've cross-linked from one site to the other, alerting readers that they'll find more of their kind of content at the other site. Yesterday I put "Part 1" on Blogjob and "Part 2" on Blogspot. And still, the Blogjob has consistently enjoyed 10-20% of the daily readership the Blogspot gets. Dozens, but never hundreds. Hardly more than my never-publicized, seldom-used Live Journal attracts.
Three likely reasons: (1) Blogspot employs more site monitors. (2) Blogspot attracts undesirable readers. (3) Blogjob allows some types of ads--ads that stalk readers rather than tying into content, ads that pop up while pages are loading, ads that block readers' view of the content--that some readers hate. Those readers won't click on a link to Blogjob, much less on the ads we Blogjobbers conscientiously add to our posts. My Blogspot partner won't read my Blogjob.
Advertisers love ads that distract readers from content. Readers hate them.
Advertisers hate "personal opinions," especially when "your personal opinions about politics conflict with mine and those of the people I've hired." Some readers hate opinions different from their own, too...but others don't. Advertisers who've decided, e.g., that supporting same-sex marriage or tax-funded abortion shall be their new dare-to-be-trendy bid for sympathy from aggrieved groups to which they do not personally belong, really hate the "opinions" of, e.g., women who've never wanted tax-funded abortion. (Or LGBT-types who've never wanted same-sex marriage. Or African-Americans who don't feel represented by President Obama.) Readers, however, just might be in those categories that advertisers loathe, and they like posts that at least show due respect to their opinions.
Advertisers love posts that rave over new, still largely untested, products. Readers are very unlikely to enjoy (or trust) them. Readers will read an occasional honest "Funeral Poem for a Dead Space Heater" or "Ode to My Good Old Clunker of a Car," and like it, but they'll avoid a blog that reads like a store catalog.
Advertisers like lots of images of smiling, overgroomed humans in fashionable clothes. Readers like fewer images, and prefer close-up, clearly detailed photos of objects, plants, or animals.
Advertisers, and some readers, find it easier to learn from a "how to" video than from a "how to" article. More readers, like most writers, may tolerate an occasional, simple, amusing video if their browser happens to support it, but generally dislike videos.
Advertisers would like it if more readers thought the way they do. Scientific studies suggest that this won't happen; these differences are wired into our brains, possibly before birth.
Readers, not advertisers, made the great blogs what they are. When I think of "quality blogs" I think of Matt Drudge, Brad Hicks, Michelle Malkin, Daily Kos, Scott Adams, the late lamented Ozarque...people, including me, are still reading and citing Ozarque's blog after her death. Now that's "quality" in a blog. Those are blogs advertisers dream of being able to exploit and, by and large, can't.
That kind of quality is not achieved by trying to offer advertisers too much of what they want. It can be maintained when bloggers are willing to work with those advertisers who, like Amazon, are willing to work with us...but it is achieved by consistently putting readers first.
Maybe Blogjob ads would be more profitable if advertisers put readers first, too.